Tag Archives: Local government

An interview with Cllr Gareth Roberts

Gareth Roberts, Liberal Democrat Leader of the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames (LBRUT), tells York Membery about the challenges he’s faced in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, the specific Lib Dem approach he’s sought to pursue, and his misgivings about the Johnson government’s response to the pandemic…

How has the LBRUT coped with the fallout from the pandemic?

Reasonably well. Every local authority has been hit in one form or another but in terms of keeping infections down, limiting the number of deaths in the borough, keeping residents and businesses supported and, vitally, keeping residents informed we’ve performed well. And that’s not me being some Town Hall Trump; we conducted a poll of residents recently. 63% of respondents said Richmond was doing a good job in responding to the pandemic, whereas 61% thought the Tories at Westminster was doing poorly.

What are the biggest covid-linked challenges that the council has faced?

School closures was a biggie. I think people have largely forgotten how contentious that was. Some residents thought it was entirely wrong, some wanted us to move far more quickly and there was a real lack of direction from the Tory Government. More recently, the real challenge has been anti-social behaviour – before the pubs reopened people would meet friends in their local parks and green spaces and though most behaved themselves there was a hardcore of people who stayed far too late, were far too rowdy and used the parks (and even neighbouring front gardens) as toilets.

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2020 – The year the housing was hit by a maverick algorithm 

Alongside Planning for the Future White Paper (see previous article), ministers published without fanfare a second consultation on changes to the planning system. Council housing targets will be set centrally using a crude formula that distributes responsibility for the government’s ambition for 300,000 new homes a year round the country. But the formula will allocate more housing to higher priced areas such as the south and east, while reducing ambitions for the Northern Powerhouse. A ‘short-term’ waiver of S106 requirements for most small sites could cut affordable housing delivery by up to 20%. A quarter of affordable housing delivered will be for sale at a 25% discount at the expense of social and affordable rented homes. 

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2020 – The year government took planning away from the people 

2020 will be remembered for many things. The pandemic and flooding among them. It will also be remembered as the year they took planning away from the people. 

The government’s proposals in the white paper Planning for the Future and associated documents are bold. They will transfer many local planning powers from councils and communities to Whitehall and the planning inspectorate in Bristol. Ministers want planning by checklist instead of considered, albeit sometimes difficult, planning deliberations that lead to quality developments. 

There are sensible ideas in the government’s proposals but they are countered by its determination to take democracy and localism out of planning. 

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5-6 September 2020 – the weekend’s press release

Government must support local councils instead of imposing top down reorganisation

Ahead of the Government’s motion on the Local Government Boundary Commission tomorrow, Liberal Democrat Local Government spokesperson Tim Farron said:

The Chair of the Local Government Boundary Commissions looks like they’re going to have a lot on their plate. Just last week the Tories proposed abolishing nearly every council and replacing them with larger, less accountable, ‘super-councils.’

At a time when local authorities and the government are struggling to tackle the pandemic, it is not the time for a reorganisation of deckchairs on the titanic.

Liberal Democrats believe change should come from the

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Ed Davey uses first speech to highlight Lib Dem successes in local government

I did something today that I don’t think I’ve ever done before in the best part of a quarter of a century of membership – attended an ALDC AGM. The Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors and Campaigners provides the heartbeat to which council candidates and their teams work. If you follow their advice, you are way more likely to win. The ALDC mindset is to be plugged into your local community and working hard for local people all year round.

They usually have their AGM at conference and it almost always clashes with something else I have to do, but I went this morning to see Baroness Ros Scott chairing and a lively discussion about how the Tory plans to rip the heart out of local government are a very bad idea.

The AGM was part of a three hour conference held on Zoom. It was very well attended and had some very fascinating sessions. I went to a panel discussion on the Green Recovery with Friends of the Earth and another about our distinctive voice in next year’s elections. I’ll write them up later.

But, first, this was new leader Ed Davey’s first speech since his election ten days ago. He talked about his visit to a Stockport Fish and Chip shop yesterday and his conversations with the owner and staff there.  The manager of 13 years standing, who had been written off at school, was about to take over the business as the owners were retiring. Another member of staff was a WASPI woman – hit by the injustice of women born in the 1950s having to wait an extra six years for their state pension.

Although he had had some hard words for the party in his acceptance speech about people thinking we weren’t on their side, he emphasised that this was not the case with our local campaigners who make it their mission to listen to what people are feeling.

