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.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nick Clegg Q&A

There is a Podcast here.

Danny Alexander announces war on billion-pound tax dodging

Speaking to the Liberal Democrat federal conference in Liverpool today, Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, announced a £900m attack on tax avoidance and evasion.

The additional investment is expected to raise an extra £7bn each year by 2014/15 from those who currently avoid paying their fair share of tax.

HMRC will use the extra funding for:

- A more robust criminal deterrent against tax evasion
- The creation of a new dedicated team of investigators to crackdown on offshore evasion
- The creation of bespoke cyber crime teams and online specialists
- More investment in freight and detection technology to prevent alcohol and tobacco smuggling

In his speech, Danny Alexander reminded representatives that Liberals and Liberal Democrats have seldom taken the easy road.

"In this great City of Liverpool, " he said, "when Chris Rennard and campaigners led the long march to take power from Labour, they did so not because it was easy, but because it was right.

"When Charles Kennedy was a lone voice in Parliament against the war in Iraq. When he was shouted down by hundreds of MPs, he did it not because it was easy, but because it was right.

"In May this year our party faced the toughest decision of its life. We chose to reject the ease of opposition to govern this country in coalition with the Conservatives. Taking responsibility for Britain’s future at one of the most difficult times in our economic history. Not because it would be easy, but because we knew it was right.

"Conference, I have never been so proud to be a Liberal Democrat, and I am proud of the agreement we negotiated. One party at war with itself has been replaced with two parties working together in the interests of our nation.

"Of course we have disagreements – and we give as a good as we get. But we get on a great deal better than the last lot did, and as a result we will achieve a great deal more. Already, Liberal Democrats in government are delivering on our manifesto commitments.

"We have increased capital gains tax, we have introduced a substantial bank levy, we have restored the earnings link to pensions, and next year 900,000 low income workers won’t pay a penny of income tax: a major step towards our manifesto pledge to make the first £10,000 you earn tax free.

"These measures make our country substantially and permanently fairer. Labour had 13 years to make these changes – they chose not to. We made them in 13 weeks. We will take no lectures on fairness from them.

"Gordon Brown was very generous with other people’s money. He ran the British economy like the drunk in the pub who says ‘lend me a tenner and I’ll buy you a drink.’

"Labour were irresponsible. They ignored the warnings, years in advance, of the impending financial crisis. Vince Cable warned them that the bankers’ greed and the bubble it was fuelling, threatened our economy. They lived in denial.

"They were reckless. They allowed Britain to build up the largest budget deficit in Europe with no plan for tackling it. Shamefully, they made expensive promises to communities across the country, weeks before the election when they knew full well there was no money left.

"Until Labour apologises for that cynical attempt to bribe the British people with bouncing cheques it will never be fit to govern this country again. Until they apologise for their disastrous economic legacy and until they set out, in detail, how they would tackle the deficit, the people of Britain will know that Labour cannot be trusted with the economy. Meanwhile, we have to clean up their mess.

"Since the election our long term interest rates have fallen - helping jobs and growth. There is not a choice between balancing the books and economic growth. The two go together.

"Labour allowed political convenience to trump economic necessity once too often – we will not make that mistake.

"I didn’t come into politics to cut public spending. But it has to be done. I know we, Liberal Democrats, have the courage to see the task through. Not because it is easy, but because it is right.

"The size of the cuts we have to make is unavoidable, but we do have a choice about how those reductions are made.

"So I want to set out the principles – the Liberal Democrat principles - on which I will base our decisions in the spending review: tackling waste, investing in growth (which Vince will speak about on Wednesday), fairness [and] radical reform of public services.

"Government has a duty to spend your money carefully. As if borrowed from a friend. So we will be ruthless in rooting out wasteful or unnecessary spending. Before we ask frontline services to face tough choices, we are ensuring that we have rooted every penny of savings from the back office."

Read the full speech here: http://www.libdems.org.uk/latest_news_detail.aspx?title=Alexander_announces_major_clampdown_on_tax_avoidance_and_evasion&pPK=9f8f3c11-ba63-4db3-8737-1e04f17c33ca

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Purposeful start to LibDem conference

There was a low-key but purposeful start to the Federal Conference which began in Liverpool today. Federal Committee reports were approved, and two motions which may not hit the headlines, but which are nevertheless important, were passed.

Andrew Wiseman, taking over from Duncan Brack as chairman of Federal Policy Committee,  stressed the need to maintain our distinctive identity. He regretted the need to sack eight members of staff from the policy area alone, as a result of losing funding to support the research and campaigning functions of opposition parties (the "Short" and "Cranborne" monies). On the positive side, members of the Federal Policy had input to coalition policy discussions.

The first motion, to press for the award of a national defence medal to UK service veterans was passed overwhelmingly. [Text published as a comment to this post]

Duncan Greenland, in moving acceptance of the Federal Finance and Administration Committee report, pointed out that, while the Labour Party was reported to be some £20m in debt - causing Lord Prescott to speak of it as being on the brink of bankruptcy - the Liberal Democrats had net current assets. The party had fought its most expensive general election campaign yet, at £5m, of which £1m had come in the form of individual donations raised in various ways including over the Internet.

