We had the Chancellor's 'Spring Statement' in Parliament and what a disappointing non-event it turned out to be. Growth raised by .1% to great acclaim by the Conservative backbenchers. Yeh right. This still puts us at the bottom of the G7 and very near the bottom of the whole G20.....wishing on a prayer is a phrase that springs to mind!
Ahead of the announcement to the House, I called on Mr Hammond to 'fix' a couple of the key issues surrounding Universal Credit and WASPI.
The whole point of Universal Credit is to make work pay, which it did before the Conservatives cut its funding after the Lib Dem’s left government in 2015. The then Chancellor, George Osborne, immediately and stupidly in my view, took an axe to UC's work allowances, slashing them by a shocking £3 billion pounds per year, thus reducing substantially the amount people can earn in low-income work. A genuinely bad decision which the government are having to contend with every day in parliament as UC is rolled out.
I also called on the Chancellor to step up with a transition payment for WASPi women who have been let down so badly by successive governments.
Although he did not meet these calls or, frankly, offer any serious changes, I will continue to lobby the Treasury ahead of the budget in the Autumn.
I was at County Hall in Lewes on Tuesday to make a final plea to the Council cabinet on behalf of Langney Library. I also supported the Residents Association Chairman, John Pritchett, in his eloquent request that Willingdon is spared as well. Alongside us were representatives from Polegate library and Ringmer. We all reiterated how important libraries are in the community, acting as a hub, how they offer access to the internet and PC’s for those seeking employment. In Langney’s case, it’s position in the heart of the shopping centre makes it doubly valuable as a community resource. Supported by local schools such as West Rise, as well as many elderly residents, some of whom will struggle to get into town to the main Eastbourne Library.
Sadly. All that we said fell on deaf ears. One of the Conservative councillors even talked about the ‘community value’ brought by libraries; what community value do they bring if he and his colleagues choose to close them?
In a bizarre statement, another said the Council "can provide computers (to any of the closing libraries reopening as community libraries under their own steam) so long as there is NO COST to the County Council" ?!?!?!
Meanwhile, we hear that in Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s constituency, Hastings, East Sussex County Council went over budget in refurbishing the library by £720,000. Shutting all seven libraries this week saved them £650k. Not a good look frankly!
The fact is the Conservative controlled County Council yesterday closed a full quarter of our library network along with the mobile library. All because the government (also Conservative) have ignored their lobbying and savagely cut their grant. I am bound to ask, therefore, what’s the point of them as they obviously have so little clout with their own Tory colleagues in government?
Library users, the broader community, - all of us - across Eastbourne, Willingdon and the county were let down this week.
The turnout at last weekends protest outside Milton Grange and Firwood House was excellent with over 200 people joining me to show just how determined Eastbourne is to keep both these fine Homes open. Thank you for all your support. We’ve a way to go yet and the consultation remains open until the end of April. I would urge anyone who hasn’t taken part to do so; it’s terribly important we show East Sussex County Council how much we as a town (and beyond) value the outstanding services provided by each Home; Milton Grange and Firwood House. Their dementia respite service is outstanding and many people locally have made it crystal clear to me that without it, their husband or wife or relative would be in a care home losing any vestige of independent living. Is this what County Hall want? Surely not.
Equally many others have been in touch to say how Firwood House helped them recuperate after being in hospital. Meaning they didn’t block a bed in the DGH, were able to receive proper rehabilitation therapy, ensuring that when they were ready to go home, lived independently. Without this service, we’ll be back to the appalling bed-blocking we had locally in Eastbourne years ago. Which would be bad for the DGH, bad for the patients themselves and, ultimately, bad for adult social services run by the County Council. Again; I cannot believe it is in the interest of East Sussex County Council, let alone local residents to close such a Home? We will continue opposing County Halls proposals, and we will also continue holding the two senior Eastbourne conservative county councillors, David Elkin and Colin Belsey, accountable to keep these homes open. With power comes accountability.