He praised Lib Dem councils for their action on environmental matters. He mentioned York City Council’s “Don’t be a tosser” anti litter campaign., Chelmsford’s tree planting and Sutton’s low-energy secondary school.

His listening exercise (which is a much better term than the Orwellian sounding National Listening Project) extends to party members too – he said that he wanted feedback on what he was saying and doing and to hear from us about what we wanted the party to be saying. He emphasised how we needed to work as a team and listen to all voices.

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Paul Tyler writes…..Listening is just the start…

Once we have honed our listening skills we should surely seek to improve ways in which people are themselves empowered.  How can they make their voices and their votes more effective ?

Here are a few immediate and urgent opportunities:

Fair Votes 

Despite the Conservative manifesto promise to make sure “every vote counts the same – a cornerstone of democracy” the current inequality is outrageous.  It takes 33 times as many votes for Green Party supporters to elect an MP as for SNP supporters, with big differences for Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats in between. Voters are cheated by the First-Past-The-Post system.

Ed Davey has committed himself to the cross-party campaign.    But what should be the first priority?   Persuading the Labour leadership to wake up, and accept the strong support of their membership for reform of elections to the Commons?   Or concentrate on extending the STV success in local authority elections in Scotland – now to be repeated in Wales – to ensure voters in England do not miss out?  

If the electoral system is the bedrock of our democracy, then surely some consistency throughout the UK is essential ?

Who Votes?

Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for votes for all citizens when they reach 16.  We led national efforts to extend the franchise for the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum and were only thwarted by combined Conservative and Labour Peers when we pressed then for 16-year-olds to be able to vote in the 2016 EU Referendum.   Again, Scotland and Wales are leading the way, and the case for UK consistency is now overwhelming.

UK citizens working or living abroad are often affected by political decisions taken here – most notoriously on Brexit – but their representation is inadequate.  We want them to vote in separate constituencies so that they have MPs who are committed to looking after their particular interests.

Similarly, EU residents working and resident in the UK make a substantial contribution, not least with various local taxes, and should continue to be allowed to vote in local elections.

Subsidiarity

The imminent Devolution White Paper, we are told, will force through the amalgamation of two-tier councils to create more unitary authorities, all with the compulsory addition of elected mayors.   This looks suspiciously like centralisation rather than decentralisation, and is certainly not devolution. Whitehall retains the financial stranglehold, treating elected local representatives as simply a delivery mechanism for national policy priorities.

We have long championed subsidiarity = bringing decisions as close as possible to those who will be affected by them.  The present Government is moving in the opposite direction. 

The example of the SNP Government is also salutary.  Concentrating power at that level, with little devolution to lower tiers of governance at community levels, is no way to spread empowerment.

Transparency

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An opinion piece

Both the Tories and Labour have a dominant elected represented presence across the UK on many different bodies. Because of their current dominance, people almost expect that they should be represented. Such prevalence has allowed some poor performance, by these parties, to be masked/accepted as the public find it difficult to see beyond, what has become, their own basic political norms.

The Lib Dems message is not being heard. We live in a liberal country that has liberal values, a liberal outlook on life and politics, and there is one real party that represents those values – the Liberal Democrats. We can’t get aligned with these dominate traits that the voters live by. You do have to ask the question why?

I am not going to go off on some socio-political anthropologically discussion, simply as I am not qualified to do so. But I do want to look at why we are not being heard or are more relevant across the country.

There are many reasons – not enough reach in the ethnic minority’s communities – yes OK, we have rightly supported more women candidates in the party for internal and external positions (although I would say where we have replaced white middle-class men, in most cases, with white middle-class women and not women who are care workers, single mothers, from working-class families etc.), we don’t have any traction in urban housing estates and so on.

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What is in a name? 

Lib Dem run Watford Borough Council this week voted unanimously to pass a motion in favour of reviewing our town’s street names with links to slave and colonial history.

The Black Lives Matter Campaign and others have rightly highlighted the harm slavery, indentured labour and exploitation inflicted on individuals and whole societies during the cruel period of slavery – the legacy of which continues to this day.

It is important to remember that sickness and destitution were rife amongst slaves, there was a significant need for acclimatisation for immigrants to any slave colony, however, many slave owners failed to do this and as a result thousands of slaves died within weeks of arrival.

Others eventually succumbed to the poor working conditions on plantations and within other slave roles. Slaves were literally worked to death.

