Last week I sent an email to my list of contacts across the constituency outlining my vision for Hastings (and St Leonards) over the next five years.
Quite rightly and properly, it was not long before I received an email back from a disgruntled Ryer saying how interesting all this was, but had Rye been forgotten – again?
Certainly not, is the truth! But it is important to acknowledge that different areas of our constituency have different needs, and that although there are many common issues, we shouldn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach.
And so this post is dedicated entirely to Rye and District; and I hope you Hastings & St Leonards residents won’t be offended!
Having spent 15 years working in frontline mental health services I know first-hand how important it is to have a properly funded NHS – not just meeting our physical health needs, but our mental health needs too.
And that’s why I have spent the last eight years campaigning for excellent emergency services across the whole of East Sussex.
It is particularly important for the East of the constituency to have timely access to key services. That is why from 2007 onwards I fought tooth and nail against losing maternity services at the Conquest, and why during this Parliament, I campaigned for us not to lose Stroke Services; and why I will defend local Health services against misguided downsizing and reorganisation every time this is attempted. And despite problematic national and local trends for General Practice, I will work to ensure that we have sufficient numbers of GPs per head of population in our constituency.
I am proud to tell you that the Liberal Democrats have committed to delivering the £8bn that the Head of the NHS, Simon Stevens, says it needs over the course of the next Parliament.
We can only make this investment because we have put the country’s finances in order and turned the economy around. We have halved the deficit and created nearly 2 million jobs. That is how we are different from Labour.
But Liberal Democrats in Government have created a stronger, greener economy in order to underwrite a fairer society, so that there is opportunity for everyone. Our priorities have been totally different from the Conservatives.
We have taken millions of people on low wages out of tax, benefitting many in Rye and our villages, and we aim to take everyone earning the Minimum Wage out of tax altogether.
We have created nearly two million apprenticeships and we have more work to do, in order to ensure that our young people have a future in which they can excel – not just if they are academic, but if they have talents that are optimised by a superb vocational and experiential education.
Liberal Democrats have spent £2.5bn each year of this Parliament targeting money at school children from disadvantaged backgrounds. If elected, I will make my priority the provision of excellent local schools across our constituency, helping to protect education spending from cradle to college.
I will also campaign for a change of direction in our regeneration efforts – away from building empty office space, to investing in homes and people, as well as regenerating the sports and community facilities of Rye, and in the villages.
This is a way of fighting social exclusion, but is also key to improving public health as well.
And in order to help with this process I will join forces with any progressives who want to take on Rother District Council, and realise proper decision-making powers for Rye and the villages.
I will continue to fight for a fairer deal for our fishermen; and I will do all I can to support Rye’s well-deserved reputation as a premium tourism destination.
And I will deliver the improvement of our public transport infrastructure that we all want to see, demanding the electrification of the railway to Ashford sooner than the HS1 extension, and the creation of a South Coast Mainline Railway.
I will also lead the debate on how to manage the infrastructure implications of HS1 in Rye town centre, and will champion park and ride solutions for the station, and improved cycling and walking infrastructure.
I will be a skilled and an independent-minded advocate for the people of Rye, and the villages of our constituency, at Westminster. I will bring to the job of MP a wealth of experience from a working life outside of politics, dedicated to the most vulnerable in our society.
Hastings Independent Press has asked the candidates for the General Election in Hastings & Rye a series of questions, and the answers have been published over the editions before Polling Day. Here is what I said about my vision for Hastings over the next five years:
‘Hastings and St Leonards are fantastic places to grow up, live and work. My partner and I both work locally. Our children go to school and church here. We spend our money and our leisure time here.
‘We moved here in 2007 because of Hastings’ unique combination of history, lifestyle, natural beauty and the arts.
‘But I accept that there have been significant problems unresolved over decades, and that there continue to be challenges ahead.
‘I want to see a more self-confident Hastings in five years’ time. A town making the most of the skills of its people – young and old. A town where municipal politics is less tribal and more geared towards helping our most vulnerable, in a cross-party way.
‘Improving our transport links, and building more affordable housing will improve prosperity and quality of life. But we must protect our architectural heritage too; and sort out our planning system once and for all.
‘I believe our children and young people deserve excellent schools, colleges and sports facilities; as well as the possibility of working in interesting, well-paid jobs, in the town that they grew up.
‘I want us to facilitate high tech and green industries locating here to create jobs.
‘With the regeneration of the Pier, there is the opportunity to build a unique tourism offer based in the arts, and our collective approach to the environment. We must work with other local authorities along the coast to join-up thinking, funding and resources.
‘I believe my experience of living, working, and bringing up a family in the town, along with the skills and expertise that I bring as an advocate for our most vulnerable, make me the best candidate for the job in May. I hope your readers will give me the opportunity to prove it.’
I was delighted to attend the Marshlink Action Group annual general meeting at Rye Town Hall on Friday evening, chaired professionally as ever by Stuart Harland.
I am so grateful for the informed and activist way in which this group of people keep the public transport infrastructure needs of the (East of the) constituency right at the top of the political agenda.
