Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stealth cuts and a missed opportunity

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, a respected independent financial think-tank, has looked at the small print of Alistair Darling's pre-budget thinking. It has detected built-in £37bn cuts in frontline public services. This puts in the shade the £20bn which Labour falsely accuses us of intending to cut.

Given the increased borrowing and these cuts, you would have thought that he would have made good use of the money. The Liberal Democrat verdict on the Labour Chancellor’s Crisis
budget is: a missed opportunity.

He could have made tax fairer for everyone by cutting income tax for low and middle income people, by closing loopholes for the rich.

BUT he chose a temporary reduction in the top rate of VAT. That doesn’t make food or fuel or children’s clothes cheaper. It does make it harder for small businesses who have to change their pricing and VAT accounts twice. All it does is help the “big spenders”.

Where’s the fairness in that Mr Brown ? Where’s the help for struggling residents here ?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Teenage drinking and unsafe sex

Research published in summer shows that Wales has the highest level of teenage drinking in Europe. Last month, figures were released which showed worrying rates of under-age sexual activity.

In giving a cautious welcome to the proposal by Karen Jones, Head of Change Management for the County Borough, put before the Social Care Health and Housing scrutiny committee and cabinet board last week, to hold scrutiny-driven workshops to look at aspects of social care and health starting in the New Year, Liberal Democrat Councillor Frank Little stressed the need for a multi-disciplinary approach. He instanced the impact on health of alcohol misuse and irresponsible sexual activity, for which there were implications of licensing, young people's and education policy.

Frank Little said: "I am gratified that there appeared to be acceptance of this approach on the part of both officers and other members, across party lines."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Arlingclose: an apology

We have had a call from the Liberal Democrat parliamentary office that Arlingclose have objected to the content of our blog about treasury management. They say that the posting could be construed as suggesting that they have acted as advisors to Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, which they deny they ever have been. They wish to be dissociated completely from Neath Port Talbot CBC, and we are happy to accommodate them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

LibDems ahead of the rest on the economy

Cowley Street has just reminded us of many things we called for first, and which have now either been implemented or taken on board by at least one of the other two main parties.

Northern Rock nationalisation - it was clear to us that this was unavoidable in November last year. It took the Government until February to act.

Independence of the Bank of England - longstanding Lib Dem policy. First Labour implemented it, over Tory opposition. Now even the Tories support it.

Recapitalisation of the banks - Vince Cable was the first politician to call for this. Three days later the Chancellor announced that this would be going ahead.

Tackling the bonus culture - in May we were the first party to put forward proposals for tackling the harmful bonus culture in the financial sector. By the autumn, ministers and the Tory leadership had realised the situation was indefensible and changed their tune..

Regulation of 'sale and rent back' agreements - this was part of our '7 point plan' for dealing with personal debt, launched in September 2003. The Government announced on 22nd October this year that they were finally looking into this.

New court guidance to make repossession a 'last resort', obliging lenders to exhaust all alternatives first - another measure in the Government's 22nd October announcement that the Lib Dems had been calling for for more than six months.

Changes to capital adequacy laws to require banks to hold more capital in periods of boom and less in recession - we called for this back in January 2003. Now the Conservatives back it too.

National network of financial advice centres - since 2003 we have been calling for a network of local and generic financial advice, particularly for those on lower incomes, funded by a levy on the financial services industry. Earlier this year the Tories announced their support for this too, using almost exactly the same language.

Curbs on irresponsible lending - a commonplace sentiment now, but we called for "the publication by the Government of strict measures for responsible lending, which lenders must be required to observe" back in September 2003.

Monday, November 17, 2008

New benefit being processed by hand

Public Finance magazine reported last week that:

Delivery of the new Employment and Support Allowance, which replaces Incapacity Benefit, will rely on manual processes and postal services for the first nine months because a new £295m computer system is not ready.

The delay comes despite assurances given in June by Lesley Strathie, then Jobcentre Plus chief executive, that the system would be ‘business ready’ for the ESA’s October launch.