As part of the slave trade whole families were imported from Hindu, Muslim, African and European cultures, living together in barracks in often squalid conditions with minimal privacy.

Many slaves committed suicide, with trade unions and strikes made illegal by the governments of the West Indies.

Even indentured slaves had to seek permission to leave their plantations, corporal punishments were enforced for crimes including insulting the plantation owner.

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Tory centralisation has failed us on Coronavirus. It’s time to consider the local alternatives.

We have seen how the government has acted too slow to implement a lockdown and not given councils enough resources to be able to help people locally.

Coronavirus has also shown us how the Tory government believes it is best to deal with the Coronavirus centrally rather than making more use of local government. As a Liberal Democrat I believe strongly in localism – one of the party’s founding principles.

In Ealing, despite the Council being run by the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats have managed to take a more active role than many opposition parties. Liberal Democrats in Ealing have been able to make decisions locally that affect the people we serve during the Coronavirus period.

To deal with Coronavirus effectively, we need money and support from the national government – not dictates. It is important there is trust in the local government partners. Yet this Tory government has done exactly the opposite of that.

Firstly, on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): if we had waited for the government’s supplies to arrive, our care homes would have run out very quickly. Instead we bought large supplies alongside other West London boroughs so that our care homes had regular supplies.

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Cllr Bridget Smith writes…..Lib Dems are the party of Business

It became apparent some weeks ago that South Cambridgeshire could not rely on the Mayor and the Combined Authority to lead on Business Recovery.  The reason being that South Cambridgeshire is a very rural district albeit wrapping completely around Cambridge City, with an extremely diverse business sector which includes not only the Cambridge Science Park and the world renown Bio Medical campus at Addenbrookes Hospital with the likes of Astra Zeneca but also the Wellcome and Sangar Institutes at Hinxton and the soon to be Huawei headquarters at Sawston. Every bit as important to us is farming, manufacturing, the service industries, tourism and the many thousands of SMEs, sole traders and home workers.  The role of the CA is obviously high level and strategically focused on the whole of the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire area and cannot be refined or nuanced enough to support the village based micro economies which ensures that the 103 villages and 1 new town are truly self-sufficient and sustainable.

When we took control of the council 2 years ago we immediately established Economic Development as one of our top 4 priorities and were in the process of recruiting a Business Support Team when CV struck – which has turned out to be fortuitous. Our original plan was to focus on inward investment, exploiting the potential of our enterprise zones and fulling the SME business support gap left when Business Link ceased to operate. This team will now obviously be focusing on business recovery.

I also recently established the role of Member Champion for Business which Cllr Peter McDonald has excelled at. Peter created a Business Recovery Strategy in the first couple of weeks of the crisis which has been critical for us as the situation has developed.

Economic growth has been more than healthy for the Greater Cambridge area (South Cambs and Cambridge City) and it is currently the government’s focus for their initial investment in the OxCam Arc with the recent announcement of the E-W rail link and the budget plans for 4 new DevCos in and just to the west of the district.

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Daily View 2×2: 7 May 2020

2 big stories

Who’d have thought it? The achievement of the testing target on 30 April is already looking deeply shady, with the inclusion of posted tests included in that figure, plus allegations that even those posted weren’t actually usable. And now, subsequent data shows that the numbers are going backwards, not upwards. The solution, a new target. The distraction from failure – some relaxations in terms of going out and about.

Meanwhile, the European Union is predicting that its economy will shrink by 7.4% this year, the worst performance since World War II, with the economies of Southern Europe worst …

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The journal of a new councillor (part 1)

Helen Burton was elected as a new councillor in Eastbourne last year. In this moni-series, she explains what led her to run in the first place…

I can’t believe it was a year ago I was elected as an Eastbourne Borough Councillor, the time has absolutely flown by. Who could have imagined a year ago that I would be writing this during lockdown in the middle of a pandemic, a crisis affecting local councils across the country?

My path to becoming a councillor in Eastbourne started with my volunteer role in the local community. I had already been a Parish councillor in …

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Daily View 2×2: 27 April 2020

I hope that you’ve all had a nice weekend, although I guess that, for some of you, each day is beginning to feel the same as the last. At Liberal Democrat Voice, our aim is to entertain, inform and engage, and so I’d better get on, hadn’t I?

