Thursday, December 23, 2010

ID cards scrapped

Identity cards were officially scrapped last night when the Identity Documents Bill was granted Royal Assent. Liberal Democrats have consistently campaigned against ID cards, a scheme introduced by the previous Labour Government. All existing ID cards will be cancelled within one month, and the National Identity Register will be destroyed within two months. The move has saved £845m in planned future investment over the next ten years.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Statement on Mick Bates

Commenting on the conviction yesterday of Mick Bates AM for public order offences, Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats said:

“Mick Bates has been a dedicated and effective voice for Montgomeryshire over many years. This judgement is a personal tragedy for him and his family but it is one we must respect.

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats are clear that this conviction for a public order offence is incompatible with the high standards we expect of our elected representatives. Proceedings have begun to terminate his membership of the party.”


Thursday, December 09, 2010

"Ill thought out, lacking in detail and irresponsible shadow Welsh budget" says Peter Black

Commenting on Conservative proposals to impose further cuts on top of those already proposed by the Welsh Government, Peter Black, Welsh Liberal Democrats Shadow Finance Minister said:

“The Conservative shadow budget is ill thought out, lacking in detail and irresponsible. They have chosen to turn a blind eye to wasteful bureaucracy and over-management in the health service and instead pay for the inflated salaries of directors. That is not responsible budgeting.

“They are prioritising slashing public services and not dealing with waste and inefficiency in government spending.

“They also don’t realise that throwing money at the NHS and then have it misspent is not the way to have a healthier nation. Social housing, education, social care and improving people’s general wellbeing is the way to get a healthier nation. If you cut the social housing budget, for example, people will continue to live in poorly maintained houses which will, in turn, have a detrimental effect on their health. The Conservatives just don’t get the old maxim that prevention is better than cure.”

On the massive cuts in economy and transport budget, Peter Black added:

“While we were disappointed that the Labour and Plaid Government were making substantial cuts to the economy and transport budget, the Tories would decimate the budget by making even further cuts. The Welsh economy is in a very fragile position at the moment. Just yesterday, it was confirmed that Wales was the poorest nation, in economic terms, in the UK. Now is not the time to be taking a machete to the economy and transport budget.”


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Welsh tuition fees scheme must see students beyond the Election

Welsh Liberal Democrats Shadow Education Minister, Jenny Randerson AM, today broadly welcomed the tuition fees proposal but warned the test of the scheme will be its long term sustainability.

Jenny Randerson said:

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats have always said that we should seek to mitigate the impact of tuition fees on Welsh students. That remains the right approach even in a challenging financial environment.

“But this must be a plan for the long term not a short term electoral fix for the Labour-Plaid government. I am concerned that the Minister was vague on the Government’s ability to fund future years.

“This scheme responds to the Browne Review, with terms of reference set by a Labour Government. It is a scheme with merit but which needs to stand up to scrutiny over the coming weeks. I will also be looking to ensure that the Minister’s criteria for part time students delivers part time students a fair deal. We must also make sure that the cuts in HEFCW (the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales), or top slicing as the Minister calls it, will not leave some universities with a funding stream gap between financial years.”


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Further delay in electrification decision

Commenting on the prospects of the electrification of the London to Swansea main line, Jenny Randerson AM, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Transport Minister said:

“Gordon Brown announced the electrification project in 2009 and said work would start immediately but nothing happened. It is clear that not only did Labour fail to put aside any money to pay for the project, they had not carried out any of the detailed technical work needed before the project could even start. It is encouraging that the Government have signalled that they are still looking to progress this project and make an announcement in the new year. The Welsh Liberal Democrats are fully committed to the project, we have lobbied government extensively and continue to push for the technical assessments needed to be done as quickly as possible.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

WAG consultant contagion

Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams has criticised the Labour-Plaid Welsh Assembly Government for presiding over a sustained increase in spending on external consultants.

Research by the Welsh Liberal Democrats has revealed that the spending on external consultants has increased every year for the past six years increasing from just £1.9 million in 2004 to a staggering £11.9 million last year (2009/10).

WAG spend on external consultants by year:

2004/05 £1.9 million
2005/06 £2.5 million
2006/07 £4.3 million
2007/08 £4.6 million
2008/09 £11.2 million
2009/10 £11.9 million

The continued rise in external consultants calls into question the ability of the Welsh government to deliver efficiency savings of £50 million in Central Services and Administration as set out in their budget last week, over three years.

Kirsty said: “The people of Wales will be appalled that spending on external consultants has soared under Labour-Plaid and is continuing to rise at a time when they should be directing money into front line services.

“As spending on consultants has increased, the total number of civil servants working for the Welsh government has more than doubled in the last ten years.

“People will soon grow tired of the First Minister’s crocodile tears of the Welsh budget settlement when he is failing to get to grips with wasteful spending.

“When governments at all levels have to make difficult decisions about spending, the Welsh people need the Labour-Plaid Government to get serious about rooting out waste and inefficiency so that front line services do not suffer. It seems that Labour and Plaid Cymru are oblivious to the tough times we are facing.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Labour-Plaid budget a missed opportunity on NHS waste, economic growth and pupil premium

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have responded to the Labour-Plaid budget, describing it as a missed opportunity to build Wales’s economic future, root out waste in the NHS and target funding at the poorest school children.

Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats said:

“Welsh Liberal Democrats want front line health services protected but that does not mean that savings cannot be made in NHS bureaucracy. It is no good protecting the health budget when there is evidence that £1 billion of the health budget is being misspent.

“Despite the drop in unemployment announced in today’s figures, the economic recovery is still fragile. In these circumstances, it beggars belief that the economy and transport department that should be driving the Welsh economic recovery has faced some of the biggest cuts.

“The Labour-Plaid Government has consistently underfunded our schools. Education spending in Wales is over £530 lower per pupil than in England and this is reflected in Wales’s poorer exam performance. We welcome the commitment to the roll out of the foundation phase but it is desperately disappointing that the government hasn’t taken the opportunity to close the funding gap at all levels, starting with children from the poorest backgrounds. Neither should we be fooled into thinking that this is an education budget when the government are paying for their school funding by cutting cash from universities and FE colleges.

“As families and businesses tighten their belts, the public expect our Government to do the same. It is encouraging that this year’s budget seems to be looking for the savings in administration and central bureaucracy that the Welsh Liberal Democrats have called for.

“However, in some areas the steps being taken are far too tentative. One year after the Welsh Liberal Democrats proposed merging the numerous environmental quangos, the Labour Plaid government is only now promising ‘a review of options’ aimed at saving taxpayers money in this area.

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats will be seeking to work cooperatively with the government to address these concerns.”


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Welsh budget must include a pupil premium – Kirsty Williams

A day before the Welsh Government’s budget is announced, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling on the Labour-Plaid Government to ensure they root out waste and inefficiency in order to prioritise improving educational life chances for the poorest children.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, Kirsty Williams said:

“Tackling waste must be a priority for this budget. Only one in five people think that public bodies in Wales used their resources in the most effective way. This reflects the concern of the Welsh Liberal Democrats that currently the Labour-Plaid government has not done enough to root out inefficiency in our public services. As families and businesses tighten their belts, it is reasonable of the public to expect our Government to do the same. It is by making efficiencies that the Welsh Government will be able to prioritise improving the life chances of the poorest children in Wales.

“The Labour-Plaid Government has consistently underfunded our schools. Education spending in Wales is over £500 lower per pupil than in England and sadly, this is now reflected in Wales’s poorer performance at GCSE and A level – where we have now slipped behind England for the first time.

“It is vital that in Wales we begin to close this funding gap, starting with children from the poorest backgrounds.

“The start you have in life can determine your prospects for the rest of your life so extra resources must be targeted at those who start the furthest behind.

“The Welsh budget is a chance to put that situation right for the poorest children in society. The Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling for a Welsh pupil premium that would mean schools would be able to help children from poorer homes much more effectively.”

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Spend money on tackling issue, not talking about it – Kirsty Williams

With a week to go until the Welsh Government’s budget is announced, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling on the Labour-Plaid Government to ensure that money allocated to government departments is put to the very best use.

£3.5 million of Welsh Government money has been spent in the last three years on climate change awareness, rather than programmes that directly reduce carbon emissions. Grants include £20,000 over two years for an annual newspaper supplements on climate change and over £0.5 million a year to the Sustainable Development Commission and Cynnal Cymru.

Welsh Liberal Democrats estimated that this money could have paid for around 1000 improvements to homes in fuel poverty through the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme – making an immediate impact on carbon emissions.

Previously, the Welsh Liberal Democrats also criticised the Environment Minister for spending nearly half a million pounds on bag tax publicity.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Kirsty Williams said: “With just over a week to go until the Labour-Plaid Government announce their budget for next year, Ministers need to ensure that taxpayers money is put to the very best use to tackle the problems we face in the most efficient manner possible.

“In the forthcoming budget the Labour-Plaid Government must make spending decisions based on delivering real results. Public awareness campaigns can play a part in highlighting issues but there are some areas, like climate change, where we’ve seen huge amounts spent on public awareness from films, celebrities and the voluntary sector with limited results.