The Liberal Democrats have called on the Government to provide the public with more information about auto-enrolment in the wake of imminent contribution rate rise.
From April this year, employees must contribute a minimum of 3 per cent of their salary, increasing to 5 per cent from next April.
While currently only around 10 per cent opt-out of auto-enrolment, the Liberal Democrats are warning that this rate could increase if workers are not prepared for a fall in their take-home pay.
Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman Stephen Lloyd says: “With wage growth still lagging behind inflation, it is understandable that many working people will be anxious not to see their pay fall further. But paying into a workplace pension now is a profit for the rest of your life. That’s why I’m calling on the Secretary of State to instigate a national publicity campaign to explain to workers what is happening and what the consequences of the different courses of action are.”
The party has been increasingly vocal on pensions issues in recent weeks, calling for an end to contingent charging and a faster timetable to ban cold-calling.
The Government ran an advertising campaigning featuring a cartoon monster character, Workie, near the start of auto-enrolment, which Money Marketing revealed had a budget of nearly £50m.
Eastbourne and Willingdon MP, Stephen Lloyd meets with the Justice Minister over Eastbourne Courts provision
I joined with key legal representatives from Eastbourne in a meeting with Justice Minister Lucy Frazer MP at the MOJ, to discuss the failure of the Courts and Tribunals Service to provide alternatives to the court once it was closed, as they had originally promised.
A couple of years ago I was profoundly disappointed to see that the government had decided to close our courtroom in Eastbourne. I knew that such a decision would cause tremendous problems for some of the many residents of Eastbourne. Especially as during my original time as your MP I'd seen first hand the challenges faced by some of our more vulnerable neighbours. Bluntly some would struggle to find the funds to go backwards and forward to Hastings where their cases would now be heard.
Unfortunately, it appears that the government's promise to provide alternative provision locally since the closure has not been followed through with. This is unacceptable so I challenged the government in the Chamber, demanding a meeting with the MOJ to secure a resolution. And this week we made some progress! The Minister has agreed to deliver on the past promise and now we just need to sort out the logistics.
My thanks to Rodney Warren from Warren's Law, Zoe Summers from Mayo Wynn Baxter and Stuart Grace of Lawson Lewes Blakers for raising this issue with me. Onwards and upwards.....
Out of touch Conservatives are cutting front line services to Kent's most vulnerable, despite awarding themselves a massive 15% pay rise last year.
In today's budget debate the Conservatives at Kent County Council pushed through further service cuts and hiked council tax by an above inflation 4.99%.
This is a gloomy picture for the people of Kent, particularly those struggling at the margins, and an even gloomier prospect for Kent residents and council tax payers in the future.
Leader of the Opposition, Rob Bird, said: "Back in July, Kent's Conservatives showed just how out of touch they are by awarding themselves a 15% pay rise just a couple of months after the county elections.
"This budget demonstrates that they have learnt nothing from the massive public outcry that caused, and they continue to be focused on cutting local government services when they should be investing for the future.
"For the past seven years, Kent's Tories have tried to persuade the electorate that front-line services were not affected by the £600 million plus reduction in Central Government grants thanks to back office efficiencies, better commissioning and 'new ways of working'. The reality is very different.
"Even with the extra monies found since the draft was published a few weeks ago, we were presented with a budget which fails to meet current needs and rising demand. It heaps up problems for future years.
"KCC has become heavily dependent on commissioned service providers. But we have seen that we are still not getting the quality of service which residents expect from many of these providers."
During the debate, Conservative councillors voted down all opposition budget amendments including the three proposed by the Liberal Democrats.
Rob concluded, "Yet again the Council continues to be focussed on cutting costs when it should be investing for the future. The Administration claim that it's the Government's fault. But it's a Conservative Government and a Conservative Administration; they are both still out of touch."
East Sussex County Council have now released the public consultation into their proposed closure of Milton Grange and Firwood House. You will be unsurprised to learn that it is fiendishly complicated and confusing - one of 8 different surveys - and in pretty impenetrable language frankly. I do wonder sometimes - shades of Yes Minister - if bureaucracy generally tries to make it difficult for people to express their view. In this case that both of these outstanding dementia respite, care and rehab service providers MUST be kept open.