2 big stories

Whilst the talk is of what happens next in the UK’s battle against Covid-19, elsewhere, the first steps towards normalisation have started;

In all four places officials caution that life is not going back to normal yet. For one thing, there can be no letting down their guard. The authorities have

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Covid-19 shows the benefits of Localism

As Charles Kennedy once said:

Liberal Democrats are the traditional exponents of localism. Localism is inextricably linked to our core values.

The belief in devolved power, strong local government, and a plurality of societal actors working together to enhance democratic accountability and maximising opportunity for innovation and experimentation lie at the heart of liberalism.

The population of not just the United Kingdom, but the whole world seem to be confined to a particular location. We are unable to take flights across the globe, or even visit friends and relatives in nearby towns. Families, businesses, institutions, and society are pulling together like never before. With this in mind, it seems like localism will never get a better workout than during the isolation phase of the covid-19 pandemic.  With this, there will be opportunities to observe how individuals, families, communities, businesses, and arms of government go about their day-to-day lives and jobs to make society function and altruistically help those in need.

We are already seeing networks of volunteers ready to help the vulnerable; MPs and local councillors working tirelessly answering questions from many of their constituents ranging from the Government’s furlough schemes to the importance of self-isolation. But it is noticeable that constituents are adjusting already and making choices that benefit not just themselves as individuals, but their families and society.

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WATCH: Kingston Lib Dem councillors supporting their community

Kingston’s Lib Dem councillors have put out a wonderful video showing what they are doing during lockdown to support local residents and to get through these very stressful times.

Enjoy.

It’s lovely to watch – emphasises the importance of staying at home, but has lots of suggestions for ways to get – and give – help.

And our councillors have some really, really cute animals.

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“Stop blaming local government for the housing crisis”

More than a million homes granted planning permission in the past decade have not yet been built, according to new analysis by the Local Government Association.

Latest figures show that 2,564,600 units have been granted planning permission by councils since 2009/10 while only 1,530,680 have been completed.

The number of planning permissions granted for new homes has almost doubled since 2012/13 with councils approving 9 in 10 applications.

While in some cases there will be a time lag between permission being granted and homes being built, new build completions have only increased by half as much in that time. Encouragingly, completions last …

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Conference Countdown: What local government needs from the Queen’s Speech

In last week’s spending review, we saw yet more smoke and mirrors.  Just half of the promised £3.7bn is new cash and £1.85bn will be coming from pockets of hard-pressed council tax and business rate taxpayers who are at breaking point. 

The money announced will help meet rising cost and demand pressures in 2020/21.  But not much more.

As I have said time and time again additional freedoms and flexibilities are all very well, but its new hard cash that local government needs.  This must be backed up a commitment that is not just for 12 months, but a sustainable three year plus funding settlement.  

You cannot keep kicking the “social care can” down the road, politicians have promised for more than 20 years and have still not delivered a way forward.

Equally so the crisis in children’s services keep being papered over and deferred to another day.  Local government needs the security and reassurance of a long-term settlement. 

There was some cash for homelessness – again, welcome – but no mention of investment to tackle its underlying causes.

Nothing for social housing, nor an end to the benefit freeze that is creating widespread housing insecurity.  With the loss of yet another DWP minister who knows what is going to happen.

Councils across the country are reporting to us an increase in people accessing their homeless services and are spending £1bn a year putting families in temporary accommodation enough is enough.

We heard about a youth investment fund to build and repair youth clubs, but no details.  I will put money on it that it will probably amount to a mere sticking plaster on the wounds inflicted by austerity on local youth services.

And as we all have an eye on a General Election; which just like Winter in Game of Thrones most certainly is coming; our own party’s manifesto needs to rise to these challenges as well!

Next year’s Spending Review must provide the long-term, sustainable settlement councils need in order to protect services into the next decade and beyond.  But it isn’t all about money.

As part of the Local Government Associations ongoing #CouncilsCan campaign, the LGA is also calling for the next Queen’s Speech to deliver a new localism settlement for England.  This settlement will need to reignite devolution, empowering councils to transform local areas.

With new powers, funding and long-term certainty, councils will continue to lead their local areas and improve the lives of their residents.  Giving councils the freedom and funding to make local decisions improves national outcomes. 

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ALDC’s by-election review – 7th March

A  quiet night of by-elections saw one by-election take place in Haddenham and Stone for Aylesbury Vale DC. The solitary election saw a big loss for the Conservatives to the Green’s who increased their vote share 34.6% to snatch the seat from the Tories. Jim Brown and the Aylesbury Vale Lib Dem team flew the flag well and took 333 votes increasing their vote share by 2.3% so a big thanks to Jim and the team.

