Letter from Bassetlaw – March 27th 2016

Leon DuveenIt’s Easter weekend and we have had lovely weather on Good Friday, followed by a windy, then wet & windy, Easter Saturday.  As I am writing this on Saturday evening (I will be busy with my family all day on Sunday) Easter Day looks to be mostly dry as does Easter Monday so, in the end, not a bad break from work with plenty of chances to get out in to the garden to tidy it up after winter.

One of the side effects with spending time in the garden is that it produces large amounts of waste.  Currently, here in Bassetlaw we have to dispose of such waste by composting it ourselves, taking it to one of the two County Council Recycling Centres (and now you have to register your car to access them, I predict that their use will drop off) or simply dump it in the general waste wheelie bin to be collected in the usual way.

Why am I writing about garden waste?  It is because, after finding out that they are the worst mainland English District Council at recycling, Bassetlaw District Council have finally woken up to the fact that they are rubbish at dealing with rubbish.

The response from Cllr Julie Leigh, the Cabinet member with responsibility for dealing with rubbish, has been to do a residents’ survey (a classic delaying tactic designed to put off taking any action) which concentrates almost entirely on garden waste as if that is the only issue with recycling.

Judging from what is in the survey, the proposed solution is to charge those who want to recycle their garden waste a yearly fee for the privilege of having it collected.  I may be being a bit cynical but this won’t encourage people to recycle their garden waste when they can already dispose of it for free in their wheelie bin nor will it help deal with recycling other possible waste from homes.   Where are the proposals for collections of glass bottles, why are there not more recycling points for drinks cartons (tetra paks) than the existing three (or even collect them with other recycling as Bolsover does?

Rather than waste time with a survey about a partial impractical solution, I suggest Cllr leigh contacts our neighbouring local councils to get ideas about what works & what doesn’t otherwise Bassetlaw’s Recycling Shame will continue for a very long time.

 

Another issue in the news this week is the Tory Government’s policy to impose Academy status on all schools, primary as well as secondary, whether or not they want it.   This is worrying as it will reduce local accountability of schools (Academies do not have to have independent governors overseeing them), make sure that there are places for students in schools near where they live far more difficult and weakens the role of Teachers’ Unions in making surer their members of not overworked.

As there is no evidence that Local Authority run schools are any worse than Academies, the only reasons for pushing this idea are political.  It seems to me that at the heart of this policy is an attack on accountable Local Authorities to reduce their influence in Education, an attack on teachers as Academies do not have to stick to national pay agreements and, most of all, an attack on parents, telling them that they are not responsible to have any say on how their children are taught.

By passing control of our children’s education away from our elected representatives to unelected & unaccountable Academy Trusts, the chances are we will see more stories about corruption & conflicts of interests such as this one from Birmingham. The forced change to Academy status is certainly isn’t in the interest of most children and parents.

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Letter for Bassetlaw – March 20th 2016

Another busy week with work, family & political commitments combining to keep me rushed of my feet. To be honest, I wouldn’t want it any other way, I find not being busy just as tiring and much less productive.

I did however make time yesterday to watch England beat France (always something worth celebrating) to complete the Grand Slam.  Not a classic game but a great watch anyway & a good way to round off a busy day.

Yesterday afternoon I was out on Carolgate in Retford, helping with a “Stronger In” street stall.  It is always great to get out and talk to those who will be voting and while there were plenty who had already made up their mind and no amount of facts or evidence was going to change that, many were either already in favour of Remaining In or were undecided and wanted to find out more.

What did surprise me was the level of argument that some in the “Leave” campaign use.  When any attempt to give factual information to show why we are better off remaining in the EU, is met with “that sh*te!”, it is really hard to a sensible discussing.  If they cannot do better than that, then the British public will soon realise that the “Leave” campaign is built on bluster & daydreams and that we need to stay in the EU.

One discussion we had yesterday was with a student who wants to go on to University to study Law.  He was initially favouring the Leave side but when it was pointed out that, if we stay in the EU, he could study in English at a leading European University where there are much lower (or even no) Tuition Fees or that, even if he goes to a UK University, he could spend a year at a University in Europe as part of his course[i] he saw that Remaining In, was not such a bad idea.  This leads me to discuss the second of the areas that I suggest people should look at when thing about how to vote, Opportunity.