There was a great presentation from Network Rail’s Lisa Goodman – telling us the exciting plans for the extension of HS1 in 2019-24. And there was an energetic presentation from Ray Chapman – Chair of the East Sussex Rail Alliance – which focused on a South Coast Mainline Railway. I am pleased to say that Liberal Democrats were mentioned positively in dispatches for the work we have done in leading and supporting this campaign.
I was pleased as well, at the end of the meeting, to explain the implications of the Budget a couple of days before. Liberal Democrats have now published their fiscal plans for the coming Parliament. I am delighted to say that we will have balanced the books by the financial year 2017-18 and so we will have billions more to invest in capital infrastructure than the Conservatives will, given their rigid, ideological commitment to austerity.
I was happy to explain to the gathered number that in order to ensure the spend needed for the extension of HS1 to our constituency, they might need to vote for it!
Unless you are very into your politics you could be forgiven for not knowing my Lib Dem colleague Greg Mulholland – the MP for Leeds North West – but over the course of this Parliament he has been absolutely pivotal in making sure of reforms to the power of the pubcos across the country and making sure that landlords get a fairer deal from them.
I was delighted to meet up with him and Business Secretary
Vince Cable MP, in Liverpool last week, whilst we were there for Liberal Democrat Spring Conference.
I was able to thank Greg on behalf of Hastings & Rye for his work, and to tell him all about the wonderful pubs and music scene that we have down here. Needless to say he was impressed, and plans to make a visit and see for himself, after the small matter of the election in May!
My thanks to our candidate in Hitchin & Harpenden, (otherwise known as ‘The Hackney Heroine’), Pauline Pearce, for coming to Hastings at the beginning of the month to share with us some of her experience and views around regeneration issues – in London, and with wider applicability for a constituency like ours.
Sadly, not one elected member of Hastings Borough Council came to listen and to participate in the discussion. Perhaps they already know all there is to know about regeneration?
I interviewed Pauline about her experience of the riots in 2011 and how life had changed for her after stand (against the rioters) was filmed and posted on YouTube, where it quickly went viral.
We also spoke about the need to engage people with experience of poverty and social exclusion in policy-making and political processes and the grassroots ways she has employed in order to do that in her own area.
I am grateful to members of the Hastings Older People’s Ethnic Group who were represented.
And of course to Blacklands Church (which is where my daughters and I are members) for allowing us to hire the hall. [It’s a really good venue if you need one – great value and with a fantastic kitchen!]
Needless to say it was a fascinating afternoon. And Lindsey’s scones went down extremely well!
I have had so much correspondence on this issue over the past few days that I thought it would be useful to pen a post to set out some of my thoughts.
And they are thoughts only, because working locally in frontline mental health care, on a public sector salary, I don’t have much personal experience of being able to avoid tax – much less to be able to afford to pay someone to advise me on how to do it better…
Not sure if you saw it, but I thought the debate on Question Time last night (12/02) was informative, and clearly there is an important distinction between tax evasion – which is illegal – and tax avoidance. But there is a moral and ethical dimension to tax avoidance which is important for politicians to show they understand, and will respond to through policy actions.
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister (for Energy & Climate Change) who was on the Question Time panel last night made a good point about the importance of reforming the funding of political parties, because these issues become even more toxic when you take into account the fact that rich people often seek political influence via political donations.
Speaking to Lib Dem colleagues in Government, a lot of work has been done during this Parliament to try to close loopholes that allow the very rich to avoid paying tax – Danny Alexander at the Treasury has been working extremely hard on this: he has closed Labour’s tax loophole for private jets; appointed 1000 new criminal investigators to achieve more prosecutions; clawed back £9 billion through deals with Switzerland, Lichtenstein and the Channel Islands; got 262 banks to sign up to the Code of Practice on Tax stopping them from promoting tax avoidance. But I can quite understand that people think this is all yadayadayada, and it is clear that much more needs to be done to deter people in the first place.
And the issue of tax avoidance becomes even more unpleasant when set against the seemingly energetic work of Ian Duncan Smith’s Department of Work and Pensions in respect of benefit fraud. You could be forgiven for thinking that there is one rule for the rich and another for everyone else, as Chris Bryant the Labour former Minister said on Question Time last night.
Personally, I think it is important that the government focuses attention on increasing taxes on wealth as opposed to income. And this is something that the Lib Dems will be pushing for over the course of the next weeks and months. Particularly, we should focus on land or property taxes as an effective, unavoidable way of raising tax revenue, as well as squaring up to the multinational corporations to get them to pay their fair share.
Because ultimately it is important that those with the broadest shoulders, those who can afford to pay into the pot, contribute a fair proportion of their wealth in tax as we all seek to create a civilised society, with good public services, free to all at the point of delivery. The party or parties that can convince the electorate that they are both serious about this and can deliver should be hopeful of good support at the General Election in May.
I put the case here that the Lib Dems have a record of action in Government on this issue, and there is a promise of more to come. We are working to build a stronger economy, in order to underwrite a fairer society; so that there will be opportunity for everyone.
