Sunday, May 20, 2012

Local Government white paper is a missed opportunity

Commenting on the launch of the Welsh government’s White Paper on Local Democracy, the Welsh Liberal Democrats Shadow Minister for Local Government and Communities Peter Black AM said,

“This represents a complete failure of the Labour party to acknowledge the real problems that face local democracy in Wales. In the local elections a few weeks ago, we saw too many uncontested elections and turn out that was far too low, yet one of the proposals the government has put forward to change the name of the body that draws up election boundaries. This is not the radical thinking that Welsh communities need.

“The Scottish experience was that a proportional electoral system using fair voting meant no more uncontested elections, a wider choice of candidates for voters and higher turnout. Any attempt to reform local democracy without making this essential change is, frankly, a waste of time.

“Likewise, without implementing elections to National parks or devolving many more powers to local authorities so that they can deliver for their areas, we will never breathe life back into our local democracies.

“I will be tabling amendments to the bill to ensure these matters are considered.”

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Another dictionary redefinition from Labour

In March this year, the Labour First Minister, Carwyn Jones, announced that hundreds of jobs would be coming to Cardiff. It has since emerged that these are not new jobs. Labour excused their misleading statement on the grounds that it was "a matter of semantics".

Welsh Liberal Democrat AM Eluned Parrott said: "Only a Labour government as incompetent as this one can think the issue of literally hundreds of extra jobs is merely 'semantics'".

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Disgrace of second homes discount

In a period of financial austerity, Labour-controlled Neath Port Talbot county gives a 25% discount on their council tax to second home owners in the county borough. Neighbouring authorities Carmarthenshire, Bridgend and Swansea charge the full rate.

At the same time the council has imposed charges on its citizens' enjoyment. For instance, it now costs £1 per car to enter the Gnoll Country Park. On top of this, they are taxing Skewen's annual Family Funday from 2013 onwards by insisting on street trading or street collection licence payments for each of the stalls, which have been free before. The future of the Funday is in doubt because of this mean-minded move.

Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats say: stop subsidising the wealthy and let the hard-working ordinary people have their fun!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Coalition makes Post Office and Royal Mail viable

Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, Minister in the Department for Business, writes in Liberal Democrat Voice:

Royal Mail and the Post Office are two of our most recognisable and most trusted brands. For hundreds of years the post office has been at the heart of our communities – with a value that goes beyond mere economics to the social and the symbolic. Royal Mail, meanwhile, is a service that covers every part of the country and reaches every part of society. The public, quite rightly, is fiercely protective of both institutions.
Sadly previous governments left them both in a mess. Labour opened up the postal market, thereby exposing Royal Mail to the full force of competition. Ludicrously, however, the Regulator tied the company’s hands at the same time, preventing it from competing on an even footing. The widely recognised problem of ‘downstream access’ pricing, which allowed competitors to use Royal Mail for the final (most expensive) mile of delivery at a low charge for the service is a prime example.
It is now the Liberal Democrats in Government who are getting Royal Mail and the Post Office back on their feet and, as minister for postal affairs, I am continuing the work started by Ed Davey.

Royal Mail

Firstly, following the Postal Services Act that Ed took through Parliament last year we have separated Royal Mail from the Post Office to allow a vibrant future for each. The Act made provision for the sale of Royal Mail with a minimum 10% employee ownership, and the injection of capital it desperately needs to safeguard the universal postal service.
Secondly, we have freed the company of a huge deficit by taking on its pensions liabilities. This is good news for postmen and women – as demonstrated by the warm welcome the news received from the Communication Workers Union.
Thirdly, we have provided stronger protections for the universal service obligation which we have now enshrined in law. Ofcom, as the regulator, has a duty to protect that service. The rise in stamp prices from 46p to 60p for first class, and from 36p to 50p for second class (with concessions for vulnerable customers next Christmas), should be seen in this context. Stamp prices in this country have been remarkably low compared to the rest ofEurope; meanwhile, letter volumes have continued to decline as we all use email more and more. Our primary objective is to protect the universal service obligation, but in order to do so we have to allow Royal Mail the means to be commercially viable.

The Post Office

Firstly, we have committed that the Post Office is not for sale, and that there will be no further programme of post office closures. This is a vital vote of confidence for both the network and those who depend upon it.
Secondly, we are investing £1.34billion in modernising the network. This funding was secured at the spending review, and will see significant improvements at around 6,000 branches. The money comes with the critical condition that the Post Office continues to meet current access criteria that see 93% of the population live within a mile of their nearest branch.
Thirdly, we are looking at how government – both local and national – can work with the Post Office to our mutual advantage. By making the Post Office a genuine ‘front office of government’ we can save money for government and local councils, bring more customers into the post office, and make access to government and council services more convenient for people. Councillor Richard Kemp is working with Post Office Ltd to develop these ideas and twenty five councils are developing pilots which could help guide other councils. I encourage Lib Dem councillors and activists to look at whether it could benefit their area.
There is huge potential for the future of Royal Mail and the Post Office. The rise of the internet means the market has changed dramatically. It presents both threats and opportunities – parcel business is rising significantly as people increasingly buy and sell over the internet. A universal postal service and a post office network that stretches the length and breadth of the country will always have a vital role to play. We should be proud that Liberal Democrats in Government are now the ones responsible for securing their future. The steps we are taking will ensure that the Post Office and Royal Mail are still here, still trusted and instantly recognisable in years to come.