Doubts have already been expressed on this blog and here about the way the new rules will be applied. Add the necessity for manual intervention by already over-stretched staff, and it becomes obvious that claimants are going to suffer.

The requirements for the new system have been known for years. The basic structure must surely be similar to other systems running in DWP. We trust that the relevant Select Committee will be asking searching questions as to the reason for yet another Labour government IT failure.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

LibDems hail end of EU wonky veg rules

It's been a long time coming, but many EU regulations which imposed an unnatural uniformity on produce are to be scrapped.

Lib Dem MEP for the South West and Gibraltar, Graham Watson summed up the move:

"This is great news indeed; the Commission has at long last seen sense on this issue. Consumers obviously demand high quality produce that is clean and healthy. But quite why some countries, like France and Germany feel consumers are concerned on how wonky or knobbly fruit and veg appears is absurd. At a time of global food shortages and rising prices its good to see sensible measures being taken to remove ridiculous regulations. Ultimately Europe needs to concentrate on the real issues that affects the continent's citizens."

Haringey children

There has been yet another revelation of gross child abuse in the London borough of Haringey. It led to an angry exchange between David Cameron and Gordon Brown at Prime Minister's Questions, and a rather more considered question by Lynne Featherstone, LibDem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.

Most commentators (for instance Jonathan Calder) have been kind to David Cameron, but I believe he lost his temper and the plot. He thought he was on a winner with the assumption that the only inquiry into the Baby P case was one to be conducted by the head of Haringey social services. Indeed, he had prepared the ground with a press release to London's "Evening Standard". Brown's answer was that not only was the critical executive case review already with the Children's Secretary, but that Lord Laming, who had conducted the ClimbiƩ inquiry, was looking at shortcomings in social care. Cameron's suggestion that the government should take over failed social services departments, as it already took over failing schools, was a reasonable one. Instead of following it up with his last three questions, or of leaving it hanging by switching to the unemployment figures, he allowed himself to be side-tracked by Brown's gibe (clearly justified, but incidental) that Cameron was playing party politics with the issue. It would not be the first time that Cameron failed to adjust to unexpected answers from the prime minister.

Lynne Featherstone showed that she had been listening and took account of the new information: "I was leader of the opposition on Haringey council at the time of the Victoria ClimbiƩ tragedy, and I was told that lessons would be learned and it should never happen again and yet it has happened again and whilst I welcome the prime minister's announcement yesterday that Lord Laming would lead a national review of child protection services, in terms of Haringey that doesn't go far enough and while I hear what the prime minister says about looking at the report, that is not a report that will guarantee the safety of children in my borough. So I would ask the prime minister, look at that report but call for an independent public inquiry."

It is probable that the failures in Haringey stemmed from peculiar circumstances. The social services department was under-staffed and underfunded in the year 2000. Reports yesterday suggest that the situation has not changed. Morale appears to be low, and recruitment difficult, not aided by the department's reputation.

We must not allow the Baby P, and the Shannon Matthews cases, to encourage child protection officers to swing to the opposite extreme and seize children on the slightest evidence. In all cases, the facts must be carefully evaluated. Social services departments should be open (with all the necessary safeguards of confidentiality, of course) to democratic scrutiny.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A message from chief executive Lord Rennard

Dear Friends

We have just completed the election count for the next President of the Liberal Democrats and the result was:

Ros Scott 20,736 votes (72%)
Lembit Opik 6,247 votes (22%)
Chandila Fernando 1,799 votes (6%)

Turnout: 47.8% (+0.4% on last time)

Ros Scott will take up office on 1st January, succeeding Simon Hughes. I look forward to working closely with Ros in the busy period ahead, which will include European and local elections, and of course a Westminster general election !

Over 50% of Liberal Democrat members voted. Their donations covered the cost of this important exercise in internal democracy and left us with a small sum of money for campaigning purposes.

Thank you to everyone who voted, donated and especially to the three candidates, their campaign teams and to Simon Hughes who has been our President for the last four years and will continue to serve in that role until the end of the year.