In moving F7 (Transactions Transparency and Conflicts-of-Interest in Government) Paul Reynolds of Leicester repeated the charges which he made at spring conference about the revolving door of civil servants and supply companies,  and the ability of civil servants to hold shares in companies they were dealing with. He cited the recent Chinook helicopters debacle. There was an amendment which aimed to put central & local government on same footing. Peter Black AM for South Wales West objected to the part which attempted to bind devolved administrations as unconstitutional, though conference disagreed. The motion as amended was carried.


Two ex-councillors jailed for Bradford postal votes fraud

FIVE Bradford men, including two former councillors, were jailed earlier this week for their parts in a failed postal votes scam aimed at getting a Conservative Party candidate elected in the 2005 general election.

A judge heard that a newspaper investigation and police inquiry unearthed a plot to try to get Tory candidate Haroon Rashid elected in the marginal Bradford West seat using hundreds of fraudulent postal vote applications.

Leeds Crown Court was told detectives examined about 900 suspicious forms - many from people who did not exist or had no idea an application had been made on their behalf.

The plot was foiled before the conspirators had the chance to convert the applications into votes and, in the end, Mr Rashid was defeated by sitting Labour MP Marsha Singh who won with a majority of more than 3,000.

Prosecutors said that if the press had not intervened in May 2005, "the plan may well have been successful".

Simon Orme, of the Crown Prosecution Service special crime division, said: "The Crown Prosecution Service takes electoral fraud very seriously indeed. These offences not only attack democracy, but they also have the potential to undermine the public's perception of, and
confidence in, the democratic system in this country."

[From The Yorkshire Post]

Friday, September 17, 2010

Trident payment schedule put back

In a move which some commentators view as a recognition by the Conservatives of the strong feelings about the expense of the Trident programme on the part of their allies in the coalition government, Liberal Democrat Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey has suggested that some major decisions could be put back from 2014 to 2015.

There is also a comment on Liberal Democrat Voice.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Neath LibDems select by-election candidate

Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats have selected Mathew McCarthy, a young student of history and law, as their candidate for the Neath North by-election on October 14th.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Pathways to Work" largely ineffective

Labour spent £760m on a programme to reduce the number of people on incapacity benefits called "Pathways to Work". Work on the scheme was contracted out to private providers.

A report, issued today by the Labour-chaired Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons, reveals that the programme was largely ineffective and that the private companies did not give value for money.

LibDem backbencher forces Osborne to explain £4bn

Mr Speaker Bercow today agreed with Bob Russell, the Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, that a Treasury minister should attend the House of Commons to explain planned cuts in welfare benefits. As a result, Chancellor George Osborne was forced to publicly defend his announcement of cuts on top of the £11bn already slated in the emergency budget. Mr Russell told Radio 4 this afternoon that we should not forget that Labour got us into the mess which made cuts necessary, but what Mr Osborne was considering could affect the most vulnerable in his constituency.

The Independent also has the story.

Hundreds mourn Sir Cyril

Veteran Liberal Democrat politician Sir Cyril Smith has been laid to rest in Rochdale after a memorial service he organised from his deathbed.

Hundreds of mourners attended the celebration of his life in his beloved home town. The famously-outspoken politician, who served the town as MP for 20 years, planned the celebration in a nursing home during his final weeks.

His friend Lord Alton said he received a letter from Sir Cyril after his death telling him he must read the poem Death Is Nothing At All. "He was a brilliant political organiser," he told the congregation at Rochdale Town Hall, after reading the Canon Henry Scott Holland poem. He was a remarkable man, a wonderful man, a great friend and we shall all miss him greatly."

LibDem Peer moves to reform libel laws

A UK lawyer trying to stop the gravy train of libel shopping in London is like turkeys voting for Christmas, but Lord Lester, a leading champion of human rights and freedom of information is doing just that and more. He explains how on Liberal Democrat Voice.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nationalists vote against Ieuan Air

Freedom Central reports:

In a bizarre twist to the story of Ieuan Air, the Plaid Cymru Leader’s own party have voted against the North-South Wales air link. An amendment was submitted to the Sustainable Transport Motion, which was passed, advocating a withdrawal of subsidies for internal air services. The money to instead be spent on rail improvements.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Transport Minister Jenny Randerson AM said

“This humiliating vote will force Welsh voters to question what Plaid really stand for. They are for and against nuclear power. They are for and against tuition fees. They are for and against Ieuan Air. As a voter, I wouldn’t be sure what I am voting for!

“It is a clear rejection of Plaid’s record on transport in government from their own activists. It will be interesting to see whether Plaid ignores its activists or aligns itself with Welsh Liberal Democrat Policy”

The vote was supported by the party’s former chair, John Dixon.

The motion as it was passed calls for “the withdrawal of government subsidies to internal air services within Wales, with the money saved being invested in improved north-south rail services”.

The Welsh Government subsidy is £800,000 per year.


