The full introduction of new rail services from Maidstone into central London has been delayed by up to a year, the Whitehall spending watchdog has said.
A metro-style timetable linking the county town to the capital was scheduled to be in place by the end of next year, but the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed this has now been pushed back until December 2019.
The Thameslink services were set to run via London Bridge, Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon, St Pancras and on to Cambridge with journey times to London Bridge expected tp be between 53 and 55 minutes, running half-hourly all day, Monday to Saturdays.
Most of the trains would terminate at Maidstone East ensuring passengers starting their journey to the city would be assured of a seat.
However, the delay was announced this week after the Department for Transport (DfT) and Network Rail failed to make adequate arrangements to manage the launch of the new services, the NAO said, with Maidstone Borough Council leader Fran Wilson left furious.
“This is extremely disappointing news and I will be lobbying this issue on behalf of our residents and businesses,” she said.
“Despite being the county town of Kent we appear to be the last town on the train service list.
“I am certain everyone in the borough will join me in saying this is completely unacceptable.”
The DfT approved a proposal it had requested from Govia Thameslink Railway - which operates trains on the affected routes - to increase services more gradually in order to “manage the risks of each service change”, the report stated.
There has been a £474 million increase in the total budget for Network Rail’s infrastructure works to £5.5 billion as part of the £7 billion Thameslink programme, according to the watchdog.
A DfT spokeswoman said: “We welcome the NAO’s findings that the Thameslink programme will deliver significant benefits for passengers and supports the recent decision to gradually introduce new services to protect passengers from disruption.”
Chris Gibb, chairman of the Thameslink Programme Industry Readiness Board, said: “By phasing the introduction of the new timetable in this way, we have front-loaded the benefits for passengers and then spread further changes in such a way that they can be more reliably introduced.”
A Network Rail spokesman said: “The Thameslink Programme is transforming north-south travel through London to provide more frequent, more reliable journeys to new destinations for passengers and upgraded stations including the landmark, entirely redeveloped London Bridge.”
The Save Langney Library Campaign is holding a protest walk from West Rise Schools, along Sandpiper Walk, Heron Walk and Kingfisher Drive on Friday (December 1)
The walk, which will be led by Stephen Lloyd MP and Langney County Councillor Alan Shuttleworth, is to demonstrate against the proposal for East Sussex County Council to close the Langney library along with six other libraries and the mobile library service.
Councillor Alan Shuttleworth said, “People of all ages will be affected, and the walkers will include local residents, including parents and children from West Rise Schools. Many have already signed the petition to Save Langney Library.
“We invite all members of the community to join the Walk, and send out a clear message that Langney Library is a vital part of the Langney community. If the library were to be closed it will hit the youngest and most elderly people the hardest.
“I have had really productive meetings with the Langney Shopping Centre management. I hope that East Sussex County Council will listen to our representations.”
To find out more and to comment on the proposals before December 14, visit: http://consultation.eastsussex.gov.uk/economy-transport-environment/draft-strategy/.
Stephen LLoyd's Early Day Motion calling on the Treasury to reduce the VAT burden on the Hospitality industry
I submitted an Early Day Motion this week calling on the Treasury to reduce the VAT burden on the Hospitality industry. The motion calls for the Chancellor to reduce Tourism VAT to 5% across the UK. The industry lies at the heart of the British economy. But what the UK Visitor economy urgently needs is to become more competitive relative to its European counterparts. That means reducing the high rate of VAT on tourism, allowing the industry to compete on its merits with France, Germany, Ireland and Spain. This is as true in Eastbourne as it is across every seaside town in the UK.
Eastbourne & Willingdon MP, Stephen Lloyd, has welcomed news that the Chancellor has listened to calls for a freeze on the duty paid on beer and fuel, topics the MP has been campaigning on in Westminster, but has labelled the changes to Universal Credit as just tinkering around the edges.
Stephen Lloyd MP said:
"There is some good news in this budget but a real fudge in other areas.
"I'm glad that Mr Hammond has paid notice to areas I've been campaigning on, including recently delivering a letter to his Treasury calling for a freeze on Beer Duty, which will help local pubs.
