Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Two-faced MPs vote down boundary changes

MPs have voted to delay the redrawing of constituency boundaries until at least 2018. This is great news for Cornwall, as the “Devonwall” will not be created in advance of the next General Election.

The outcome was 334 votes to 292 to delay any changes.

I understand that Cornwall’s three Liberal Democrat MPs supported the delay, along with the whole of their parliamentary party. However it is a terrible shame that the Lib Dems only took this stance to spite their Coalition partners – after the vast majority has backed the process to create a Devonwall seat.

But unbelievably, Cornwall’s three Conservative MPs voted to push ahead with the boundary changes – which would have led to the inevitable creation of a cross-Tamar seat, which they pretended to campaign against.

I thought you might appreciate the above photograph from the Keep Cornwall Whole rally at Saltash, which featured Sheryll Murray (in the blue) campaigning against Devonwall. Today, she voted for Devonwall - shameful!

Re-elected Chairman of the Clay Country LAG

It has been a hectic day, but I can report that following todays’s Full Council meeting (more on that later), I was re-elected Chairman of the Clay Country Local Action Group. The LAG has been instrumental bringing forward projects in the China Clay Area with grants totalling over £1.5 million, and I am very pleased to be in a position to take the LAG through to the end of its programme period.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

No to global inequality

In tomorrow’s Cornish Guardian, my latest column will focus on global inequality. It is as follows:

I am presently reading a book entitled “The Spirit Level.” Written by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, this well-researched publication seeks to demonstrate how many of society’s ills are significantly worse in countries which suffer from great inequality.

It is a throught-provoking read and makes startling claims about how the vast majority would benefit – including society as whole – if there was less disparity between the rich and the less-well-off.

And in a similar vein, Oxfam has challenged the World’s political leaders to do more to tackle inequality at this week’s World Economic Forum in Switzerland, demanding a “global new deal to reverse decades of increasing inequality.”

In a new report, the charity states that efforts to tackle poverty are being hindered by an “explosion in extreme wealth,” which it describes as “economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive.”  

Oxfam also claims that “the 100 richest people in the World earned enough last year to end extreme poverty suffered by the poorest on the planet four times over.” It notes how the World’s 100 most wealthy individuals enjoyed a net income of $240 billion (£150 billion) last year, while those in “extreme poverty” in developing countries struggle through on less than $1.25 (78p) a day.

It is also clear that, over the last twenty years, the incomes of the richest one per cent have increased by 60% while the financial crisis has “accelerated rather than slowed” their wealth generation.

The chief executive of Oxfam, Barbara Stocking, has stated that “we can no longer pretend that the creation of wealth for a few will inevitably benefit the many – too often the reverse is true …”

The charity rightly argues that the “accumulation of wealth and income on an unprecedented scale, is at the expense of secure jobs and decent wages for the poorest” which undermines the “ability of people who survive on … low wages to improve their situation and escape poverty.”

And tellingly, Oxfam even suggests that “UK inequality is rapidly returning to levels not seen since the time of Charles Dickens.”

It is my belief that everyone – in Cornwall, in the UK and throughout the wider World – should prioritise ways to make society fairer, more equal, and to better spread the benefits of wealth creation. This is an issue of such significance that it cannot be ignored by politicians of any party.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Ongoing cuts to local government are disastrous

My latest article for the Cornish Guardian was published on Friday. It addresses government cuts to local government and was as follows:

On 19th December 2012, the Communities Minister Eric Pickles announced the latest financial settlement for local government.

He told the House of Commons that the average cut to funding for local councils was 1.7%. Putting spin into over-drive, he claimed that it represented a “bargain to local authorities." 

Cornwall Council was told it would face a cut of 1.8% to what the government has defined as “spending power” – a spurious concept which aggregates monies spent in particular areas (including some funds not even under the control of the local authority).

However, according to staff at the unitary council, the “Government’s calculation is incorrect and double counts figures” and “in terms of actual comparable direct government funding, this is down by 6% compared with last year (£18m).”