Earlier, this week we also had the Parliamentary by-election in Glenrothes. Thanks are due to Harry Wills, his agent Charles Dundas and everyone who helped support his campaign in difficult territory for us.

The next big electoral test that we know about will be the very important European and (in most of England) local elections on June 4th next year. Our European and many local candidates are already working hard - and hoping that you can help them over the next six months or so.

One important thing that you can do to help is for you and other people who support us (including family and friends) to arrange to vote by post. This means that you and they won't have to risk being able to get to the polling station in future elections.

Please do what you can to publicise our party's website and encourage people to join or help the Liberal Democrats bring about the changes that Britain really needs.

Nick Clegg is working hard to visit almost every corner of the country between now and the General Election - you can find out where you can meet him via his website

Best wishes,

Chris Rennard

Chief Executive, Liberal Democrats

Friday, November 07, 2008


A bad result for us, but for once the media got it right in hailing it as a victory for Gordon Brown and a rebuff for the Nationalists. On the same day, there were by-elections in the big two Scottish cities: Edinburgh City, Forth ward, and Glasgow City, Baillieston. Both were won by Labour.

It is clearly a result of Brown's improved image in the wake of the bank rescue. This so-called "Brown bounce" will deflate as the job cuts (such as these) bite, and the voters take it out on the sitting government.

An old Scottish hand tells us: "I remember us getting about 2% in Glasgow Central and Glasgow Govan in 1989/90. We came back from that. Then we got 3% in Hamilton South and Falkirk West in 1999/2000. Five years later we were coming 2nd in Scotland, with 24% of the vote. It's not nice to get such results, but it doesn't worry me greatly, long-term."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Another decision which gives EU a bad name

Westminster's European Scrutiny Committee has decided to hold its deliberations in private, even when questioning ministers.

Liberal Democrat MP, Richard Younger-Ross, who is a member of the committee, said:

"It’s a great shame that the Committee has decided to meet in private.

"The Committee makes important decisions about which pieces of European legislation need to be debated by Parliament.

"These decisions will now be kept secret from the public."

A conspiracy-theorist would say that the Labour cabinet has leant on the majority membership of the committee so that the contribution of UK ministers to poor EU decisions may continue to be concealed.

Home Office beginning to get the message

The Western Mail reports that Swansea is one of the areas in which "visible justice" will be piloted. We hope that the Justice Ministry will take on board the experience of Chard in Somerset, whose restorative justice panels Liberal Democrats have long championed.

Of course, other measures need to be taken in conjunction: improving detection & apprehension rates, and fully staffing the parole service, for instance.

LibDem and Green voters had highest child IQ

As reported in The Scotsman and the Daily Telegraph:

Research by the University of Edinburgh and the UK Medical Research Council and published in the journal Intelligence, suggests childhood IQ is as important as social class in choosing political allegiance.

Previous studies have focused on class or education when examining adult voting habits.

For the research, the IQs of more than 6,000 subjects were recorded at the age of 10, before any secondary schooling.

People were than asked about their voting habits 24 years later, aged 34.

In this set of questions, people were asked how they voted in the 2001 general election, how they intended to vote, and in what other political activities they had taken part.

The researchers found people who reported voting in 2001 for the Green Party and Liberal Democrats had the highest average childhood intelligence scores.

Those who were cleverer were also more likely to take part in rallies and demonstrations, to sign petitions, and to be more interested in politics generally.

Average IQ scores at the age of 10 for people voting in the 2001 general election for various parties were:

:: Green 108.3

:: Liberal Democrat 108.2

:: Conservative 103.7

:: Labour 103

:: Plaid Cymru 102.5

:: Scottish National 102.2

:: UK Independence 101.1

:: British National 98.4

:: Did not vote / None 99.7

Monday, November 03, 2008

Girls in council care

Neath Port Talbot has nearly 20% more girls in council care per head of population than our neighbouring authority, Bridgend, which is of comparable size, and far more than Cardiff or Swansea.

This table is derived from figures published by Data Unit Wales.

Neath Port Talbot




Population of girls*





Looked-after girls*





Looked-after girls*/1,000 population





*females aged 0-17