Being in the EU gives us more than direct economic benefits.  Part of the being in the single market means we enjoy the benefit of the Free movement of persons.  As we pointed out to the young student, this means that students from the UK can study at Universities in the EEA (EU + EFTA countries) on the same terms as students from those countries.   It means that works from the UK can work anywhere in the EEA without being discriminated against (except in some circumstances where knowledge of the language is critical, as in medicine), remember the TV series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet?  It also means pensioners can retire to Spain or France.  Many UK citizens have made use of these rights and there are about 2.2 million Brits who for at least part of the year, live work or study elsewhere in the EU.  This compares to the 2.3 million citizens of other EU countries who live, work or study in the UK[ii]

It is not just people who benefit from the opportunities being in the EU.  Companies in the UK can tender for work anywhere in the EEA and many do.  Not just in manufacturing, bust also in services & finance, British companies are look for customers & opportunities across Europe, providing work for people here in the UK.

All this would be at risk if we leave the EU.  The opportunities for young British people to expand horizons by studying abroad, the opportunities for British people to work anywhere across Europe would be curtailed & the opportunities for our companies to tender for contracts & openings in the EU will be diminished.   Is this what you want?

[i] http://www.erasmusprogramme.com/

[ii] https://fullfact.org/europe/eu-migration-and-uk/

The Tory plan to privatise education

Today the Tory Government have announced that they plan to turn all state schools that haven’t yet changed into Academies, regardless of the wishes of the teachers, parents or other stakeholders in those schools that so far have decided not to leave the Local Education Authority (LEA) family.

This is in spite of a recent report by the Head of Ofsted that some Academies Chains ‘have “serious weaknesses” as bad as the local authorities they were intended to replace’.  Indeed, there is no proof that Academies, either standalone ones or those in Chains, provide a better education than LEA supported schools.

Given that Academies (along with so-called “Free” schools) do not have to follow the National Curriculum, so do not have to provide Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, including Relationship & Sex Education, it is possible that these school give their students a poorer education, focussing more on getting students through Exams than making sure they are prepared for adult life.

Given this, we must ask why this Government seems so fixated on forcing this system of school governance on all schools regardless of proof it works or the wishes of those in the schools affected?

I believe it is down to three reasons, none of which have any bearing on the quality of education.

Firstly, this is an attack on Local Government.  Education has been one of the big jobs County & Unitary Councils still do and it makes up a large part of their budget.  By turning all schools into Academies, this will take that roll away from County, City & Town Halls, away from locally accountable Councillors and responsibility will pass to unaccountable Academies (some of whom are doing away with local & parent governors) and to the Department of Education (which I heard called the worse performing Government Department on the radio today).  This Government does not like accountable councillors as they have a tendency to do what is best for their local people and not what the Tories Ministers want, so it is simpler to remove them from any responsibility in this area.

Secondly, the Tories want to weaken the teachers & their Unions.  As Academies do not have to abide by National Pay Agreements, making all schools Academies will weaken the Teachers’ Unions and cheapen the profession in the eyes of their employers.   We are already seeing teachers leave the profession in droves in this country due to the stress of the way they are treated and force to work, when their pay is cut as well, this will become an exodus and that will damage the education of a generation of young people.

Thirdly, I think that this measure is part of this right-wing ideologically driven Government plan to push all education into the private sector.  Currently the Academies that run schools are not allowed to make a profit but there is nothing to stop them contacting in services from companies that can.  Without the independent Governors to oversee what they do, much of these financial arrangements are hidden and who knows what some Academies do with the millions they get to run schools?

 

I haven’t had time to go into the other question this measure raises (& I suspect that the Government hasn’t either) like how will be responsible for making sure there are enough school places in an area or what happens to pupils excluded (often for the flimsiest of reasons) from Academies?  Both these are now the responsibility of LEAs but if they do not control schools, how can they do this?

 

I hope that the opposition parties make it very clear that when they get back into power they will reverse the retrograde step, one that moves education back 100 years.  If not we can look forward to our children & grandchildren getting an ever narrower school “education” that does not prepare them for later life and in 25 years’ time we will all be wondering where it went wrong and bemoan our failed education system.

 

Letter from Bassetlaw – March 13th 2016

CroppedIt has been a lovely sunny weekend, dry warm (after the early morning chill has gone) and a great time to be out admiring our countryside.  However, I have chosen to spend most of it in a stuffy overheated hall in York at the Lib Dem Spring Conference.