Calculations by the Rural Services Partnership of Local Authorities has meanwhile found that “predominately rural councils have fared much worse than urban areas.”

In fact, the announcement about the settlement has been mired in total confusion, caused by governmental incompetence. After its official publication, numerous Councils had to contact the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to seek clarity and point out fundamental errors.

DCLG even sent out a revised settlement on 4th January, but information on a range of funding sources, such as the Education Support Grant, were still not included within the figures. Councils are being forced to make assumptions about what funding they might receive, causing further uncertainty.

There are also double-standards at the centre of the debate around this settlement.

It does, for example, include £36 million to cover the cost of Council Tax Benefit to the Council – but this is estimated to be £6 million less than what it cost in 2012/13. And yet, when Councils seek to find ways to bridge this extra funding gap and manage benefit payments, it is Eric Pickles who condemns the approach of certain local councils as “obscene.”

The reality is that cuts to local government have been greater than to almost all other parts of the public sector. And for Cornwall Council the cuts will, over a four-year period, equate to a reduction in spend of £500 million.

This is undermining the ability of local government to provide those vital public services that residents should be able to expect, but the Coalition has stated that future years could see even more cuts to local council budgets.

I am concerned that if the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition does not reverse its cuts, it will simply destroy local government.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

MK welcomes Lords vote against Devonwall

Mebyon Kernow has welcomed the news that the House of Lords has voted to delay the boundary review into parliamentary seats.

Following a debate on Monday, an amendment to the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill to delay the boundary review until 2018, was passed by 300 votes to 231.

This means that a Devonwall constituency will almost certainly not be created in advance of the 2015 General Election.

MK Deputy Leader and Cornwall Councillor Andrew Long has released the following statement on behalf of the Party.

“It is fantastic news that Coalition plans for a Devonwall seat have been sidelined and that the territorial integrity of Cornwall has been protected for the next few years.

“I remain angry at how the Coalition attempted to force a cross-Tamar parliamentary seat on Cornwall – with 95% of their MPs voting in favour of Devonwall.

“And I find it amazing that the collapse of the Boundary Review has happened because of Coalition infighting – not because of the best interests of Cornwall – though this is not how certain local representatives of the Coalition are publicising what happened.

“If the vote in the House of Lords is to mean anything, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats need to pledge that they will ‘forever’ rule out the possibility of a Devonwall seat.”

Cllr Long has written also written to David Cameron and Nick Clegg to seek assurances that both Coalition partners will commit themselves to respecting the historic border of Cornwall in the future.

MK calls on Coalition councillors to resign in protest at cuts

At today’s Full Council meeting, I challenged Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors to resign from their respective parties in protest at the damaging cuts being imposed on local government.

This was within the debate which followed the decision of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition to pass responsibility for council tax benefits onto Cornwall Council, albeit with an allocation of £36 million to cover the costs – leaving a massive financial black-hole of over £5 million.

After the meeting, I made the following comment:

“Coalition cuts to local government are disproportionate and are undermining the ability of councils to provide public services. It is also shameful that the cuts, such as the localisation of council tax benefit, are increasingly likely to fall on the less-well-off.

“At today’s meeting, there were plenty of ‘crocodile tears’ from Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors about the unpalatable position in which elected members found themselves, trying to bridge yet another black-hole in their budget.

“But if they are serious stopping these truly damaging cuts, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors should send a strong message to the Coalition by resigning from their respective parties.

“That is the sort of decisive political action that the likes of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Eric Pickles will understand.”

Further information

Local Government First magazine has stated that the reduction in funding to local councils “will now exceed 33 per cent … and for some councils, it may go much higher.” The publication also notes that Whitehall budgets are “being cut by on average 8 per cent.”

At the Full Council meeting on 15th January, members failed to agree a way forward dealing with the localisation of council tax benefit. There was a proposal that council tax benefit payments for people of working age not be reduced, which MK members supported, but this was lost by 44 votes to 41. After about two hours of debate, the issue was deferred and there will now be an extra Full Council meeting to reconsider the issue.