Next week we have a busier week with 3 by-elections taking place with Lib Dem candidates standing in all. See below our list for next week and how you can help.

Croydon LB, Norbury & Pollards Hill
Labour Seat. Cause: Death
LD Candidate: Guy Burchett
Get in touch – https://www.croydonlibdems.org/contact_us

Durham UA, Wingate.
Lab Seat. Cause: Death.
LD Candidate: Edwin Simpson
Get in touch – https://durhamlibdems.mycouncillor.org.uk/get-involved/?purpose=get%20in%20touch#page-content 

Southampton UA, Coxford Ward.
Ind Seat. Cause: Resignation.
LD Candidate Candidate: Sam Chapman [email protected]

Contact (campaign manager): Colin McDougal [email protected]

Good luck to all our candidates standing next week!

If you have a spare hour you can find contact details of who to ring to help out on our website.

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£8 billion funding black hole by 2025 will swallow up popular council services

Communities may suffer the loss of leisure and cultural facilities, fewer bus services, unkempt parks and green spaces and see fly-tippers go unpunished without government investment in under-pressure council services.

On Friday the cross-party Local Government Association launched its campaign to influence the forthcoming government Spending Review by warning about the growing risk to vital local services if the Government does not take action to secure the financial sustainability of councils.

However, the LGA said that, with the right funding and powers, councils can continue to lead their local areas, improve residents’ lives, reduce demand for public services and save money for the taxpayer.

Between 2010 and 2020, councils will have lost almost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided for services. 

Some councils are being pushed to the brink by this unprecedented loss of funding and an ongoing surge in demand for children’s services, adult social care services and homelessness support. This is on top of having to absorb other cost pressures, such as higher national insurance contributions, the apprenticeship levy and the National Living Wage.

More and more councils are struggling to balance their books, facing overspends and having to make in-year budget cuts.

Councils provide more than 800 services to residents in their local area – some of these are legal duties they have to provide whilst others are optional powers they can use depending on local priorities.

Money is increasingly having to be diverted from these optional services, which help build communities people want to live in, to plug growing funding gaps, while some councils have already been forced to cut their services back to the legal minimum “core offer”. 

With councils in England facing an overall funding gap of £8 billion by 2025, local government leaders fear many more will have to take similar action.

That could mean many cherished local – but discretionary – services such as the maintenance of parks, improving food hygiene and safety, certain bus services, cultural activities and council tax support for those in financial difficulty – face being drastically cut back by councils across the country.

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31 January 2019 – today’s press releases

  • Govt must follow evidence not chase headlines in fight against knife crime
  • Moran: Rough sleeping shames our whole country
  • Tory Govt woefully unprepared for no deal Brexit
  • Cable: Cancelled recess shows extent of Tory chaos
  • Davey: Shocking new figures expose prison crisis
  • Pharma giant stockpiling emergency trauma packs
  • Huge increase in part-time and postgraduate graduates
  • Cash-strapped councils asked to prepare for no deal is an insult to local services

Govt must follow evidence not chase headlines in fight against knife crime

Responding to the Home Secretary’s plan to give new powers to the police to tackle knife crime, Liberal Demcorat Home Affairs spokesperson Ed Davey said:

The UK is in

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Celia Thomas: Every disabled person should be able to live a life of dignity and respect

Last week, the House of Lords debated the future essential services run by local authorities. As local government is so important to Liberal Democrats, it’s no surprise that several Lib Dems took part in the debate.

Celia Thomas talked about two critical issues – social care and, first the provision of public toilets and the impact that cuts have on isolation of people with continence problems.

She warned against the idea that we need to provide support for disabled people so that they can work as this can promulgate the idea that there are deserving and undeserving disabled people. Every disabled person, she said, should be able to live a life of dignity and respect:

My Lords, I shall concentrate on the provision of social care but, before that, I want to mention something that I would call an essential service but which turns out to be discretionary. Here I shall lower the tone of the debate so I hope noble Lords will not mind; I am talking about the provision of public conveniences, lavatories, toilets or loos throughout the country. Those that are left are now often maintained by town or parish councils, but for how long? In 2010, there were over 5,000 public toilets; now, there are 4,486. Is it right that fast-food chains, supermarkets and coffee shops have now virtually taken the place of public toilets? What happens when these places are closed, when managers are reluctant to let everyone use their facilities or when there are no accessible toilets? We should not forget the silent number of people trapped in their homes because of continence problems.