On the eve of MP Amber Rudd’s second rail summit in Hastings (30 January) Nick Perry, the Lib Dem candidate for MP in Hastings & Rye, has launched an audacious campaign for a South Coast main line railway stretching from Southampton to Ashford.
The 38 year old, who was re-selected last year to fight the seat for the Lib Dems, has submitted a motion to the Party’s pre-General Election Conference, to be held in Liverpool in March.
Lewes Lib Dem MP and former Transport Minister Norman Baker has backed the motion, which seeks to bolster sustainable economic development across the coastal towns of the South Coast.
Publishing an article on Lib Dem Voice (an influential national blog),
‘This railway would have a direct positive impact on the economies of at least thirty constituencies along the South Coast.
‘We already have support from Dover to Gosport, and Fareham via Brighton and Lewes. We need to think East-West as well as North-South, and we consider that this bold proposal would send a strong message about Liberal Democrat commitment to the less advantaged people and areas along the South Coast, and to the objectives of sustainable economic development.
‘We must build on the work of the Parliament just gone. Not only in terms of proving that Lib Dems can deliver policy in Government, but also explaining how policy areas overlap, because the Liberal Democrat narrative of positive and negative freedoms neatly join up areas of policy. A progressive, joined up, stakeholder recovery: that’s what our country is crying out for.’
Responding to the initiative, Ray Chapman, Co-Chairman of East Sussex Rail Alliance, said:
‘The fundamental elements of the South Coastal communities regeneration are the bringing together of new enterprise and investments with a more mobile workforce, which both can be delivered by the South Coast Main Line development. The more the support, the greater the dividends that this crucial rail scheme can deliver.’
Lib Dem Spring Conference will be staged in Liverpool between 13-15 March.
Hastings & Rye Liberal Democrats wholeheartedly support the aims of the proposed licensing scheme as set out in the preamble to the consultation, however we do not believe that the scheme as proposed has any chance of successfully achieving the expressed aims.
The consultation document and the event organised by Generation Rent at the White Rock Hotel on 25 November have both demonstrated that the Council has failed to engage with private sector landlords in a meaningful way; and has missed an opportunity to develop a coalition of stakeholders supporting excellent housing standards for Hastings in the private rented sector.
The private rented sector accounts for 30% of the housing capacity of a Borough that is facing a serious challenge to provide sufficient adequate housing for local residents.
There is no indication that HBC has done any research into other such schemes across the country, to test whether license schemes have unintended outcomes in respect of encouraging private landlords to sell their properties or to leave properties empty.
It is clear to us that a reduction in the Borough’s housing capacity could present HBC and associated agencies (including East Sussex County Council social services and the NHS) with considerable difficulties in respect of burgeoning housing demand for vulnerable individuals and families.
The licensing scheme as proposed is estimated to cost £3.5m over 5 years, however there is no breakdown of this figure which is solely for the administration of the scheme.
The scheme and the license fee has no enforcement dimension. HBC offers nothing to private landlords via their putative license, other than the obviation of prosecution.
The local authority already has powers to enforce against criminal landlords should it choose to do so.
Social landlords as well as private landlords must be required to adhere to Decent Homes standards in the Borough.
Licensing schemes such as the one proposed by HBC are allowable under the Housing Act 2004 on the grounds of reducing anti-social behaviour. There is little or no evidence to demonstrate how the scheme will address this key issue.
Private sector landlords attending the Generation Rent debate seemed to give an indication that, overwhelmingly, they would be willing to register with the Council as a provider of private rented accommodation on a no-cost basis.
The Council would need to find a way to prosecute those landlords who failed to register with such a scheme, and who continued to provide sub-standard private-rented accommodation in Hastings and St Leonards.
Enforcement appears to be the key issue in respect of achieving adequate housing standards, and the Council must derive a budget for this, and offer a variety of potential income streams, including via a hypothecated rise in Council Tax.
The Council also needs to demonstrate that it has a vision to build more affordable housing in the Borough, and send the message that providing Decent Homes can only be done by creating a coalition of the willing – including Council Tax payers.
We support the expressed aims of the licensing scheme but we want a scheme that will deliver. Unfortunately, this is not it.
Dear Editor [of the Hastings and the Rye Observers],
Local Post Offices are the beating heart of our communities and provide a vital service for vulnerable and elderly residents across Hastings & Rye.
That is why I am delighted that Liberal Democrats have thrown a crucial lifeline to Post Offices that will help keep the network strong, as well as supporting the disabled and elderly people who rely on the post office network.
I know from my own work in social care, and speaking to local people with a political hat on, that many rely on the post office: from collecting pensions and other benefits, to other crucial everyday personal finance activities.
The Post Office Card Account provides simple banking services for people without a traditional bank current account and has around 2.5 million users. It was due to expire in March 2015 but a £250m deal secured by Liberal Democrat pension minister Steve Webb means it will now last until 2022 at the latest.
I know that this news will be welcomed by readers across the constituency, and will also encourage sub-postmasters to keep post offices open. The increased footfall from providing these services helps generate income for their businesses, and I hope will help ensure that our local Post Office network stays strong for years to come.