Wednesday, January 31, 2007

NHS in Wales

Some of us suspect that the "announce a policy a day" campaign mounted by Bayview House has a significant resemblance to the posters of a certain Yorkshire-based supermarket chain.

However, Reason Number 24 to shop at - sorry, vote for - Liberal Democrats in May is one which will appeal to many people.

The headline about a minimum standard of service may not mean much, but the detail will strike a chord with contributors to the Evening Post in recent weeks:

"Welsh Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Jenny Randerson, said:

"The Welsh Liberal Democrats will put patients first in improving our national health service. That means that when the NHS is taking care of you, you should be entitled to a certain standard of service.

"A minimum standard of service would include what can be expected at hospital and patient access to information. Putting patients first means delivering healthcare when it's needed and to a guaranteed level. That doesn't mean burdening health professionals with more targets - instead we must shift the focus onto the actual service that the patient receives through their pathway of treatment.

"A minimum standard of service would mean raising the nutritional standards for hospital food and ensuring that assistants are there to help elderly patients at meal times. It means involving patients more at every stage of their treatment, such as copying them into correspondence between GPs, consultants and other specialists relating to their pathway through the NHS.

"We will develop and promote better schemes to reimburse payment of hospital travel and parking costs. This would include a review of hospital charges. We would also expect to develop good practice such as patient-NHS agreements on the course of treatment, where and when patients are treated and what other help they need."

- Frank Little

Monday, January 29, 2007

Job losses in Neath Port Talbot council

Instead of the ageist policy of encouraging early retirement, why doesn't the council leader take an axe to superfluous junior posts, at present seemingly filled by young people who spend much of their day sending YouTube videos to each other via the net?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Peter Black AM: Getting the vote out

Peter Black AM: Getting the vote out

Voting at 16 and Compulsory Voting

Whilst I find myself compelled to agree with Peter Hain, MP for Neath, regarding the reduction of the voting age to 16 from 18, I cannot agree with the assertion that people should be compelled to vote.

Reducing the voting age to 16.

I feel that I must agree with this proposition, if only, for the two simple reasons highlighted below:

1. Those school leavers at the age of 16 are expected to work and pay taxes yet they have no voice in how those taxes are spent. (Thus contributing to, and causing voter apathy)

2. The hypocrisy of accepting that at the age of 16 a person can make a rational choice to join the Armed Forces and may, in times of crisis, find him/herself on the frontline fighting for the very democracy that won’t allow him/her to have a voice in.

Compulsory Voting.

There is but one overriding reason why I cannot bring myself to agree with compulsory voting. The main reason is that as an advocate of Democracy, I believe in the freedom to choose. A freedom that respects peoples choice, not just who they are going to vote for but, of whether they are going to vote or not.

Many times I have heard the argument:

“Hundreds of thousands of people have sacrificed their lives, in the past, to ensure that
we have the right to vote!”

I would like to think that they sacrificed their lives to ensure that we have the freedom to choose whether we vote or not. That is true democracy – the freedom to choose. If people choose not to vote then that is their democratic right to choose that. The way I see it is that democracy is all about the freedom of choice, and that extends to the freedom to choose whether you wish to vote – or not.

Richie Northcote

Monday, January 22, 2007

We Can Cut Crime! - Crime is one of the biggest issues in Britain today.

Ming Campbell's Liberal Democrats are taking the lead, proposing real action at a national level and acting to cut crime where we are in power locally.

Violent crime is rising, anti-social behaviour is still a serious problem, and our prisons are overflowing. Labour have talked tough but have failed to deliver despite 10 years in power.

The Tories are in disarray on crime. One day it's hug a hoodie; the next it's slap a hoodie. Who knows what the Tories stand for now? What we do know is that the last Tory government cut police numbers and let violent crime double.

Enough is enough. Tough talk doesn't tackle crime - we've learnt that from the last twenty years of Labour and Conservative failure. This campaign is about taking effective action to make our country safer.

We need more police, freed from the burden of bureaucracy, to take back our town centres, especially after dark. Instead of spending billions of pounds on compulsory ID cards for innocent, law-abiding citizens, that money should be spent on targeting criminals and tackling crime.

We need a prison system that works. Prisoners should work to pay compensation to their victims, and to cut reoffending. A life sentence should mean life.

We are serious about cutting crime. Together, we can make Britain safer for all of us.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Laura Norder

The New Labour spin machine has a policy of frightening the electors out of voting for opposition parties. It has learned the lesson from political campaign organisers in the US and Australia. The more that a candidate can be smeared with the lie that he or she is soft on crime, the less likely they are to be elected.

The government, though, is in trouble when a high-profile violent crime hits the headlines, as such inevitably occurs. This conflicts with their litany that "crime rose under the previous administration, and has fallen under New Labour".

Their answer is that they do not have enough legal powers. So, yet another oppressive Act is pushed through parliament, giving yet more powers to officials and removing yet more civil liberties. And it just DOESN'T WORK!

The prison population goes up. The only limit on it is the lack of additional prison accommodation, which the government shows no sign of providing. (To be fair to the Conservatives, who espouse similarly repressive policies, the Tories have said that they would spend more of our money on building new prisons.) The result is that prisoners are let out early to make room for new. There seems to be little discrimination between convicts, so that the dangerous are let out with the harmless. Violent and sex offenders are moved to open prisons. The Home Secretary (or "Minister for Justice", which, with an Orwellian overtone, John Reid seems to want to create) has to learn to distinguish between those prisoners who are too dangerous to be freed and those who should not have been locked up in the first place.