I turn now to social care. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said, we are no nearer to seeing the Government’s Green Paper; as late as October, we were told it would be with us by the end of the year. The funding issue is a fiendishly difficult problem because social care encompasses so much and is so little understood. We need a different term; I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patten, about language. The word “social”, according to the dictionary, means,

“marked by friendly companionship with others”.

But, in local government terms, it has a much sterner face to cover the state’s obligation to help care for children, including those with mild or severe learning difficulties, as well as disabled and elderly adults. It may have to cover playschemes for disabled children, personal assistants, aids and equipment, care at home and residential care.

Not only are we all living longer, but there is now a better survival rate for people with serious health conditions. I believe that the dictionary definition of the word “social” is one reason why so many people think the service is free for council taxpayers rather ​than means-tested, or partly means-tested. Anyone who thinks the answer for even quite severely disabled people is NHS continuing care should think again as it is very difficult to get. As for delays in hospital discharges, these are still causing a problem due to care packages having to be negotiated or re-negotiated. Can the Minister say how the Government have evaluated the impact of health and well-being boards in tackling the increasing number of these delays?

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Paul Scriven: We need to fund Councils properly and give them the powers to create great communities

Local Government is an issue of paramount importance to Liberal Democrats. Last week in the Lords, Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven led a debate on the essential services that local authorities provide. He outlined how chronic underfunding of local government, combined with rising demand for services was creating unsustainable problems.

Here is his speech:

I am very pleased to be leading this debate because to me it is a vital issue that affects every village, every town, every city and every region: local government has a positive power to change people’s lives. Just think of the older person who is becoming vulnerable and possibly losing their independence. With good public health, good housing services and good social services that person can continue to lead an independent life with dignity. Just think of the young man who might be on a crossroads between violence and going forward to have a fulfilling life. With good youth services and education services that young person can be supported to make the correct decision and have a successful life.

Local government can facilitate enterprise and business locally with good business development services, planning and support services provided by local authorities. They can help to create vibrant, successful and sustainable communities: libraries, parks, clean air, shared spaces and bringing people together to give them opportunities to achieve. That is the vision that I think most people have of a good local service: bottom up and delivering for people—not just a service provider of last resort but a local democratic hub that facilitates and brings opportunities for people and businesses to succeed.

I will mention my own journey in Sheffield in the local authority, first as a back-bench councillor helping individual constituents, then as leader of the opposition, ​many times clashing with the then chief executive, the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake—I am not sure whether he will raise that—then as chair of scrutiny, holding the executive to account, and then having the great pleasure of leading that great city and that great council. I was then put on early retirement when I lost my seat and am now back again as a local councillor. I saw the power that local authorities can have to affect individuals and communities and make a real difference to people’s ability to succeed in their life.

That is what the situation should do, but we must look at what it has now become in many cases. Sadly, in some cases local authorities have not just become the provider of last resort but are struggling to be even that—we only have to look at Northamptonshire, Somerset, Norfolk and Lancashire County Councils, and the National Audit Office warning that reserves are running out. In some cases they are not just unable to provide the opportunities that I talked about but are unable to provide the very statutory services that they are there to provide in an emergency as a safety net.

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In War: Resolution, In Defeat: Defiance, In Victory: Magnanimity, In Peace: Good Will.

As Remainers, we have lived by the first two parts of Churchill’s famous saying from World War Two in our fight against Brexit. We have been by turns both resolute and defiant.

Now, on the verge of victory (not yet certain I know but looking more likely) we need to start looking at how we can be magnanimous and promote, hopefully, good will. To do this, we need to look at the reasons why some many areas outside the main metropolitan areas voted to leave the EU.

The lack of affordable housing, the concentration of economic development in the Home Counties …

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Ros Scott’s closing speech to ALDC Kickstart

The newly elected President of ALDC, Baroness Ros Scott, closed the ALDC Kickstart event yesterday afternoon. She has kindly made available the text of her speech…

I hope that you have all had a wonderful weekend.

These are the most difficult and unpredictable political times that I can ever remember. There’s no way of knowing what the backdrop to next May’s elections will be.

But some things never change.

