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.
Nick has visited Sacred Heart primary school in Hastings Old Town with local restaurateur Nick Hales (of St Clement’s restaurant) to publicise National School Meals Week.
Since September this year 1.8 million infants – defined as pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 – have been entitled to a free hot meal at lunchtime. This is something that Liberal Democrats have fought for within the Coalition Government.
Speaking after the visit, Nick Perry said:
‘I am delighted to see that free school meals for Reception and Years 1 and 2 are being taken up by parents and children. It is fundamental that we provide good nourishing food to children in their early years because it helps them to develop, to concentrate better and achieve more at school. This is particularly important in a constituency like ours where many families are struggling to make ends meet. I am delighted that this has been a Liberal Democrat priority in government, and we will seek to roll it out further. ’
Local chef Nick Hales added,
‘I am really behind this initiative. It takes the pressure off parents to give their children a balanced diet and helps them to learn about food – especially foods that they might not always have at home.’
Nurseries, childminders and other early years providers in East Sussex are set for a £350k cash injection to help three and four-year-olds from disadvantaged families.
Children from low income families have often fallen behind more well off classmates before they even start school.
But from April 2015, the Early Years Pupil Premium – which has been backed by groups like Barnados, 4Children and the Child Poverty Action Group – will mean extra money to make sure every child gets a fair start.
Nick Perry, Lib Dem candidate for MP in Hastings & Rye said: “By investing nearly £350k in East Sussex to help the most disadvantaged three and four-year-olds, Liberal Democrats are ensuring that children are getting the best possible start in life.
“All the evidence shows that helping children as early as possible is key to making sure they do not fall behind. That is why this announcement is fantastic news for children in our constituency.
“It is all part of creating a fairer society, and opportunity for everyone. And the difference to be made is especially vivid for me at the moment, because my youngest daughter is 4 years old, and has just started at school this Autumn.”
Nurseries and schools will be free to choose how to spend the money, which is part of a £50m Government pot.
It comes on top of Lib Dem-led changes in Government to help families, which include shared parental leave, tax free childcare, Free School Meals, and a pupil premium for school age children.
Liberal Democrat Schools Minister David Laws added: “Every child deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential, whatever their background.
“Liberal Democrats in government have already extended free early years education for all children in East Sussex.
“Now this cash boost will mean extra support for those children who need it most.”