"I am however disappointed that the Chancellor has pinned his colours to pushing ahead with the roll-out of Universal Credit whilst tinkering around the edges. This was an opportunity for him to reinstate the money that George Osborne gutted from the new system, but instead, he shortened the 6-week wait for first payment, to 5 weeks. Still not good enough.
"There was also no commitment to properly fund schools. I'm of the opinion that 5,000 Head Teachers can't be wrong about the budget cuts their schools are facing, and I defy anyone to tell them they don't know what's going on in their own schools."
"There was also audible shock in the Chamber as he announced that the economic forecasts for the next five years have been slashed. It's going to be bumpy for UKplc and this was certainly no game-changer of a budget!"
Regular readers of my e-Newsletter will know I have some concerns about the government’s new(ish) welfare benefits project, Universal Credit. It launched in Eastbourne last month. This week I got an opportunity to press the government twice on at least two of the elements of UC which I think need fixing. The first was on Monday during the Work & Pensions debate where I pointed out to the minister that UC’s design worked against people who were self-employed.
Basically, as claimants update their details on a monthly basis this then fixes the following months UC but, and here’s the rub, doesn’t allow for the income fluctuations the self-employed often experience. If your income for one month is, for instance, £1,500 but then a lower £1,000 the next month, the amount you get in benefit won’t make up the shortfall of the lower amount in the same way that someone on a regular PAYE £1,000 per month would. This may sound a bit techie but I’d point out that there are an awful lot of self-employed people out there who will lose out as a consequence of being on UC unless the anomaly is fixed. Failure to do so also penalises the very aspirational people UC is supposed to encourage, which is simply wrong in my view. The minister confidently stepped up to the despatch box, and didn’t answer my question!
My second concern around UC I decided to raise directly with Theresa May when I was called during PMQs on Wednesday. The reputable charity, Child Poverty Action Group, recently published a report where they had extrapolated from government figures just how much of an impact the cuts in 2015 to UC are having on single parents with children.
The figure is genuinely shocking; the average single parent family will lose a staggering £2,380 per annum. I believe most people simply aren’t aware yet of how deep that income drop will be for the 2m single-parent families in the UK.
So I asked the PM a direct question; now that she and her government knew the impact of this savage reduction in income for single parents, did she feel “a sense of shame?” Her disappointing answer was to respond to a completely different question which I hadn’t actually asked. Rest assured I will keep the pressure up on this government, challenge them and hold them to account for their actions because that is how it should be in a democracy.
I am reminded sometimes though when I am up in Westminster that the utterly peerless television programme from years ago - Yes Minister - wasn’t so much a comedy, as more of a documentary!
Below you can watch Stephen Lloyd MP putting the PM on the spot.
I was pleased to support the FairFuel campaign in parliament this week. They reminded me of how despite fuel tax being frozen for the last few years it is still one of the heaviest taxed fuels in the world. I was more than happy to pledge my support to their campaign as I as am well aware how many people locally rely on their car or van for work.
It was also nice to catch up again with the tv car pundit Quentin Wilson (in the photo) to discuss cars generally. I knew him from the last time I was your MP and he’d realised I was also a bit of a car buff (or certainly used to be when I had the time in the old days). In fact, and not a lot of people know this, I used to race rally cars many years ago. Ford Escort RS2000 fully prepped. I wasn’t much good, to be honest, but it was enormous fun.
Liberal Democrat County Councillors have expressed their dismay after it was revealed, in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request, that Conservative-run Surrey County Council has left 20 buildings empty for a cumulative total of 112 years, with one building in Warlingham left empty for a shocking 18 years. The County Council spent £307,464 in just one year in 2016/17 maintaining its 20 vacant buildings.
Cllr Hazel Watson, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Surrey County Council said today:
"The Conservative administration at County Hall has allowed 20 of its own buildings to stand empty for a cumulative total of 112 years, with one building in Warlingham left empty for a shocking 18 years.
"It is wrong that these council buildings have been left empty without earning any rental income and not properly maintained, in fact left to decay with the result that they are less valuable. This is no way to manage property.