“The Labour-Plaid Government didn’t have to spend £3.5 million on telling people about climate change. They didn’t have to spend £400,000 on plastic bag tax publicity as people will be well aware that they will have to pay 5p for a bag when they get to the till.

“The days of spend, spend, spend are over and now we are entering a time where efficiency and value for money should be the mantra.”

Labour Want Students to Pay More, says LibDem MP

Adrian Sanders, Liberal Democrat MP for Torbay, says:

"Why the media lets Labour get away with it I really don't understand, and the hypocrisy of the Labour Party supporting NUS leader is astounding. Who introduced tuition fees? Who commissioned Lord Browne and gave him his remit to look at the future funding of higher education? Which Party opposes the abolition of tuition fees and is split over a Graduate Tax? It's Labour, Labour, Labour.

"The Lib Dems still want to abolish tuition fees over the life time of a Parliament but can't until they get a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. So until people stop voting Labour and Tory we will be stuck with Tuition fees.

"The Coalition agreement changed for the period of the Coalition the Lib Dem pledge to vote against any rise in tuition fees. Instead we were given an opt out to abstain in exchange for being able to influence the Government's response to Browne.

"And this is what that Lib Dem influence has achieved:

· All students will repay less per month under this Government's policy than they currently pay.

· The lowest earning 25% of graduates will repay less under this Government's policy than they do now.

· The top earning 30% of graduates will pay back more than they borrow and are likely to pay more than double the bottom 20% of earners.

· Over half a million students will be eligible for more non-repayable grants for living costs than they get now.

· Almost one million students will be eligible for more overall maintenance support than they get now

· Part time students will no longer have to pay upfront fees benefiting up to 200,000 per year

· There will be an extra £150m for a new National Scholarship Programme for students from poorer backgrounds and we will introduce tough new sanctions of universities who fail to improve their access to students from backgrounds.

"Labour opposes the above and wants to make students pay more, so why are the media letting Labour get away with it."

Friday, November 05, 2010

Labour MP's election at Oldham & Saddleworth deemed void

The verdict of the Special Election Court, held in Saddleworth, was announced this morning. It found against Phil Woolas, the shadow immigration minister.

Mr Justice Teare said: "In an election address entitled The Examiner, the
respondent [Mr Woolas] made a statement of fact, the meaning of which was
that the petitioner [Mr Watkins] attempted to woo, that is to seek, the
electoral support of Muslims who advocated violence, in particular
violence to the respondent.

"In a further election address entitled Labour Rose, he made a statement
of fact the meaning of which was that the petitioner had refused to
condemn extremists who advocated violence against the respondent.

"We have concluded that both of these statements, although made in the
context of an election and said to arise from a political position adopted
by the petitioner, were in relation to the petitioner's personal character
or conduct.

"In our judgment to say that a person has sought the electoral support of
persons who advocate extreme violence, in particular to his personal
opponent, clearly attacks his personal character or conduct.

"It suggests that he is willing to condone threats of violence in pursuit
of personal advantage.

"Having considered the evidence which was adduced in court we are sure
that these statements were untrue. We are also sure that the respondent
had no reasonable grounds for believing them to be true and did not
believe them to be true.

"We also found that (in) an earlier election address the respondent had
made a statement in fact, namely, that the petitioner had reneged on his
promise to live in the constituency. This too, although made in the
context of an election and said to arise from a statement made by the
petitioner as a candidate in that election, was in relation to his
personal character or conduct.

"It suggests that he is untrustworthy. The statement was false and the
respondent had no reasonable ground for believing it to be true and did
not believe it to be true.

"It follows in our judgment that the respondent is guilty of an illegal
practice, contrary to section 136 of the Representation of the People Act
1983 with regard to those statements."

The judge concluded: "The consequence of our finding that the respondent
is guilty of an illegal practice with regard to the statements we have
referred to is that, pursuant to section 159(1) of the Act, his election
as Member of Parliament for the constituency of Oldham East and
Saddleworth is void and we have so reported to the Speaker of the House of
Commons.

"We are satisfied that the statutory penalties for the illegal practices
committed by the respondent are both necessary and proportionate, having
regard to the seriousness of the statements made with regard to the
petitioner's alleged attitude to the Muslim extremists who advocated
violence."

The judges made no reference to the sanctions on Mr Woolas, although it is
thought he could be barred from public office for a period of time.

The court remains in session as the judges deliberate on costs and Mr
Woolas's plans to launch a judicial review of the decision.

A Conservative's take on the coalition's compromises

On Tim Montgomerie's Conservative Home posting, Mark Pack comments:

Such are the realities of coalition politics — everyone has to compromise, recognising that no one party won the election. If the public really wanted undiluted Conservative or Lib Dem policies we needed to vote for them in sufficient numbers: we, the public, didn’t give either party that mandate, so now the politicians are making the best of the situation. Policies from all parties are being diluted: no wonder purists hate it.

As I commented in May, immediately after the Coalition Agreement was signed:

Many of the hobby horses of political parties which are not mainstream, and do not command majority public support, are jettisoned. Instead politicians learn to focus on those policy areas which they know the public will like, and on which there’s widespread agreement. Parties hate it – they like to be in control – but the public is the winner.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Welsh language official status failure: ‘a betrayal of historic proportions’

Commenting on the publication of a letter in the Western Mail calling on the Labour-Plaid government to honour their pledge for Welsh to be declared an official language, Eleanor Burnham AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Heritage Minister said:

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats have consistently argued that this legislation does not go far enough to protect and promote the Welsh language but our protests have fallen on deaf ears.

“It is staggering that so many distinguished champions of Welsh language and culture have now been driven to this extraordinary step to highlight the Labour-Plaid government’s lack of ambition for the Welsh language. After all, the Labour-Plaid government promised to give Welsh official language status in the One Wales agreement.

“Having posed as the defenders of the Welsh language for decades, if Plaid fail to give the Welsh language official status, it would be a betrayal of historic proportions.

“The Labour-Plaid government must now sit up and take notice and, even at this late stage, give the Welsh language the status in law that so many have campaigned for decades.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Kirsty Williams: Glastir scheme needs urgent reform

Kirsty Williams, AM for Brecon and Radnorshire and the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Rural Affairs, has once again criticised the Welsh Assembly Government’s flawed flagship agricultural policy Glastir during an Assembly debate on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) today.

Kirsty Williams said:

"CAP reform will be absolutely crucial in supporting agriculture in Wales in the future. Single Farm Payments make up between 80 and 90 per cent of many farm incomes, and moving to area based payments will cause great upheaval, especially in areas such as my own Brecon and Radnorshire who have traditionally benefitted from the historical based payments. I am therefore very pleased that the Rural Development Sub Committee has seen fit to investigate the CAP at this stage.

Adequate incomes for farmers are crucial for food security and the protection of our natural environment. It is ironic therefore that whilst the Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones accepts the need for agriculture to play its part in preserving our environment we are in the middle of the debacle that is Glastir. The scheme is so chaotic that many farmers will not enter the scheme and all of the environmental management carried out by farmers under previous agri environmental schemes will be lost. Time is running out for the Minister to look again at the scheme, and I urge her to do so.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Time for the Welsh Government to get a grip of falling educational standards

Commenting on new research published today which shows that Secondary schools are performing worse in Wales than England, Kirsty Williams AM, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said:

"The Welsh Liberal Democrats are fully committed to creating a fair education system that gives every child in Wales a fair start in order to reach their full potential, whatever their background.

“This report makes for worrying reading, finding that there has been a fall in educational standards in Wales of 1.92 GCSE grades per student per year. After decades of priding itself on the higher educational standards we promoted in Wales, we have slipped behind England. This must now be one of the most serious challenges facing the Welsh Government.

"The Labour-Plaid Government has consistently underfunded our schools. Education spending in Wales is over £500 lower per pupil than in England.

“The poorest Welsh children are almost three times less likely to leave school with five good GCSEs than their richer classmates. And now, for the first time since devolution, there is a gap opening up as English GCSE and A Level students outperform their Welsh peers.

"League tables were abolished in 2001 for sound reasons with support from politicians, academics and teachers. We must always be careful to keep an open mind. If the government believes that league tables are not the reason for the worrying drop in standards, what is?

“Pupils in England will soon begin to benefit from the Pupil Premium that will target extra money at schools admitting disadvantaged pupils. Thousands of children in England will finally be getting the extra support they need to succeed. The challenge now is for the Welsh Government to provide similar support so that Welsh children are not further disadvantaged.”

Welsh Liberal Democrats give cautious welcome to Waste Measure

Kirsty Williams AM Welsh Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for the Environment, Sustainability and Rural Affairs has today welcomed the passing of the Wales (Waste) measure in the National Assembly for Wales.

The Measure aims to reduce the amount of waste and litter and to develop more effective waste management solutions here in Wales. Changes include introducing statutory targets for local authorities to meet in terms of recycling household waste, and gives ministers the ability to make retailers charge a fee for single use carrier bags.