As ever, Conference gives me a chance to meet fellow Lib Dem members from around the country, including some who I have spent years talking to on line but never met in person, and to recharge my enthusiasm for working to promote the Lib Dems here in Bassetlaw.

The highlight as ever was ever Tim Farron’s speech to close the Conference.  He was funny, inspiring, challenging but above all, passionate in his liberal vision for the United Kingdom (you watch it here, Tim’s speech starts at 3:13:00, or you can read the transcript).  He reiterated that it is only the Liberal Democrats that stand up for ordinary people, reminding everyone that Lib Dems “stand for election, not to be someone, but to do something!”  If you want to do something for your community, then come and join us, you can do that here.

The main role of Conference is to make policy for the Party and on three issues, what we decided in York has a direct bearing on the people of Bassetlaw.  These issues are Fracking the regulation of Cannabis and protecting tenants of Private Landlords (full details in the Agenda are on line)

On Fracking, I am delighted to say that we succeeded in getting a motion passed that was unequivocal in calling for an end to Fracking (see P43 in the Agenda) in England.  I wasn’t called to speak from the platform for this debate as I only got an “intervention” spot so could only give part of the speech I had prepared (you can read the full speech here) but never mind we won overwhelmingly and now opposing Fracking is the Lib Dem position.  (You can watch the whole debate on YouTube, it starts at 1:55:00, my contribution is at around 2:26:00.)  We in Bassetlaw now know which of the major parties active in our area are working to support the people in getting the drillers stopped.

Straight after that debate (so carry on watching the YouTube video, page 45 in the Agenda), we debated “Regulatory Framework for Cannabis”.  Another great, well informed & intelligent debate with an overwhelming majority for legalising, regulating & education about Cannabis.  The debate included the memorable line from former senior policeman Brain Paddick the “the police are wasted on cannabis!”.  Again Conference voted for a liberal comprehensive solution that looked to support people and not make them criminals.  By breaking the link between the illegal drug dealers (who also push harder, more dangerous drugs) and cannabis, we will help combat these gangs that blight these lives.

Finally, this morning we debated giving better protection to those renting homes from private landlords (Page 61 in the Agenda, at 2:16:00 in this YouTube video).  This is an issue that affect many not just in London or other big cities, but also in smaller towns like Worksop & Retford.  Many of us either know the issues first hand, or through the experiences of our children or because we live next to house being rented out and not being cared for.  The Lib Dems have taken a big step in driving the issue up the political agenda and the proposals in the motion will help those needing the rent (and the good private landlords) get the protection they need.

Obviously, there was much more at Conference than these three debates, training sessions, fringe events, even an unscheduled trip to A&E to support a young member who had damaged their knee falling down the steps at the Barbican Centre (and no, no drink was involved) but these three debates show that Lib Dems, far from being a spent force, are looking at how we can put people before vested interests, how we can make a difference rather than just hold office, how we can help build communities not just protect self-interests.

Conference for us is all about putting flesh on to the dry bones of our principles and our weekend in York did not disappoint.

The York LibDem IN Rally

It was a great start to the Conference and Tim has challanged each of us to get at least two new members, so now is the time to join a resurgent Lib Dem party.

Jonathan Fryer

imageThe Liberal Democrats’ Spring conference in York got off to a rousing start this evening with a rally underscoring the Party’s almost unanimous support for Britain to remain in the EU. The sole remaining LibDem MEP, Catherine Bearder, highlighted how her brand of patriotism involves Brutain at the heart of Europe, but some of the most impressive interventions from the platform this evening were from young newbies to the party, notably a young Muslim criminal lawyer from Walthamstow called Mohsin, and 18-year-old Lauren, who fought a brilliant campaign in a difficult ward in the London borough of Southwark recently. Tim Farron rounded off the proceedings; he is at his best in this sort of friendly environment, half serious, half jokey, but totally committed to Britain’s future in the EU. There was also a video of messages of solidarity from MEPs from continental sister parties in the ALDE Group in the…

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Letter from Bassetlaw – March 6th 2016

Leon DuveenIt has been a busy week, especially the last few days.  Having to arrange a flight at short notice for my wife to visit he father in hospital in Gouda made me realise how much easier this kind of travel is these days than not so many years ago and appearing in a “Question Time” event for the 6th Form at The Dukeries Academy in Ollerton with the local MP, Mark Spencer, & County Councillor, Mike Pringle, made me realise that there is no reason for young people of this age not to be able to vote note just in the upcoming Referendum but in elections in general.