The parrot squawk from the friends of Big Brother is: what would you do instead? For too long we Liberals and Social Democrats have been apologetic about our proposals. I am glad to see that this is about to change. Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg will be announcing a Cut Crime campaign tomorrow. There is every sign that this will not only be more liberal but also practical.

Let us replace "Law 'n' Order" with "Good Order and Justice".

- Frank Little

Friday, January 19, 2007

Can the BBC survive without reform?

The news this week that the BBC Licence Fee is to rise by 3%, to £151 over the next five years, will be received with deep concern by many individuals, not least pensioners, the unemployed and those hard working families on low incomes – especially those who are already feeling the pinch of higher energy and mortgage costs.

Whilst there is a general consensus that the BBC does provide good quality and impartial programming we cannot ignore the argument that in today’s world greater choice is offered by other service providers such as Cable and Sky. It is natural that many people who subscribe to these services, at a premium often in excess of £40 per month, begrudge paying the licence fee. It is mistakenly viewed by many as simply a tax on television – and that is understandable up to a point, since every household has to pay the licence fee whether you watch the BBC or not.

The stark reality is that the BBC now has to compete with 24-hour news, entertainment, sports, documentaries, movies and more. The only way that the BBC can compete with this, in its current form, is to fund it through an increase in the licence fee. Perhaps the time has come to open the BBC up to corporate advertising? By this I don’t mean that there need be commercials on the scale shown by some other channels, since this is one of the factors that maintains the BBC’s uniqueness. This could, however, be achieved by corporate sponsorship of individual programmes. By doing this, the BBC could maintain its unique position - offering relevant and good quality, impartial programming whilst, at the same time, reducing the cost to the overall population.

Richie Northcote

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Alternatives to ASBOs

Following on the discovery that playing classical music over speakers outside shops dissuades yobs from gathering there, we now learn that tuning the lighting to emphasise skin flaws can have the same effect.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Raising school-leaving age to 18

For all the reasons which Peter Black gives in the regional campaign pages, a Welsh Assembly Government should not rush to follow Westminster. Alan Johnson, the English education minister, says he is very impressed by the moves made by the Canadian province of Ontario.

England itself would be well advised to wait to see how the Canadian experiment works out, bearing in mind that the legislation is not even passed yet. Legislators may bear in mind that, though the high-school drop-out rate has fallen in the early years of this century, it is still nearly ten per cent in Ontario.

It takes a special kind of teacher to keep the interest of youngsters who do not want to be in school and who are old enough to know of more exciting alternatives. There is no sign that Westminster is prepared to boost the education budget in order to recruit and retain such teachers. Johnson's intention is to raid the fund for life-long learning - surely insufficient for the purpose, and denying people who really do want to improve themselves the chance to do so.

There are one or two places in the world where compulsory education does stop at 18. In a German Land (province) where this is the case, high-class vocational training is provided as an alternative to the school-room.

Thirteen years is too long to keep children in school. Why don't we follow the example of Finland (which I believe Wales Assembly Government people have been looking at) and provide a minimum of ten years formal education, but starting at age six or seven?

- Frank Little

Friday, January 12, 2007

Post Offices - part of local sustainability

Decline of local communities is not inevitable.

There is a Private Member's Bill before the Westminster parliament which aims to reverse the trend. Promoted by Nick Hurd (Conservative) and sponsored by Julia Goldsworthy (LibDem) and David Drew (Labour), the Sustainable Communities Bill comes before the House of Commons for its Second Reading on 19th January.

The Bill, and the Local Works campaign, is also supported by Elfyn Llwyd, the Plaid MP.

We can help by writing to our MPs, urging them to be in the House on the day and to persuade the relavent ministers (Ruth Kelly and Yvette Cooper) to ensure that the Bill is given the necessary Commons time for consideration.

More details at the Local Works web-site.

Guantanamo Bay detention centre is 5 this month

See the film (button on right) and visit the prisoners' web-site.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Neath civic centre development

Neath Port Talbot councillors are grateful to the leader for giving all the local media news of the plans for the redevelopment of the civic centre (e.g. "The End of an Eyesore", Neath Guardian), because they had not been given advance warning of the public unveiling last Thursday. It seems that not even the mayor of the County Borough had been invited to the public presentation.

At least the leader is consistent. He did not invite the previous mayor to the launch of the design process last year.

Could it be that the leader is trying to gain the maximum personal publicity because he is aiming to boost his campaign for a Welsh Assembly candidacy?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Claims Farmers

The public may well have sympathy for the council for its recent announcement against insurance fraud, as it declared in a recent press release. In the release, Councillor Alun Thomas is quoted as saying Fraudulent insurance claims against the council cost thousands of pounds every year…The council is committed to keeping council tax to a minimum next year and so we are calling on residents to help us put an end to insurance fraud. Committing fraud is a criminal offence and penalties include fines and imprisonment."

The problem of insurance claims against councils isn’t a new one. Back in June 2004 a BBC news article highlighted the plight of a number of council tenants living in Bridgend County who had taken the then Labour Council to court. The article highlights one couple plight when they ended up with debts amounting to £8,697, after deciding to take the Council to court.

What Cllr Thomas's statement does not do is to address the reason for the increase in the number of unfounded claims.

Regional AM Peter Black recently highlighted the plight of those who make compensation claims in the South Wales Libdems web site. In the article, Mr Black highlights the dubious practices of “Claim Farmers”, who are persuading people into pursuing 'no win no fee' compensation claims. Mr. Black has asked the Department of Constitutional Affairs to look into the practice. He wants a statutory code of conduct put in place for claim farmers to ensure that there is no sharp practice. He has also asked that insurance companies and solicitors who pay out commission for business referred to them should be forced to carry out more stringent checks before accepting the business.