Kirsty Williams said: “I am pleased that the Assembly has today passed the Waste Measure, which will help contribute to protecting Wales’ environment and our planet for the future. I am also pleased that the Minister has listened to advice and not only reduced the cost of the charge from 7p to 5p, but in light of the current economic circumstances also delayed the introduction until October 2011. I am however flabbergasted at the lack of preparation in some areas of the legislation, for example in terms of banning some subtances from landfill, the government haven’t even decided which body will oversee it. At stage two of the measure the Minister eluded to the Environment Agency being in charge, but in the chamber today she admitted that the Environment hadn’t even been contacted. Whilst I welcome the basic principles of the measure, this haphazard way of making legislation is not good for Welsh democracy.”


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Coalition nuclear power policy

Chris Huhne rebuts accusations of a U-turn in this Liberal Voice article.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

£1.3bn funding boost for Post Office

The Post Office will receive £1.3 billion of extra funding over the next four years, Business Secretary Vince Cable has announced.

Vince told the Commons the funding would be used to reform the network and secure its long term future, reversing years of decline. Outlining the boost during yesterday's second reading of the Postal Services Bill, which sets out plans to privatise Royal Mail, Mr Cable told MPs: "I can announce today £1.34 billion of new funding for the Post Office over the spending review period.

"The funding will be used to reform the current network, to change the underlying economics and so reverse the years of decline and secure its long-term future."

He said earlier this month that private buyers will be allowed to own up to 90% of the Royal Mail, with at least 10% of shares going to employees, while the Post Office may be mutualised.

The staff share scheme would be the biggest of its kind - larger than those of British Telecom, British Gas or British Airways, he said.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wind projects boost could bring 70,000 jobs

The Government yesterday announced moves aimed at creating up to 70,000 new jobs through a £60 million improvement to ports to boost offshore wind projects.

Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said: "We might be world leaders in offshore wind but we know there is still more to do. If we want the jobs, manufacturing and skills base for this exciting new industry to be here in the UK we need to make decisions that attract investment.

"We need world-class infrastructure to support our economic growth. So today we have made sure that even in the face of such pressure on public finances, we prioritise the areas that will help us dump the deficit."

The Prime Minister said the potential for Britain to lead the world in the offshore wind industry was "immense", especially as thousands of turbines would be needed in the next decade. "Manufacturing these needs large factories which have to be on the coast, yet neither the factories nor the large port sites exist and that, understandably, is putting off private investors,"

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "It is very positive news that three major players in the offshore wind industry, GE, Siemens and Gamesa, have plans to come to the UK and invest in manufacturing. The Government's approach to growth and investment is the right one. The global market for low carbon goods and services is expected to rise to over GBP4 trillion by the middle of the next decade. We are already the sixth largest market for low carbon economic goods and services so we are well placed in this sector."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Peter Black tops regional list again

The ballots for the Liberal Democrat regional lists were counted this evening. The order, as voted on a one-member one-vote basis, for each of the regions is as follows:

South Wales West
  1. Peter Black
  2. Stuart Rice
  3. Cheryl Green
  4. Wayne Morgan
  5. Frank Little

South Wales Central
  1. John Dixon
  2. Eluned Parrott
  3. Rachael Hitchinson
  4. Elgan Morgan
  5. Andrew Sherwood

South Wales East
  1. Veronica German
  2. Phil Hobson
  3. Bob Griffin
  4. Alison Willott

Mid and West Wales
  1. Bill Powell
  2. Mark Cox
  3. Ed Wilson
  4. Steffan John

North Wales
  1. Aled Roberts
  2. Eleanor Burnham

Elections for candidates for individual constituencies will follow shortly.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Welsh LibDem comments on the Comprehensive Spending Review

Freedom Central reports the views of leader Kirsty Williams and local AM and housing spokesman Peter Black. It should be emphasised that the cut in the money Westminster gives to Cardiff for day-to-day running falls only around 2%, and that after predicted inflation is taken into account. The Labour-Plaid Welsh Assembly Government coalition leader is trying to make the settlement look worse by adding in the closure of the Newport Passport Office, the cancellation of the Great Western electrification and the postponement of a decision on a military training establishment in the Vale of Glamorgan. I understand that the principal objection in the last case is to the PFI ("live now, pay later") nature of the scheme. These involve the loss of jobs, actual or potential, but not revenue to WAG, so it is misleading to lump them in with the rest of the cuts.

It is certainly no excuse for further cutting the grants to local authorities, in view of the way Cardiff bureaucracy has grown since the turn of the century, and of yesterday's revelation that the Health department has spent three-quarters of a million pounds on external consultants, including half a million on a report from McKinsey whose existence it tried to cover up.


Frank Little

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

European liberals attempt to save money on Strasbourg is thwarted

Yesterday, MEP Sarah Ludford reported on an attempt to save some money on the European Parliament's regular shuttling between Brussels and Strasbourg by combining two of the September sessions. (Cancelling the farcical transfer of MEPs, officials and documents requires a heads of government resolution.)

Today, even this modest cost-cutting proposal has been stymied by Conservatives and Socialists at the behest of their French and German leaders.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Construction of Trident submarines put back to next parliament

Party President Ros Scott writes:

The Liberal Democrats have long argued that Trident is an out of date, unnecessary and hugely expensive weapons system that the UK has no need of in modern times. In this period of fiscal constraint it is also a luxury we can ill afford. Nick Clegg was right to argue powerfully against Trident renewal during the Leader's Debates. Our party was right to stand in contrast to both the Conservatives and Labour on this issue.

Today, within the Strategic Defence Review, the Coalition Government announced that there will be no final decision on the like-for-like replacement of Trident during this parliament. So Trident will not be renewed this parliament - not on a Liberal Democrat watch. Let us be clear, this is a significant victory for Liberal Democrat campaigners, and a fantastic example of what our Ministers can and do achieve in government.

But the Coalition Government is not just saying no to replacing Trident this parliament. It is going further. It is also taking important steps towards the goal of multilateral nuclear disarmament. The announcement today sees a 25% cut in warheads.

Today is yet another day that we can all feel hugely proud to be a party of government, delivering key Liberal Democrat priorities.

Phil Willis on Browne

Frank Little writes:

There is an interesting contribution to the debate on the Browne report at Liberal Democrat Voice by Lord Willis of Knaresborough, who, as MP for Harrogate was the chairman of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. He writes:

"As they stand Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats, rather than hide their heads in embarrassment should be congratulated in fighting for elements in the package that meet Liberal Democrat aspirations. As the IFS (not noted for their pro-liberal stance) concluded – the Browne proposals 'are highly progressive and ensure that the poorest 30% of graduates are better off, whilst ensuring that the richest 30% of graduates pay off their loans in full'. Hardly an outcome that would have resulted from a Conservative government."

The Institute for Fiscal Studies was hard on the Osborne Emergency Budget. Labour seized on its report at the time (though glossing over the parts which do not suit their spin), but has been silent on the IFS judgment on Browne.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chris Huhne: half of new power will be renewable

Chris Huhne has today published a written ministerial statement on the UK’s future energy provision.

New power generation capacity equal to three-quarters of current capacity will be needed between now and 2025. It must and will be a low-carbon mix, with renewables will be over half of this new power capacity.

Of the remainder new nuclear without public subsidy is free to contribute, and today the Coalition is taking two regulatory steps to enable this.

The Government will not pursue a Severn tidal scheme at this time as there is currently not an economic or environmental case for the Severn Barrage. Instead we must focus on technologies that can create jobs at home and tackle climate change globally – such as offshore wind and carbon capture and storage.

What is being published?

Today DECC publishes the energy National Policy Statements (NPS), alongside two regulatory steps that must be taken to permit new nuclear stations to be built.

What new power generation is needed?

The NPS projects a need for 59GW of new capacity by 2025.

  • Over half (33GW) will be from renewables, and 8 GW of non-renewable technology is already under construction.
  • This leaves 18GW to come from new non-renewable capacity, and nuclear is free to contribute to this capacity – without public subsidy.
  • The sites potentially suitable for nuclear by 2025 are identified as Bradwell; Hartlepool; Heysham; Hinkley Point; Oldbury; Sizewell; Sellafield; and Wylfa.
    • Rejected from the list were Dungeness in Kent, Braystones and Kirksanton in Cumbria.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Labour's Browne review attacked by Welsh LibDems

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference in Brecon today passed the following motion, proposed by Liberal Youth:

Conference notes:
  1. The "Browne Review" of October 12th and its recommendations for Higher Education funding in England
  2. That the implementation of this will have major effects on the future of student finance in Wales
  3. That the Welsh Liberal Democrats are opposed to Tuition fees, and that our MPs pledged to vote against any increase in fees ahead of the General Election

Conference believes:
  1. that there are alternative ways to fund higher education that do not involve burdening the students of today with high levels of debt
  2. that higher education should remain affordable and an option to people, whatever their economic background

Conference calls for
  1. Welsh Liberal Democrats to reject the wholesale implementation of the proposals of the Browne Review
  2. the Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Group to do everything possible to mitigate the effect on Welsh students of any change in funding in England
  3. The Welsh Assembly Government to urgently address the Higher Education Funding Gap, and divert wasteful economic development spending to fund Welsh Universities.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Comprehensive Spending Review


“There is a hard road to recovery ahead, but we are determined to ensure it is a road that leads to fairness too.”