 

This week’s developments on the proposed “Devolution” plans for the North Midlands has been interesting to say the least.  A number of Derbyshire local councils have rejected the plans and High Peaks (the bit of Derbyshire that sticks up towards Cheshire & Manchester) is looking at closer links to the new Greater Manchester Authority.  Also Chesterfield has voted to link to the Sheffield City Region Authority rather than North Midlands.  Meanwhile Bassetlaw Council is dithering about what to do and John Mann is campaigning to join Chesterfield in linking to Sheffield & South Yorkshire.

The problem for Bassetlaw with linking as full “Constituent” member to Sheffield City Region (even if that is allowed) is that so many of our services are provided by Nottinghamshire County Council and no one has any idea how these would be affected.  Public Transport, Roads, Training and may other budgets are all County Council areas and will be affected (at least in part) by the establishment of the North Midlands Authority.  If this does happen, it would lead to a very complicated effort to switch the funding for those areas that we get from Nottinghamshire to get it through the Sheffield City Region with no guaranteed that the new Mayor in Sheffield won’t spend any extra cash at his disposal in Barnsley, Rotherham or Doncaster rather than in Bassetlaw.  As usual, Mr Mann has taken a position that looks to get the maximum publicity for himself, looks popular on the surface but, when you check the underlying facts, simply doesn’t hold water.

I am no fan of the proposals for North Midland Authority and I hope that after the inconclusive meeting of the leaders of 19 different Councils involved last Friday, the whole idea gets shelved.  I would prefer to see proper devolution of power to local councils, not a rushed plan that doesn’t move power at all.  We need to take time to get it right and make sure that we involve the residents in the plans and that any new arrangement is answerable to them.

 

A couple of weeks ago I promised to go into more detail about each of the five areas that we need to think about.  First up is Prosperity, will remaining in the EU make the UK a richer nation than leaving?

In Bassetlaw over 6100 jobs are dependent on the EU[i].  That is a lot of jobs to put at risk.  Even if only ½ those jobs are lost if we leave the EU that is 3000 people looking for work in Bassetlaw, 3000 families losing a large part of their income.  And it isn’t just those 3000 families who would be affected, they will have left to spend in local shops, visits to restaurants & pubs will go down, there will be less money in the Bassetlaw (and also the British) economy.

At the same time, unless the UK can conclude a trade deal with the reduced EU, our imports will go up in price simply because of the Tariff Regime[ii] that will come into effect.  So as a country, the British people will have less money to spend on more expensive goods.

I mentioned Trade Deals above, these are very complicate agreements to conclude and often take years to conclude.  If we vote the leave the EU & the Government give notice of our intention to leave the EU, according Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, we have 2 years to negotiate an agreement with the remaining 27 countries “setting out the arrangements for its (our, in this case) withdrawal”.

Because we are an English speaking country with a highly developed economy inside the EU’s Single Market, the UK attracts 40% of all inward investment in to the EU.  Companies like Toyota, Bombardier & Honda are willing to put money in to their factories here as they know that the cars & trains can be sold to other EU countries with no added customs & tariff costs.  Outside of the Single Market, the UK would be a far less attractive place to invest.  Already we are seeing some of these companies[iii], as well as banks & other institutions, say they will have to reconsider any investments if we leave the EU.  This is one of the reasons that leaving would cause the loss of jobs I mentioned earlier.

So if we leave, we will have an economy getting smaller, with less money in people’s pockets while the cost on imports will be going up.   At the same time, we will be trying to negotiate trade agreements from a position of weakness.   Many nations (the US included[iv]) have already said they would not be looking at talking with us for a trade deal.  This does not strike me as a recipe for making sure we have a prosperous nation.

You may feel I am being overly pessimistic, but these are the facts.  We have a choice between remaining in an imperfect EU, working with our partners in Europe to make it better, attracting investment in from around the world to boost our economy or leaving to face a very uncertain future with few allies on our side.    I know which I will be choosing.

[i] http://www.europarl.org.uk/resource/static/files/ukjobs.pdf

[ii] https://www.gov.uk/trade-tariff/a-z-index/a

[iii] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/industry/engineering/11842649/Nissan-denies-scare-mongering-over-Brexit-as-it-invests-100m-in-Sunderland-plant.html

[iv] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/29/us-warns-britain-it-could-face-trade-barriers-if-it-leaves-eu