When I joined in 1991, I was a community campaigner in my home town of Needham Market. The only political party who were really engaged with the community were the Lib Dems, and that’s …

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LibLink: Cllr Robert Aldridge: Whatever happened to joined up thinking?

This Budget has meant that local government is going to be taking even more of a hit in England. In Scotland, too, councils bear the brunt of SNP cuts.

A Lib Dem Councillor in Edinburgh, Robert Aldridge, who, for five years from 2007-12 was the city’s finance convener, has written an article for the Edinburgh Evening News about what a total mess the Labour/SNP coalition is making of running Scotland’s capital.

Their cuts have not been done in a  strategic way and, in fact, generate more costs in the future:

He set out the problems:

As the scale of council cuts grows we are seeing fewer and fewer staff struggling to try to provide the same level of service with smaller and smaller budgets. More and more we see staff having to focus on their part of a task rather than the best way of achieving the best service for the citizen.

And the impact they have on people’s lives:

For the want of a janitor in a community centre we are likely to see more people having to move to residential care, at enormous expense. We are focusing limited resources on those with highest needs, but at the expense of low-level support which prevents problems becoming acute. We are facing an obesity crisis amongst our young people. But we are increasing the costs for voluntary groups to use council facilities in the evening, making it likely that they will either have to increase charges (excluding young people from poorer families) or meet less frequently, or for a shorter period.

And what’s the solution?

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Power for people and communities

I am very pleased to be presenting the policy paper Power for People and Communities at Conference, having chaired the group that developed the paper.

The proposals set out a strong agenda for devolution and localism within England. We are arguing for greater financial autonomy for local authorities, STV in local elections, making it easier to establish Town or Community Councils in urban areas, strengthening the powers of local government over issues from education to health to planning, and also reforming the Social Value Act to encourage the use of public or not-for-profit providers when commissioning local services.

Judging by the amendments submitted, a focus of the debate will be on devolution within England. The paper develops and strengthens existing policy on this since the last major policy debate in 2014. We set out a clear ambition to achieve a comprehensive devolved tier within England, while recognising that the appetite for devolution is different in different areas and we need to take people with us.

Our approach is to enact permissive legislation to empower groups of local authorities to come together to establish devolved governance in their areas. We will proceed by consensus as far as possible, but will not allow one local authority to veto a coherent proposal.

The geographical makeup of the devolved authorities should reflect local opinion. The decision should reflect local views, traditional boundaries and community identification as well as economic units, current council boundaries and travel-to-work areas. In some areas this could be city regions, in others sub-regions or a whole region as one unit. 

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My first 100 days as a Councillor

When I joined the Lib Dems in April 2017, little did I know that a year later I would be the first BAME Lib Dem councillor elected in Merton.

I have many people to thank for my journey, but essentially this happened because I was trusted by my new Lib Dem family to help lead our success in Merton and show our values by the way I serve – which is what I’ve tried to do.

The election campaign was intense and emotional. West Barnes was a top target ward and a lot rested on us winning. But it wasn’t easy. Early on the two sitting Conservatives were still confident, delighting in using social media to patronise and ridicule us. Labour brought out their big guns: the neighbouring MP, local parliamentary candidate, Momentum activists and the Leader of the Council who made our ward his second home. He claimed he would ensure there were no Lib Dems on Merton council. This was a battle!

At times it was nasty. I was shouted at by Labour activists when I talked to residents, and people who declared they would vote for us were heckled in the street.

But our campaigns were local, relevant and consistent. We listened and acted on what we were told, committed to real change, and a fresh start. As candidates we were on the streets nearly every day for nearly 2 years, building on years of work by our sitting and former councillors and others. We were not here just to win, we were here to serve.

By the count I was exhausted, and there were moments I felt we may have lost. By midnight as the votes piled up it was clear it was between us and the Tories. By 4am, a recount. The Tories just couldn’t believe we had beaten all their candidates for the first time in 18 years. But we did! We won all 3 seats in West Barnes and had a real breakthrough with our first wins in Dundonald and Trinity wards too. Our best results ever, with a group of 6 councillors.

My first week in I did as I promised and started to make a difference. I organised an inter-faith Iftar (the meal Muslims have to end the day’s fast) during Ramadan – the first ever organised by Merton Council – for local community and faith groups at our local library. At my first Council meeting I proposed a plan to keep local parks free for a football charity, following a big campaign we had run in the election. Residents came to the meeting and brought banners and posters in support. We lost the motion but the next day we were on the front page of the local paper, and more importantly we’re still fighting!