We are taking action to cut the deficit because we have to. Last year, one in every four pounds the government spent was borrowed. That’s not how you’d run a home, and it’s not how you should run a government. It won’t be easy, but it’s the right thing to do, and is in our long term national interest.

The least progressive thing of all would be to burden future generations with the debts that Labour left us. Instead the choices we make will invest in their future - to give everyone the opportunity for a fair start in life regardless, of their background.

Even in the toughest of times, the right thing to do is to invest in the future. This is how we will carry out Britain’s unavoidable spending cuts: in a way that brings the country together and makes it stronger.

  • These are Labour’s cuts:
    • Gordon Brown and the Labour party’s parting gift was the largest structural deficit in the G20.
    • In 2009-10, one pound in every four of Government spending was borrowed.
    • Furthermore, we’re spending more money on the interest on our debt, £120 million per day, than on many key public services- more than on transport or law and order
  • Delayed pain would be greater pain for longer:
    • If we did not take action, interest rates would inevitably rise. That would push up debt interest payments, mortgage payments and damage growth.
    • Delaying the implementation of fiscal consolidation, as Labour proposed, prolongs the adjustment and so requires further action – through tax rises or spending reductions – to offset higher debt interest costs. Labour’s plan means greater pain for longer.
    • Since the General Election market interest rates (10yr Gilt) have fallen by 0.94%.
  • In support of our actions:
    • The OECD described the Budget as a “courageous move”, saying that “It provides the necessary degree of fiscal consolidation over the coming years to restore public finances to a sustainable path, while still supporting the recovery.
    • The Governor of the Bank of England stated that the Budget had “reduced downside risks... through removing the possibility of a sharper downturn in output resulting from higher long-term interest rates”
    • The IMF said: “The government's strong and credible multi-year fiscal deficit reduction plan is essential to ensure debt sustainability.”

Nick Clegg announces ‘fairness premium’

Next week's comprehensive spending review (CSR) will include a £7 billion "fairness premium" to help children from poorer families as they go through nursery, school and university, Nick Clegg announced today.

The package will include free pre-school education for two-year-olds from disadvantaged households, a "pupil premium" providing extra cash while they are at school and a "student premium" to help them in higher education. The new cash is expected to support children from the poorest 20% of families.

  • This was a key Liberal Democrat election pledge that we are now delivering in Government
  • In the Spending Review we will provide extra funds – a total of over £7 billion – for a “fairness premium”, stretching from the age of two to the age of twenty. This is money spent on giving the poorest children a better start in life.
  • So while the CSR will cut spending, it will increase our investments in fairness, and in particular in the promotion of social mobility and life chances.

1. Early Years

· The 15hrs a week currently available for all 3 and 4 year olds will be protected.

· In addition, we will be adding an additional 15hrs a week of early years education for 2 year olds for the poorest families (the bottom 20% - children who receive full school meals).

2. The Pupil Premium

· The Pupil Premium means schools will receive additional funds to offer targeted help to every pupil eligible for free school meals. This will reduce educational inequalities.

· This is longstanding Liberal Democrat policy and one of our four key manifesto pledges.

· It is not up to Whitehall or politicians how they spend that money. It is up to the schools themselves.

o It is earmarked to help those who need it most but it can be used for one-to-one tuition; catch-up classes; after school projects; new equipment. Whatever schools and teachers feel will help their children the most.

· It is not just the poorest students which will benefit from this. All the evidence shows that the increase in funds will help drag the whole class along. For example, all children in the school (not just the poorest students at whom the Premium is targeted) would benefit from new equipment.

· In the long-term, this will benefit everyone. Targeted intervention at our poorest students will cut crime, mean less spending on damaged adults etc.

3. University

· Vince Cable will make an announcement in the next couple of weeks about how we will provide a student premium to the least advantaged students to ensure that bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds are not held back by the circumstances of their birth.


(Although the pupil premium as such will be delivered only in England, the settlement for the Welsh Assembly Government will take account of it.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Neath North by-election, 14th October

Protheroe (Labour) (elected) 437
Howells (Neath Port Talbot Independent Party) 144
Maccathail (Plaid Cymru) 132
McCarthy (Liberal Democrat) 51
Turnout 24.08%

Frank Little writes: We were defeated on largely national issues (the issue of the Browne report, recommending a lifting of the cap on the cost of university courses did not help), and the untrue allegation that our candidate would stop the rebuilding of the Gwyn Hall. However, it was the first time that we had seriously contested this ward. I consider our campaign was a good one and a start on which we can build.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Welsh success in ALDC elections

Frank Little writes:
Regrettably, I was unable to attend Federal Conference and thus also the AGM of the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors, or I would have been able to post this sooner. The new president is Cllr Veronica German AM (Torfaen). A former LibDem Lliw Valley councillor now resident in Warwickshire, Sarah Boad, is secretary.

The official Welsh representative is Cllr Kevin O’Connor (Merthyr Tydfil).

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Welsh LibDem leader objects to Passport Office closure proposal

Kirsty Williams AM, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats has responded to reports that the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) is considering closing the Newport passport office:

“To suggest that every passport office should remain open except for the only one serving South Wales and South West England is at best high handed and will leave millions of people with an inferior service to the rest of the UK, as well as threatening hundreds of jobs.

“Of course, all public agencies must seek to achieve best value for money in very difficult times but this must be done sensitively with the aim of providing a good service across the UK.

“My understanding is that, at this stage, this is a proposal for consultation and I shall be responding to express my concerns as I am sure many others will.”


Labour Shadow Cabinet elections

Every single member of Ed Miliband’s new shadow cabinet served in Gordon Brown’s government.

Of the 19 members of the new shadow cabinet, 11 served as cabinet ministers under Brown, while the other eight held ministerial posts.

Every member of the new shadow cabinet voted for ID cards. Of the 14 who were MPs at the time, 12 voted for the invasion of Iraq.

Miliband himself was a key adviser to Brown in the Treasury, including chairing his Council of Economic Advisers, responsible for long-term economic planning. He was then parachuted into a safe seat and fast-tracked into the cabinet before writing Brown’s election manifesto.

Miliband claimed his election heralded a new generation in Labour politics, but his shadow cabinet is made of the same New Labour politicians that spent recklessly and left the economy in tatters, stole our freedoms, left our political system in disgrace and failed to close the huge gap between the richest and the poorest.

The Daily Telegraph has analysed the background of all the new Shadow Cabinet members and has found that they are overwhelmingly white, privileged and heterosexual. Social diversity was delivered a blow with Diane Abbott, Ben Bradshaw and Chris Bryant not getting a place.

The full list of the new Shadow Cabinet can be found here.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Ex-Labour leader falsely accused by press

Frank Little writes: I wish to correct a story, published on this party website in good faith, that Derek Vaughan claimed money to which he was not entitled. In fact, the South Wales Police Authority allowance was paid automatically, not claimed, and Mr Vaughan has returned the sums involved. In our defence, it should be noted that we merely relayed, without addition, a "news item" in the Evening Post.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Ed Miliband's record

In his leadership speech to the Labour conference in Manchester, Ed Miliband tried to rewrite history by putting distance between himself and New Labour and presenting himself as part of a new generation of Labour politicians.

The truth is Ed Miliband spent the last 13 years at the heart of the New Labour project. He was an adviser in Gordon Brown’s Treasury from 1997 and went on to chair the Council of Economic Advisers, responsible for long-term economic planning, in 2004.

He was then parachuted into a safe seat and quickly appointed as a minister in Brown’s cabinet before writing his 2010 election manifesto. He was an integral part of the Labour Government that left the economy in tatters, faced allegations of complicity in torture, stole our freedoms,
left our political system in disgrace and failed to close the huge gap between the richest and the poorest.

In the Treasury he was reckless with our money. When he was in charge of environment policy he was timid and weak, including giving the green light to the third runway at Heathrow.

Voting record: Ed Miliband’s voting record shows that he was fully signed up to New Labour’s assault on civil liberties and voted against an investigation into the Iraq war. He was also weak on tackling climate change and bringing greater transparency to Parliament.

Voted for:
  • Control orders
  • Identity Cards
  • Reducing parliamentary scrutiny (eg. The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act)
  • All the Terrorism Bill’s clauses including 42 and 90 day detention
  • Trident replacement
Voted against:
  • Introducing Parliamentary approval to be required for deployment of the Armed Forces
  • An investigation into the Iraq war
Patchy record on:
Climate Change – He introduced legislation which included a pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 (Miliband’s 60% target was only increased after pressure by the Liberal Democrats) but:
  • Voted against a 2007 Liberal Democrat motion calling on the Government to do significantly more on climate change
  • Was absent in 2008 on a vote to allow consumers to be paid renewable energy feed-in tariffs
  • Was absent in 2008 on a Planning Bill amendment to consider climate change in applications
  • Voted against a clause in the Climate Change Bill allowing the Secretary of State to set a maximum level of carbon emissions for energy plants in 2008
  • Voted against the 2009 Lib Dem 10:10 motion calling on the House to reduce energy usage by 10% during 2010

Transparency of Parliament:

Voted for MPs’ expenses and financial interests to be made public in 2009 but was absent on all other Freedom of Information amendments relating to making Parliament more transparent (most notably the 2008 vote on the report from the Members Estimate Committee which recommended external audits of the Additional Costs Allowance).