Anyway, I’m not having that, so I’ve had one of my team read through the whole document and pull out the key Milton Grange/Firwood House section of the consultation and pasted the link below. Please do fill it in. It’s ludicrously clunky but don’t give up. Complete online, giving all necessary details of why you believe each Home should be kept open along with your address details and then send off to the County Council. It is SO important we fight these proposed closures on every front and I need as many readers of my newsletter as possible to fill in the consultation survey because if at the end of this whole process County Hall can truthfully say only a few hundred have bothered to complete the consultation, then we may have a problem. It’s the way these things work, which is why I need thousands of people to complete the consultation across Eastbourne, Willingdon and beyond. The fight to keep these two brilliant service providers open is really important for our town - so please help me keep up the pressure. The online Milton Grange/Firwood House consultation is this link: http://bit.ly/CCeCnslt. After filling it in please also ask all your friends to do the same, and for them to ask their friends locally as well. We can stop this wrongheaded proposal I am sure of it, but we will only do it by working the Eastbourne way - together!
I met with Department of Health neo-natal and maternity Senior Policy Officers in Parliament this week joined by long-term advisor to the cross-party Save the DGH Campaign, Conservative Councillor Robert Smart. The meeting was arranged after I requested the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, agree to a meeting with Department of Health officials to discuss the Save the DGH campaign’s concerns around the levels of still-births in Eastbourne during 2016.
It was a productive discussion and our specific request that the Department of Health secure an independent review into the worrying number of local still births will be explored. We also raised the failure of the Trust to comply with the Independent Reconfiguration Panel's decision that Consultant-led maternity services should be provided at Eastbourne as well as Hastings, along with recent performance and new evidence.
The Officials agreed to take back to the department our requests. I will keep pressing them on this as, like, many local people I really do believe we deserve a proper independent review of our maternity services.
I would also like to thank Councillor Smart for joining me in this meeting. He has been a long-term advisor to the cross-party Save the DGH Campaign Group and his specific knowledge of NHS processes, as a former non-executive Director of the Trust, has always been very valuable and today’s meeting was no exception.
Surrey Libdems Transparent Logo Surrey County Council Lib Dems THE OPPOSITION AT COUNTY HALL County Hall, Kingston STATEMENT FROM CLLR HAZEL WATSON ON CLLR ANDREW POVEY'S COMMENTS ON BBC RADIO SURREY
Responding to Cllr Andrew Povey's comments on BBC Radio Surrey this morning, Cllr Hazel Watson, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, said today:
"I am pleased that Cllr Povey agrees with what the Liberal Democrats and I have been saying about Surrey County Council's finances over the last 18 months. He is right to draw attention to the criticisms of the County Council contained within CIPFA's report "Financial Resilience Review - Surrey County Council". This report was commissioned by the current Leader of the Council and was kept hidden from county councillors for months.
"He is correct in his judgement of the folly of the Leader of the Council in pursuing a doomed policy of a 15% council tax rise which was subsequently abandoned. The CIPFA report clearly stated that such a referendum was unwinnable but the Leader of the Council refused to act on their advice.
"Instead of blaming the government for lack of funding and backing an unwinnable referendum, the Conservative administration should have been working on identifying sensible efficiencies and a realistic level of deliverable savings without cutting services. It should also have acted much earlier on the many empty buildings it owns across the county, which have cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds each year to maintain.
"Surrey County Council is in a poor financial position with no clear plan to improve the situation. Unless a solution is found, then we only have to look to Northamptonshire County Council to see the consequences of when the money eventually runs out."
A link to Cllr Povey's interview on BBC Radio Surrey can be found here (starting at 2:07:35):
A link to the CIPFA report can be found here:
Cllr Andrew Povey was Leader of Surrey County Council from 2009-11, and was elected in 2017 for the division of Cranleigh & Ewhurst.