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Upset in East Herts, solid hold in Cornwall…

Another Thursday, another unlikely result…

Yes, that’s a 51.7% swing, for the aficionados out there.

For the Conservatives, who had previously held all fifty seats on the council, they’ll just have to get used to having an opposition in the Council chamber. Well done to Sophie Cook, one of our younger members, and her team in a part of the county where success has been traditionally hard won.

Elsewhere, a solid defence in Bude, on Cornwall Council…

See, not all gammon is bad… Again, congratulations to David Parsons and the North Cornwall crew – a lovely bunch from my memory as Presidential consort.

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ALDC Campaigner Awards 2018

The annual ALDC Campaigner Awards provide a way for us to recognise the outstanding work of local Liberal Democrat campaigners and campaign teams. And nominations for 2018 are now open (closing 26 August), sponsored by our print partners, Election Workshop. You don’t have to be an ALDC member to enter (but you can find out about membership here).

THE CATEGORIES:

Best local election campaign – We’re looking for local parties that have fought effective and strong 2018 local election campaigns – how did you win, what innovative new ideas did you use, …

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Devolution to the English Regions is not just a good thing – it’s absolutely essential.

The problems of the UK will never be solved while the whole of the Country is dominated by Westminster and Whitehall. I have believed that for all the 51 years I have been a member of our Party (or its predecessor!) I believe it now and that is why I am more than a little disappointed with the policy paper and motion being sent from the FPC to Party Conference. It just isn’t strong enough, urgent enough or angry enough!

Whilst still a Liberal member I was asked on Radio 4 to respond to the parody often created then of the average Liberal member being a long-haired, real ale drinker in sandals. My parody is somewhat different. I said then and I say now of our Party we protest with a campaign song which goes:

“What do we want?”

“Gradual Change”

“When do we want it?”

“As soon as possible please if that’s all right with you old chap”.

I’m afraid that is just not good enough for me. For almost all political life I have been a campaigner in Liverpool. I have held all sorts of positions when we controlled the Council and for my first 22 years as a Councillor represented some of the poorest communities in the Country. I have always been aware during that time that the needs of the poorest of our communities have been held back by policies devised by nice people, often well meaning, in Whitehall and Westminster but who have absolutely no ideas what it is like to live in a ‘Toxteth’ or a ‘Sparkbrook’.

Policies are created to look at the needs of those who live in the London Evening Standard catchment area – and not even the poorest bits of that.

The centralisation of power in London has dragged many of the brightest, most capable and most articulate away from using their talents in the great Northern Cities and Towns. This has reduced our capacity to create good jobs in good businesses. The creative talents of the North fuel what has been an overheating economy of the South East. This is not good for the South-East. Staggering house prices; long commutes and a poor environment are the price paid for that overheating.

At Conference we will be debating a motion supported by a policy paper that I have had a hand in creating. The motion is looking at the way that the UK is governed with a particular look at the way England is governed. It’s not that there is anything in the paper that I disagree with. It’s just that it’s all a bit anaemic. It’s just not angry enough about the Stalinist control that Westminster and Whitehall have over ‘the provinces’.

Arguably, England is the most centralised state in Western Europe. Bureaucrats in Whitehall and politicians in Westminster micro manage communities throughout the country. They do it by the creation of laws and Statutory Instruments and enforce their rule through a series of inspectorates and regionally based bureaucrats such as Children’s Commissioners.

This is rigorously enforced by the financial controls that Westminster imposes. The theory of localism and do what you think is right is supplanted by ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’.

Liberal Democrats think that this centralisation is wrong. Liberal Democrats believe that decisions over policies and spending should be made at the lowest possible and practical level. These levels will be different for different types of activity. 

A more muscular liberalism would want urgently to break the power of Westminster and Whitehall over issues of a domestic nature which should rightly be decided by those who have a clear understanding of the nature of problems and can devise local solutions.

  • The lowest level would be the neighbourhood perhaps 5,000 people
  • Then the district around 100,000 people
  • Then the Town or City – between 250,000 and 750,000 people
  • Then the County or Conurbation – between 750,000 and 2,500,000 people
  • Then the region which, following the devolved governmental system could be up to 5 million people.

I recognise that this will mean systems that look different in different parts of the Country. This is right. The way you provide services in a heavily rural area should look very different to the way they are provided in a heavily urban area.

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