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Minimum Wage rises

The national minimum wage increased by 13p an hour to £5.93 this week, benefiting an estimated one million, mainly women, workers.

A new hourly rate of £2.50 was introduced at the same time for apprentices, who previously did not qualify for a statutory wage. The age threshold for paying the adult rate will be reduced from 22 to 21, giving an estimated 50,000 people a pay rise of more than 20%.

To mark the increase, the Government announced that employers who deliberately flouted minimum wage laws will be publicly named under a new scheme.

Liberal Democrat Employment Relations minister Ed Davey said: "Bad publicity can be a powerful weapon in the fight against employers who try to cheat their workers and their competitors. Their reputation can be badly damaged if they are seen to be flouting the law.

"Responsible employers should also make themselves aware of the new rates that come into effect today. The increases to the national minimum wage this year are appropriate for the economic climate. They will strike a balance between helping the lowest paid whilst at the same time not jeopardising their employment.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "This increase will put extra cash in the pockets of some of the UK's lowest paid workers and today there are also significant gains for apprentices and young workers."

Liberal Democrat policies in action

This is a list of policies that were in our manifesto, and not the Tories', that are in the coalition agreement:

We will bring forward detailed proposals for robust action to tackle
unacceptable bonuses in the financial services sector; in developing these
proposals, we will ensure they are effective in reducing risk.

We want the banking system to serve business, not the other way round. We
will bring forward detailed proposals to foster diversity in financial
services, promote mutuals and create a more competitive banking industry.

We will take steps to reduce systemic risk in the banking system and will
establish an independent commission to investigate the complex issue of
separating retail and investment banking in a sustainable way; while
recognising that this will take time to get right, the commission will be
given an initial time frame of one year to report.

We will cut red tape by introducing a ‘one-in, one-out’ rule whereby no
new regulation is brought in without other regulation being cut by a
greater amount.

We will impose ‘sunset clauses’ on regulations and regulators to ensure
that the need for each regulation is regularly reviewed.

We will find a practical way to make small business rate relief automatic.

We will seek to ensure an injection of private capital into Royal Mail,
including opportunities for employee ownership. We will retain Post Office
Ltd in public ownership.

We will seek to ensure a level playing field between small and large
retailers by enabling councils to take competition issues into account
when drawing up their local plans to shape the direction and type of new
retail development.

We will review the range of factors that can be considered by regulators
when takeovers are proposed.

We will reinstate an Operating and Financial Review to ensure that
directors’ social and environmental duties have to be covered in company
reporting, and investigate further ways of improving corporate
accountability and transparency.

We will ensure that Post Offices are allowed to offer a wide range of
services in order to sustain the network, and we will look at the case for
developing new sources of revenue, such as the creation of a Post Office
Bank.

We will end the so-called ‘gold-plating’ of EU rules, so that British
businesses are not disadvantaged relative to their European competitors.

We will introduce a Freedom Bill.

We will scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity register and the
ContactPoint database, and halt the next generation of biometric passports.

We will outlaw the finger-printing of children at school without parental
permission.

We will extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide
greater transparency.

We will protect historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.

We will restore rights to non-violent protest.

We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.

We will introduce a new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of
unnecessary new criminal offences.

We will abolish the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission and
replace it with an efficient and democratically accountable system that
provides a fast-track process for major infrastructure projects.

We will maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest
(SSSIs) and other environmental protections, and create a new designation
– similar to SSSIs – to protect green areas of particular importance to
local communities.

We will explore a range of measures to bring empty homes into use.

We will promote ‘Home on the Farm’ schemes that encourage farmers to
convert existing buildings into affordable housing.

We will phase out the ring-fencing of grants to local government and
review the unfair Housing Revenue Account.

We will require continuous improvements to the energy efficiency of new
housing.

We will introduce stronger consumer protections, including measures to end
unfair bank and financial transaction charges.

We will take forward measures to enhance customer service in the private
and public sectors.

We will increase households’ control over their energy costs by ensuring
that energy bills provide information on how to move to the cheapest
tariff offered by their supplier, and how each household’s energy usage
compares to similar households.

We will seek to extend protection and support to ‘off-grid’ energy
consumers.

We will seek to spread information on which policing techniques and
sentences are most effective at cutting crime across the Criminal Justice
System.

We will have a full review of the terms and conditions for police officer
employment.

We will make hospitals share non-confidential information with the police
so they know where gun and knife crime is happening and can target
stop-and-search in gun and knife crime hot spots.

We will promote better recording of hate crimes against disabled,
homosexual and transgender people, which are frequently not centrally
recorded.

We will review the operation of the Extradition Act – and the US/UK
extradition treaty – to make sure it is even-handed.

We will maintain the independence of the BBC, and give the National Audit
Office full access to the BBC’s accounts to ensure transparency.

We will maintain free entry to national museums and galleries, and give
national museums greater freedoms.

We will examine the case for moving to a ‘gross profits tax’ system for
the National Lottery, and reform the National Lottery so that more money
goes into sport, the arts and heritage.

We will use cash in dormant betting accounts to improve local sports
facilities and support sports clubs.

We will cut red tape to encourage the performance of more live music.

We will look at whether there is scope to refurbish Armed Forces’
accommodation from efficiencies within the Ministry of Defence.

We will support defence jobs through exports that are used for legitimate
purposes, not internal repression, and will work for a full international
ban on cluster munitions.

We will hold a full Spending Review reporting this autumn, following a
fully consultative process involving all tiers of government and the
private sector.

We will push for the EU to demonstrate leadership in tackling
international climate change, including by supporting an increase in the
EU emission reduction target to 30% by 2020.

We will introduce measures to promote a huge increase in energy from waste
through anaerobic digestion.

We will refuse permission for additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted.

We will replace Air Passenger Duty with a per-flight duty.

We will work towards an ambitious global climate deal that will limit
emissions and explore the creation of new international sources of funding
for the purpose of climate change adaptation and mitigation.

We will work towards full compliance with European Air Quality standards.

We will investigate measures to help with fuel costs in remote rural
areas, starting with pilot schemes.

We will extend the right to request flexible working to all employees,
consulting with business on how best to do so.

We will undertake a fair pay review in the public sector to implement our
proposed ‘20 times’ pay multiple.

We will press for the European Parliament to have only one seat, in
Brussels.

We will maintain the goal of ending child poverty in the UK by 2020.

We will reform the administration of tax credits to reduce fraud and
overpayments.

We will publish serious case reviews, with identifying details removed.

We will regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of
lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency.

We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes.

We support E-borders and will reintroduce exit checks.

We will explore new ways to improve the current asylum system to speed up
the processing of applications.

We will support efforts to establish an International Arms Trade Treaty to
limit the sales of arms to dangerous regimes.

We will review what action can be taken against ‘vulture funds’.
We will support reform of global financial institutions such as the World
Bank and the International Monetary Fund in order to increase the
involvement of developing nations.

We will explore alternative forms of secure, treatment-based accommodation
for mentally ill and drugs offenders.

We will urgently review Control Orders, as part of a wider review of
counter-terrorist legislation, measures and programmes. We will seek to
find a practical way to allow the use of intercept evidence in court.

We will ensure that there is a stronger voice for patients locally through
directly elected individuals on the boards of their local primary care
trust (PCT). The remainder of the PCT’s board will be appointed by the
relevant local authority or authorities, and the Chief Executive and
principal officers will be appointed by the Secretary of State on the
advice of the new independent NHS board. This will ensure the right
balance between locally accountable individuals and technical expertise.

We will give every patient the right to choose to register with the GP
they want, without being restricted by where they live.

We will make the NHS work better by extending best practice on improving
discharge from hospital, maximising the number of day care operations,
reducing delays prior to operations, and where possible enabling community
access to care and treatments.

We will prioritise dementia research within the health research and
development budget.

We will seek to stop foreign healthcare professionals working in the NHS
unless they have passed robust language and competence tests.

Doctors and nurses need to be able to use their professional judgement
about what is right for patients and we will support this by giving
front-line staff more control of their working environment.

We will encourage NHS organisations to work better with their local police
forces to clamp down on anyone who is aggressive and abusive to staff.

We will restore the earnings link for the basic state pension from April
2011, with a ‘triple guarantee’ that pensions are raised by the higher of
earnings, prices or 2.5%.

We will commit to establishing an independent commission to review the
long-term affordability of public sector pensions, while protecting
accrued rights.

We will explore the potential to give people greater flexibility in
accessing part of their personal pension fund early.