Social Liberal Forum

The Social Liberal Forum exists to foster debate within and beyond the Liberal Democrats, with the aim of developing social liberal solutions and approaches which reflect these principles and which find popular support.

James Graham, a member of the Forum's governing council, was responsible for this amendment, accepted without dissent, to the motion put to the Birmingham special conference at which the Liberal Democrats endorsed the coalition: “Conference calls for Liberal Democrats to work constructively in government to ensure that the the net income and wealth inequality gap is reduced significantly over the course of this parliament.” His speech is here.

The Forum has also sponsored a motion to be debated at the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference: "Ensuring Fairness in a time of Austerity". The Autumn Conference starts in Liverpool on Saturday 18th September.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Liberal Democrat MEP condemns French anti-Roma action

The European Parliament has debated the recent actions of the French government removing Roma from France and will tomorrow vote on a resolution sponsored by the liberal ALDE group condemning the discriminatory nature of the Sarkozy government's policies and rhetoric.

Liberal Democrat European justice & human rights spokeswoman and London MEP Sarah Ludford, who has long campaigned on Roma issues, said:

"Sarkozy is clearly playing the race card for electoral reasons in his 'voluntary expulsion' policy of bribes for Roma to leave. Targetting and stigmatising Roma people as an ethnic group and scapegoating them as criminals is totally against EU law."

"EU law allows restrictions on individual residence rights under the 'Free Movement' Directive. It of course does not prevent legitimate tackling of insanitary camps. But the European Commission must decide if France is committing illegal collective expulsion and if so, take appropriate legal action."

"The continuing poverty, disadvantage and marginalisation of the 10-12 million Roma across Europe is a disgrace to our continent. The Commission should check whether the billions of euros given to EU states with large Roma populations have been effectively spent, but in addition the EU as a whole needs an urgent Roma integration strategy with top-level political support."

Monday, September 06, 2010

Voting Reform

Today, the House of Commons will begin to debate proposals to give people a chance to reform the voting system, and to equalise our parliamentary constituencies.

Our two Parties have different views on the future of our voting system. But we both recognise that there are genuine concerns about the current system. And we emphatically agree that the decision is not, in any case, for government alone.

It should be taken by the people themselves.That is why both our parties support putting this question to a referendum next May, just one example of the power shift we are determined to deliver. Fixing parliament also means tackling the unfairness in the geography of MPs' constituencies by making sure votes count equally wherever they are cast. The coalition also proposes to cut the number of MPs to 600.

This won't just cut the cost of politics. A smaller, hard working House of Commons, is part of redistributing power away from the centre to local people. This is precisely the sort of modernisation our Parliament needs – and Labour MPs know it.

Yet tonight, Labour MPs will troop through division lobbies voting against a referendum on voting reform – a referendum they promised in their manifesto. Labour now seems to be about opposition, opposition, opposition. In the end, opposition for opposition's sake gets you nowhere.

Friday, September 03, 2010

NICK CLEGG VISITS PAKISTAN



Nick Clegg warned that flood-hit Pakistan will need aid for years to come as he saw the devastation for himself.

The Deputy Prime Minister said the disaster would have a "long tail", with threats from water-borne disease and opportunistic extremists. Speaking after being shown aid camps near the southern town of Sukkur - one of the worst affected regions - Mr Clegg said: "I think the sheer scale of this is really quite difficult to comprehend. The terrible thing is that it has got a long tail. It has got a lot of aftershocks that are going to last for a long time."

He said the international community's response has been too slow, but praised donations from the British Government and public.

"We have to make a huge effort to provide important emergency aid, but really stick with this for the long term," he said. Mr Clegg stressed that the flood waters have not drained away in many areas, and there is a "real danger of diseases taking hold".

"It's going to take years and years for normality to come back to Pakistan," he added. He also warned that the influence of extremist groups could be boosted by the disaster. The danger always is that you get groups who have an ulterior motive who provide aid to try to curry favour," he went on.

The Deputy Prime Minister toured the Pakistan Air Force flood relief camp at Sukkur, which houses more than 3,000 refugees. He was shown a clinic and chatted with children at a makeshift school, before moving on to the UN World Food Programme distribution base. At nearby Sukkur airport he received a briefing from aid agencies and met President Asif Ali Zardari, who was also touring the disaster scene.

Mr Clegg discussed the situation with the president, and briefed him on his visit to Afghanistan and talks with President Hamid Karzai yesterday. More details of how the Government's £33 million of aid will be allocated were released to coincide with Mr Clegg's visit.

About £9 million is going on items to help the millions displaced, including:

  • 2,330 water pumps for safe drinking supplies
  • Emergency shelter kits for around 30,500 families
  • Repairing or installing 5,000 toilets
  • Spades, picks and wheelbarrows to help 1,600 families clear debris from their homes
  • 650 kits containing essentials for newborn babies

The money will be given to charities Save The Children, Concern and Oxfam to source and distribute supplies. The aid will be targeted on the Punjab and Sindh provinces where the floods have had the worst impact.