"The response to my Freedom of Information request to the County Council reveals that it spent £304,464 in just one year, in 2016/17, maintaining 20 empty buildings at council tax payer expense. The total cost for maintaining these buildings over all the years that they have been left empty will be a massive amount. This is an utter waste of council tax payers' money which could be much better spent on vital services for Surrey residents, many of which are being cut due to the County Council's financial crisis.
"These empty buildings should either be used for providing council services or let for rent or sold. I am pressing the Conservative administration to stop wasting money and for urgent action to be taken to use, rent or sell these buildings.
"I regret that, as a county councillor, I have had to resort to the Freedom of Information Act in order to obtain what are basic facts about County Council-owned properties. I can only assume that the Conservative administration at County Hall deemed the information too embarrassing to provide to me, which is completely unacceptable."
- The list of empty buildings, obtained via an FOI request, can be found here:
- Cllr Watson's original FOI request can be found here:
- The covering letter for the FOI response can be found here:
- Cllr Watson's previous Cabinet question on this matter can be found here (p9-11):
Liberal Democrat county councillors have expressed disappointment after Conservatives in Surrey voted to rubber stamp their unpopular cuts to Community Recycling Centres across the county.
Cllr Stephen Cooksey, Liberal Democrat Environment Spokesperson, tabled a "call-in" request alongside other opposition councillors which, if successful, would have forced the Conservative Cabinet to consider the matter again.
However, Conservative councillors on the Environment Committee blocked the call-in request and so the cuts to the opening hours of Community Recycling Centres and increased charges will now go ahead.
Cllr Cooksey said:
"This is bad news for Surrey residents. The Conservatives had the chance to ask to ask their Cabinet colleagues to rethink these ill-thought out proposals but instead they have let them off the hook. Residents will not be impressed when they are charged for their DIY waste or when they find the tip closed for many more days a week. They will hold this Conservative council responsible for this reduction in service and I will be monitoring the situation closely to try and protect CRCs from further cuts from the Tories in the months and years ahead".
The papers for the Call-In request can be found here:
Liberal Democrat county councillors have condemned a decision by Conservative-run Surrey County Council to award a £400K grant to an art gallery which has £38m of funds and an income of £1.2m a year.
The Watts Gallery in Compton, Guildford, was awarded the money following a decision by the Leader of the Council at a meeting on 12th September 2017. In the papers produced, the County Council's Chief Finance Officer warns that the County Council's financial position is extremely serious, that the proposed expenditure has not been budgeted for and that the gallery was already "financially viable".
Cllr Penny Rivers, Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Godalming North, said today:
"At a time of huge spending cuts in Surrey, it is quite incredible that the priority of the Conservatives is to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on an art gallery which appears to be in good financial health and well supported. Just last week, the Tory Cabinet voted to cut Housing Related Support by £3.7m to some of the most vulnerable people in our community. The Leader of the Council undermines his own case for better funding from the Government if he thinks that these spending priorities are sensible and in the best interests of Surrey residents. How on earth can he look residents of sheltered housing in the face who are about to lose some of their warden schemes and tell them that this is a sensible use of public money? This decision should be reversed as quickly as possible, with the money re-invested in council services to the benefit of Surrey residents. I support the arts but I support sheltered housing for vulnerable people even more, and furthermore, I suspect GF Watts would too."
Cllr Rivers council question and answer can be found here:
Minutes of the Leader's Decision meeting of 12th September can be found here:
Responding to the news Conservative backbenchers have called for a pause to the rollout of Universal Credit, Liberal Democrat Work and Pensions Spokesman Stephen Lloyd MP said:
"There is a mounting sense that the government could be defeated if it does not immediately pause the roll-out of Universal Credit.
"The roll-out has been an utter failure so far, with many claimants waiting over two months for their first payment and some relying on loans to survive. Rent arrears among universal credit claimants are also through the roof.
"If the Conservatives are serious about helping ordinary people get ahead in life, they must immediately pause the roll-out of Universal Credit until these issues are resolved. Reversing the huge cuts to UC in this Autumn's budget would be a good start.
"Universal credit was supported by the Liberal Democrats in coalition because it promised to make work pay.
"Sadly, under this Tory Government it has been cut to shreds, leaving families worse off and with weaker incentives to find work."