We will establish five-year fixed-term Parliaments. We will put a binding
motion before the House of Commons stating that the next general election
will be held on the first Thursday of May 2015. Following this motion, we
will legislate to make provision for fixed-term Parliaments of five years.
This legislation will also provide for dissolution if 55% or more of the
House votes in favour.

We will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which
includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the
event of a positive result in the referendum, as well as for the creation
of fewer and more equal sized constituencies. We will whip both
Parliamentary parties in both Houses to support a simple majority
referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the positions
parties will take during such a referendum.

We will review the control and use of accumulated and future revenues from
the Fossil Fuel Levy in Scotland.

We will fund a significant premium for disadvantaged pupils from outside
the schools budget by reductions in spending elsewhere.

We will help schools tackle bullying in schools, especially homophobic
bullying.
We will simplify the regulation of standards in education and target
inspection on areas of failure.

We will ensure that all new Academies follow an inclusive admissions
policy. We will work with faith groups to enable more faith schools and
facilitate inclusive admissions policies in as many of these schools as
possible.

We will reform Access to Work, so disabled people can apply for jobs with
funding already secured for any adaptations and equipment they will need.

We will increase the personal allowance for income tax to help lower and
middle income earners. We will announce in the first Budget a substantial
increase in the personal allowance from April 2011, with the benefits
focused on those with lower and middle incomes.

We will further increase the personal allowance to £10,000, making real
terms steps each year towards meeting this as a longer-term policy
objective. We will prioritise this over other tax cuts, including cuts to
Inheritance Tax.

We will reform the taxation of air travel by switching from a
per-passenger to a per-plane duty, and will ensure that a proportion of
any increased revenues over time will be used to help fund increases in
the personal allowance.

We will seek ways of taxing non-business capital gains at rates similar or
close to those applied to income, with generous exemptions for
entrepreneurial business activities.

We will make every effort to tackle tax avoidance, including detailed
development of Liberal Democrat proposals.

We will review the taxation of non-domiciled individuals.

We are committed to fair pricing for rail travel.

We will ensure that public funding mechanisms for university research
safeguard its academic integrity.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Standards regime to be abolished

Serious misconduct for personal gain will be a criminal act, while petty local vendettas will no longer get a hearing as the unpopular standards board regime is axed, Communities Minister Andrew Stunell has announced.

Mr Stunell said the top-down regime set up by central government to monitor council conduct had become a vehicle for malicious and frivolous complaints. For example, one authority had to fork out £160,000 after receiving over 170 complaints from the same person. Each one had to be examined, but only three were considered worth investigating and after investigation all were dismissed.

Local Standards Committees investigated 6000 complaints in the first two years - of which over half were judged not worthy of any further action. The Government is axing the entire Standards regime including the central board, which costs over £6 million a year; with investigations of complaints costing thousands of pounds each.

Genuine corruption in local government needs to be rooted out and the new Government is legislating to make serious misconduct a criminal offence dealt with by the courts not committees. Councillors will have to register certain personal interests in a publicly available register.

Ministers believe these changes will give voters the confidence that councillors who misuse their office will be effectively dealt with. While councillors themselves will have the confidence to get on with their job knowing they won't be plagued by petty allegations.

Public will decide councillors' fates

Under new plans the public will also have greater confidence to challenge poor local services. The Government intends to give the Local Government Ombudsman, the established body for investigating public complaints over the way they have been treated by their council, real teeth. For the first time local authorities will be legally compelled to implement the Ombudsman's findings.

Andrew Stunell said:

"The Standards Board regime ended up fuelling petty complaints and malicious vendettas. Nearly every council had investigations hanging over them - most of which would be dismissed but not before reputations were damaged and taxpayer money was wasted. Frivolous allegations undermined local democracy and discouraged people from running for public office.

"That's why we are axing the unpopular and unelected standards board regime. Instead we will legislate to ensure that if a councillor is corrupt and abuses their office for personal gain they will be dealt with in the criminal courts. If a councillor behaves ineffectively or irresponsibly then it's a matter for the electorate not an unelected quango.

"This Government is freeing councillors from central prescription and top down bureaucracy so they can get on with their job. In the future councillors must expect to be judged at the ballot box by an electorate with real access to their accounts and personal interests in a new
transparent era."

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles added:

"The standards board regime became the problem, not the solution. Unsubstantiated and petty allegations, often a storm in a teacup, damaged the reputation and standing of local government, as well as wasting taxpayers' money.

"But by abolishing the failed standards committees we're not letting councillors off the hook. Failure to register or declare an interest, or deliberately seeking to mislead the public about an interest, will become a criminal offence while a newly empowered Local Government Ombudsman will investigate incompetence on behalf local people."

The Government will also legislate to make it clear that councillors can campaign and vote freely on their issues. Councillors who have been prevented from speaking on the very issues they had been elected on, such as planning matters, will now have the freedom to express their views.

But councillors will have to register certain personal interests in a publicly available register; this could include anything that could reasonably be regarded as likely to influence or affect their actions, conduct when on business for the authority or voting.

The whole Standards Board regime consisting of a centrally prescribed code of conduct, standards committees with the power to suspend councillors and an unelected central body will be axed in the upcoming Localism Bill.

However councillors will have to conform to the highest standards of conduct. At present if a councillor abuses their position for personal gain it may result in a complaint to the local authority's standards committee with the councillor simply having to apologise. New legislation will make failing to register an interest, or deliberately seeking to mislead the public about an interest a criminal offence.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Simon Hughes comments on the election of Ed Miliband as the new Labour Leader

 
Commenting on the election of the new Labour Leader, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes said:

“I want warmly to congratulate Ed Miliband on becoming the new Labour leader.

“It is good to hear that he intends to practice a new politics of working across party boundaries in the national interest. 

“The country has a tough time ahead and it will be vital that he wakes up to the challenge that Britain faces. As leader he must recognise that his party can no longer remain head-in-the sand deficit deniers.

“Much has to be done. We have to restore Britain’s reputation around the world, which was broken by a foreign policy under Tony Blair. And we must restore our economy, broken by the boom and bust of Gordon Brown. 

“I also hope he will work to help clean up politics, end vested interests and as a leader elected by the alternative vote, I call on him to support the cross-party campaign for a fairer voting system from now until the referendum next May.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

Health under Welsh Assembly Government is getting worse

The Health Minister tried to bury or downgrade an adverse consultants' report.

And there is a huge backlog of continuing care claims.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chris Huhne promises Green Revolution


The Government is starting a green revolution with the most ambitious energy-saving plan ever put forward, Environment Secretary Chris Huhne said at Lib Dem Conference yesterday. 

"We are pioneering new ways of turning this government into the greenest ever" Chris said. "Our homes are responsible for a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions, because they leak heat like a sieve. We use more energy to heat our homes than Sweden, where it’s seven degrees colder in January. We might as well be standing outside burning 50 pound notes."

"By stopping this waste, we can make big savings on bills, and use them to pay businesses for the cost of insulation. This is the Green Deal, which I will be introducing through Parliament before the end of the year. Companies will pay up-front to insulate your home, recovering their spending from the energy savings that will result. Every home will be better off with the Green Deal than without it. And we will provide extra help directly for those in hard-to-heat homes and in fuel poverty."

Liberal Democrats punch above our weight - Vince Cable

"We have punched above our weight in government because we have a democratic party which has clear principles and policies" said Vince Cable in his keynote conference speech today.

"In a few short months we have showed how we can advance our party’s policies and principles while serving the wider national interest. But we need to sell this message. The Tories will not do that for us. We have to do it ourselves. That means focus leaflets and doorsteps. That means you. We need you. All of you."

Vince also attacked Labour's record on the economy, saying: "We know that if elected Labour planned to raise VAT. They attack this government’s cuts but say not a peep about the £23bn of fiscal tightening Alistair Darling had already introduced. They planned to chop my department’s budget by 20 to 25%, but now they oppose every cut, ranting with synthetic rage, and refuse, point blank, to set out their alternatives. They demand a plan B but don’t have a plan A. The only tough choice they will face is 'which Miliband?'."

READ MORE


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Agenda for Conference

Those who want to follow the proceedings of the Liberal Democrat conference currently being shown on BBC-Parliament can do that through http://www.libdems.org.uk/siteFiles/resources/PDF/conference/Aut10%20agenda%20book%20rev.pdf



Monday, September 20, 2010

Nick Clegg's speech in full

Two and a half years ago, I stood in this very hall to make my first
speech as Leader of our party. I said that the chance for change was
within our reach, and we had to seize it. That chance came. Perhaps not
quite in the way many of us could have expected.

But the chance came and you - we - responded with real courage and
conviction.

Cynics expected us to back away. Instead, we confounded those who said
that coalition Government was impossible. We created a Government which
will govern and govern well for the next five years.

Of course there are those who will condemn us. We are challenging years of
convention and tradition and our opponents will yell and scream about it.
But I am so, so proud of the quiet courage and determination which you
have shown through this momentous times in British political history.

Hold our nerve and we will have changed British politics for good. Hold
our nerve and we will have changed Britain for good.

Just think what we've done already. We've ended the injustice of the
richest paying less tax on investments than the poorest do on their wages.
We've guaranteed older people a decent increase in their pension. In
November, we will publish a Freedom Bill to roll back a generation of
illiberal and intrusive legislation. By Christmas, Identity Card laws will
be consigned to the history books.

From New Year's Day, the banks will pay a new levy that will help fill the
black hole they helped create. On 1 April, 900,000 low earners will stop
paying income tax altogether. In May, the people of Britain will get to
choose their own voting system. And this time next year, there will be a
pupil premium so the children who need the most help, get the most help.

We've always been the face of change. We are now the agents of change. And
every single person in this hall today is part of that change. Actually
there's one contribution you all made to the success of the coalition
negotiations that you probably aren't aware of. Our formidable negotiating
team got all the training they needed battling out policy right here on
the conference floor.

Some things of course are different in government. Some are the same. I
still think the war in Iraq was illegal. The difference is lawyers now get
anxious when I mention it. I still believe in our commitments to the
developing world. The difference is I get to make those commitments at a
UN summit later this week and make them happen. I still campaign for
political reform. The difference is I'm now legislating for it as well.
The only real problem is I'm still trying to explain to my children that
going from leader to Deputy PM isn't a demotion.

We will take risks in government. But we will never lose our soul. We
haven't changed our liberal values. Our status is different but our
ambition is the same.

Remember the four big promises we made in the election campaign? For the
first time in my lifetime, Liberal Democrats are able to deliver on those
promises.

We promised no tax on the first £10,000 you earn. We've already raised the
personal allowance by £1000. And in the coming years we will go further to
put money back in the pockets of millions of low earners.

We promised more investment in the children who need the most help at
school. It will happen at the start of the next school year.

We promised a rebalanced, green economy, a new kind of growth. Already
we're taking action on the banks. We've set up a regional growth fund.
There will be a green investment bank to channel money into renewable
energy. These are the first steps to rewire our economy. New jobs, new
investment, new hope.

And we promised clean politics. We're giving people the chance to change
our voting system, cleaning up party funding and finally, a century after
it should have happened, we are going to establish an elected House of
Lords.

Those pledges we made, together, in the election of 2010, will be promises
kept in the election of 2015. The Coalition Programme, which commits the
government to making all these changes, is not the Liberal Democrat
manifesto. But it is not the Conservative manifesto either. It is our
shared agenda. And I stand by it. I believe in it. I believe it will
change Britain for good.

Now, some say we shouldn't have gone into government at a time when
spending had to be cut. We should have let the Conservatives take the
blame. Waited on the sidelines, ready to reap the political rewards. Maybe
that's what people expected from a party that has been in opposition for
65 years. People have got used to us being outsiders, against every
government that's come along. Maybe we got used to it ourselves. But the
door to the change we want was opened, for the first time in generations.

Imagine if we had turned away. How could we ever again have asked the
voters to take us seriously? Labour left the country's coffers empty. So
the years ahead will not be easy. But you do not get to choose the moment
when the opportunity to shape your country comes your way. All you get to
choose is what you do when it does. We chose a partnership government.

The truth is I never expected the Conservatives to embrace negotiation and
compromise. But they did and it does them credit. David Cameron showed he
could think beyond his party and help build a new kind of politics. The
election result didn't give a single party the mandate to govern. It gave
all parties the mandate to govern differently. We answered that call. And
one of the most remarkable surprises of this Coalition Government is that
our parties are not, despite so many cynical predictions, simply settling
for the lowest common denominator between us.

Instead, we have become more than the sum of our parts. For those of us
who believe in plural politics, that's not a surprise. In life, two heads
are usually better than one. And in politics, too, when the country faces
grave challenges - the deficit, the threat of climate change, a war in
Afghanistan, millions of children trapped in disadvantage - two parties
acting together can be braver, fairer and bolder than one party acting
alone.

The new politics - plural politics, partnership politics, coalition
politics - is the politics our nation needs today. The Liberal Democrats
and the Conservatives are and always will be separate parties, with
distinct histories and different futures. But for this Parliament we work
together: To fix the problems we face and put the country on a better
path. This is the right Government for right now.

Our first job, however, is a difficult one. Balancing the budget. I did
not come into politics to make spending cuts. But it is the only choice if
we want to steer Britain out of the economic mess Labour made. The only
choice if we want to bring back hope and optimism to our nation. We are
gripped by a crisis, and it's the worst kind: it's invisible.

You can't see the debts mounting up.

Walk the high street, go to work, talk to your friends, you won't see the
signs of our debts or our deficit. The numbers sound alarming, but in the
end they're just numbers. It doesn't feel like we can't afford things.

So how did this debt crisis happen? Put simply, over the course of the
recession, 6% of our economy disappeared. The shock was so profound that
even now the economy is growing, we are poorer today than we thought we
would be. All the old predictions about our future economy - predictions
on which spending plans had been based - have turned out to be wrong. We
can't keep spending money as if nothing had changed.

The problems are there. They are real. And we have to solve them. It's the
same as a family with earnings of £26,000 a year who are spending £32,000
a year. Even though they're already £40,000 in debt. Imagine if that was
you. You'd be crippled by the interest payments. You'd set yourself a
budget. And you'd try to spend less. That is what this government is doing.

This isn't new for Liberal Democrats. Speak to councillors who've led
councils across the country; they know what it's like to pick up the
pieces after Labour spent a community dry. Newcastle, Sheffield, Lambeth,
Southwark, and right here in Liverpool. Our Council leaders know the
poorest are the ones that suffer when the finances get out of control and
money has to be spent on debts. They know there is nothing fair about
denying you have a problem and leaving it for the next generation to clear
it up. Would you ask your children to pay your credit card bill?

I've heard some people say that the cuts we are making are somehow taking
Britain back to the 1980s, or even the 1930s. Dismantling the state. It
isn't true. Even when all the cuts have happened, we will still be
spending 41% of our national income - the same amount we were spending in
2006.

The Spending Review is about balance and responsibility not slash and
burn. Of course, I wish there was a pain-free alternative. Who wouldn't?
But whatever Labour say now, there isn't one. Not even in Alistair
Darling's old plans - they too would have meant massive cuts. Delay won't
solve the problems - in fact, it would make them worse.

We could have decided to go more slowly but it would have worsened not
eased the pain. Because every day you ignore a deficit, it gets harder to
fix. The debts mount up and you have to pay interest on them. Already we
are spending £44bn a year on interest alone. Under Labour's plans, that
would have risen to nearly £70bn. A criminal waste of money that shouldn't
be lining the pockets of bond traders. It should be paying for police,
care workers, hospitals and schools.

That's why this government's aim is that by the time of the next election,
our debt problems will be solved; our debts falling as a proportion of
national income. We will have wiped the slate clean for a new generation.

In making these changes we will learn from the mistakes of previous
recessions.

We will not repeat the mistakes of the 1980s in which whole communities
were hollowed out. I know from my constituents in Sheffield how worried
people are that cuts will hurt the North in the way the industrial changes
of the 1980s did. So let me say to everybody in those communities, in
Scotland and in Wales too, many of whose lives were torn apart. Yes, it
will be difficult, but it will not be like the 80s. We will not let that
happen. We will make these cuts as fairly as possible.

Finding money for the pupil premium to help children get the best start in
life. Reforming welfare to help people get back to work.

We will not let capital spending - investment in new buildings,
infrastructure and repairs - be swept away as it was in the past. We have
a billion pound Regional Growth Fund targeted specifically at creating
growth in those areas of the country that have been dependent on public
sector jobs. We've offered a National Insurance tax break to employers who
set up new companies outside London and the wider South East. And we are
determined to wean the economy off Labour's lop sided obsession with
financial services in the City of London.

Rebalancing our economy - so opportunity is never again concentrated only
in the south east corner of our island. So no matter what your background
or where you live, you have the opportunities you crave.

The destination is the right one but getting there is going to be hard. To
those thousands of people who work in the public sector, who do such an
outstanding job in our schools, hospitals, police forces and local
councils, I say this:

I know these are very unsettling times for you. I will not hide the fact
that we need to take difficult decisions today to ensure there are good,
affordable public services tomorrow. We have protected the funding for the
NHS, the biggest public service of all.

We will provide more, not less, money for the children in our schools who
need the most help. But I know you will be thinking: why should you have
to make any sacrifices to deal with a recession you didn't cause?

Why are the bankers who helped create the mess not taking more of the
blame? Why should you have to accept a pay freeze, or changes to your
pension, when the richest still get away with paying little or no tax at
all? I agree.

That's why we imposed a levy on the banks in our first budget. It's why
we're working hard with our friends in Europe and beyond on the idea of a
financial activities tax on profits, pay and bonuses. It's why we're going
to be forcing the banks to publish the ludicrous pay and bonuses they give
out. It's why our Banking Commission is looking at whether to split the
banks up completely to keep our economy safe. And it's why we're working
flat out to get the banks lending again to small businesses, the lifeblood
of our economy.

We have done more in five months than Labour ever did to sort out the
greed and the recklessness of the banks.

Our approach is simple: they helped bring down our economy. It must never
happen again.

People who avoid and evade paying their taxes will no longer get away with
it either. We all read the headlines about benefit fraud. We all agree
it's wrong when people help themselves to benefits they shouldn't get. But
when the richest people in the country dodge their tax bills that is just
as bad. Both come down to stealing money from your neighbours.

We will be tough on welfare cheats. But unlike Labour, we'll be tough on
tax cheats too. We will crack down on the super rich who hide away money
overseas. We will take on organised crime gangs set up to avoid tax. And
we will prosecute five times as many tax cases as Labour ever did.

So the message is loud and clear: Just as the public sector must be made
affordable, the banks must be held to account. And tax avoiders and
evaders must have nowhere to hide.

I want to make something crystal clear about the coming Spending Review.
It is not an ideological attack on the size of the state. There is one
reason and one reason only for these cuts: As Liam Byrne said in that
infamous letter: there isn't any money left.

It's not smaller government I believe in. It's a different kind of
government: a liberating government. This government will transform the
state. Reversing generations of centralisation. Putting power into
people's hands. Because the job of government is not to run people's
lives. It is to help people to run their own.

I want Britain to have the best schools and hospitals in the world. But
that doesn't mean we should be controlling them all from Whitehall.
Governments that have the arrogance to imagine that 100 ministers and
1,000 civil servants can fix the country all by themselves. Governments
like that fail.

So we will restore power to people, families, communities, neighbourhoods
and councils. Turning the tide of centralisation and for the first time
giving power away. Councils, like all parts of government, are going to
have to make do with less money in the years ahead. But they will have
more freedom than ever before.

Labour rattled on about decentralisation, but they held the purse strings
tight. We are different; we are liberal. Because we will put local
government back in charge of the money it raises and spends. That's why in
our first budget we unlocked more than a billion pounds of ring-fenced
grants. That's why we will end central capping of Council Tax. That's why
we will allow councils to keep some of the extra business rates and
council tax they raise when they enable new developments to go ahead.

And I can announce today that we will be giving local authorities the
freedom to borrow against those extra business rates to help pay for
additional new developments. This may not make the pulses race in the
country at large. It does here of course. But I assure you it is the first
step to breathing life back into our greatest cities.

Our leaders in Sheffield say it could allow the redevelopment of derelict
mines in the Don Valley; our leaders in Newcastle believe this could help
them create a new science park; in Leeds they argue the Aire Valley could
be transformed. But whether in Newcastle, in Sheffield, in Leeds or indeed
in every city in the UK. What matters most is that finally, they will be
in the driving seat, instead of waiting for a handout from Whitehall.
Local people, local power, local change.

The same approach - financial freedom - is governing our relationship with
Scotland and Wales, too. That's why we are taking forward the Calman
Commission to give Scotland real freedom and responsibility over its own
money. And why, if the referendum for more devolution in Wales is
successful, we will take forward a similar process for the Senedd. Giving
the nations of the UK the freedom they deserve.

Putting power in local hands is one of the many things Labour never really
understood. The Labour leadership candidates are trying to rewrite
history. But we remember. Civil liberties destroyed on an industrial
scale. A widening gap between rich and poor. Failure to act on the
environment. Locking up more children than anywhere else in western
Europe. Kowtowing to the banks. A foreign policy forged in George Bush's
White House. The invasion of Iraq. And then, on top of all that they
brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy. Writing cheques, even in
the final days of their government that they knew would bounce. This
country could not have borne five more years of Labour.

Has anyone else lost track of the books Labour people keep publishing?
Never in the field of political memoirs, has so much been written by so
few about so little. They went from nationalisation to serialisation. From
The Third Way to a third off at the book shop.

And the next generation is still fighting the same old backstabbing
battles instead of talking about the future for Britain. We held a public
consultation about the Spending Review.

We had 100,000 ideas from members of the public about how to cut waste and
do things more effectively. And not a single idea from the Labour Party.
They have the economic strategy of an ostrich.

I want to say something to whoever is elected as the next Labour leader.
You cannot duck difficult choices forever. All you have done in the last
four months is carp and complain. But a decent opposition has to provide a
decent alternative. Your party let people down in government. Until you
face up to your responsibility for the state we're in you'll let people
down in opposition too.

Of course Labour did some good things, of course they did. But just think
what they could have done. With enormous majorities, 13 years and money
to spare. The best opportunity for real fairness there has been in my
lifetime. But imprisoned by timidity they squandered a golden age.

We must now take up the challenge that Labour ducked. We must do more,
even though they left us with less. When faced with the daunting task of
reducing our deficit, the temptation might have been to go slow elsewhere.
One difficult task at a time - that would have been the cautious response.
But it hasn't been our response.

Because I believe at times of great difficulty, great things can still be
done. At times of great difficulty, great things must be done. Some say
we've bitten off more than we can chew. I say there's no time to wait. We
could wait to solve the welfare crisis, but every day people struggle to
get back into work. We could wait to give our children a better start at
school, but they only get the chance to grow up once. We could wait to
reform our prisons, but every day offenders leave prison and go straight
back to crime. We could wait to cut the deficit, but every day, we spend
£120m servicing our debts, and that's £120m less for our children.

We have four years and seven months before the next election. 1690 days.
We're not going to waste a single second. There is no time for the old
go-slow, timid governments of the past. We're keeping our eyes on the
horizon, not on the headlines. Building, brick by brick, day by day, the
changes Britain needs.

Of course the ambition of these reforms will provoke controversy. I know
people, for instance, are worried about our plans for expanding Academies,
as we heard this morning.

It wouldn't be Liberal Democrat conference if we didn't have a motion that
provoked strong passions on both sides. The great thing is that on all
sides all Liberal Democrats share a passion for education. When it comes
to lasting fairness education is everything.

So I want to be really clear about what the government is proposing. It's
not Labour's academies programme: a few schools singled out for
preferential treatment - a cuckoo in the nest that eats up attention and
resources. We're opening up the option of Academy freedom to all schools.
Because if one head teacher is free to run their classes in the way they
know is best, why shouldn't all head teachers be free?

My vision is that every school, in time, will be equal, every school
equally free. But there's one freedom new schools shouldn't have. Freedom
to select. The whole concept of our reforms falls apart if you use it to
expand selection - because instead of children and parents choosing
schools, you get schools choosing children. So we have made it absolutely
clear: we will allow people to set up new schools but we will not allow
them to pick and choose the brightest at the expense of everybody else No
to more selection.

Welfare reform will be controversial too. Benefit reform is difficult in
times of plenty, but essential when money is tight. Labour's welfare
system simply isn't fair. It pays people to live without hope of a better
life instead of paying to help them build a better life. A liberal welfare
system is different. It's built around work. I believe in work. Work is
essential to a person's sense of self worth, their identity.

We will only build the fair, mobile society we want. If we make it easy
for everyone to get out to work and get on in life. And that's what this
government will do.

So the immediate future will not be easy, but the long term prize is
great. I want you to imagine what you will say to people when you knock on
their door at the next General Election.

Imagine how it will feel to say that in Government, Liberal Democrats have
restored civil liberties, scrapped ID cards, and got innocent people's DNA
off the police database.

Imagine how it will feel to say that our Government has taken action to
cut reoffending, and cut crime, while stopping Labour's mass incarceration
of children.

We will have withdrawn our combat troops from Afghanistan, our brave
servicemen and women having completed the difficult job we asked them to
do.

You will be able to explain that finally, we have a fair tax system where
the rich pay their share, and the lowest earners pay no income tax at all.

Our banking levy will have raised £10bn, reckless bonuses for short term
gain will no longer corrupt our banking system, and banks will be lending
responsibly again.

Imagine how it will feel to visit home after home that our Green Deal has
made warm and affordable to heat.

You'll be able to tell people they have a new right to sack MPs who do
wrong, and that the party funding scandals of the past are history.

You'll be campaigning alongside Liberal Democrat candidates for the House
of Lords.

And if the British people say yes to the Alternative Vote in the
referendum next May - forcing MPs to work harder for your vote - then you
will also be able to say that the clapped out politics of First Past the
Post is gone for good.

To those who are angry now about the difficult decisions needed to balance
the budget you'll be able to show that those decisions have set us on a
better course with new growth and jobs that last.

And, finally, you'll be able to say that all this has been delivered by a
totally new way of doing politics. Never again will anyone be able to
frighten the voters by claiming that coalition Government doesn't work.
Liberal, plural politics will feel natural; the sane response to a complex
and fast-changing world. Just imagine how different our country will be.

Britain in 2010 is anxious, unsure about the future, but Britain in 2015
will be a different country. Strong, fair, free and full of hope again. A
country we can be proud to hand on to our children. That is the goal we
must keep firmly fixed in our minds. That is the prize.

The years ahead will not be easy but they will make the difference our
country needs. Stick with us while we rebuild the economy. Stick with us
while we restore our civil liberties, protect our environment, nurture our
children and repair our broken politics. Stick with us and together we
will change Britain for good.