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."
Liberal Democrat county councillors in Surrey have expressed their disappointment following a decision today by the Conservative Cabinet to slash the opening hours of Community Recycling Centres across the county and increase charges for residents.
The decision will see Community Recycling Centres close for an extra 20 days a week, as well as an end to the free daily allowance. The Cabinet decision follows a petition handed in by Liberal Democrat campaigners of 3,245 signatures, plus an enormous response to the county council's own consultation of 13,637 people.
Cllr Stephen Cooksey, Liberal Democrat Environment Spokesperson, said:
"I addressed the Conservative Cabinet today, in order to object to these ill thought out proposals and to hold the Conservatives to account for their decisions. I recognise the difficult financial position that central government has imposed on the County Council but just 3 months ago, in June, the Cabinet were out campaigning for that government's return and must therefore carry equal responsibility for the refusal of that government to ensure adequate funding for this Council to maintain services to its residents.
"CRC'S were a success story - they provided residents with a helpful and convenient method of disposing of waste; they helped Councils to improve their waste collections; they made a major contribution to improving our environment and they were a significant deterrent to fly tipping.
"I believe, as do the majority of my residents, that the remaining package including the increased charges and closure days are self-defeating and unacceptable and am fearful that the reduced waste collections will lead to damage to the environment and increased fly tipping. Surrey residents deserve so much better than this."
- The Cabinet decision can be found here:
The Liberal Democrats have launched a petition to save the Surrey Performing Arts Library which is under threat of closure by Surrey County Council. Surrey residents have reacted with dismay on hearing of the threatened closure and that the County Council's consultation exercise will give residents just two weeks to respond.
The Library, which is currently based near Dorking at Denbies Wine Estate, houses a truly unique collection of music, theatre, orchestral and dance materials available for public loan. It also holds a specialist Vaughan Williams collection and permanent display covering the life and works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), commemorating his strong links with the area where he lived and where he composed some of his most important pieces.
Cllr Hazel Watson, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Surrey County Council, said:
"I am appalled that the Conservative administration at County Hall is trying to rush through a consultation in just two weeks on the closure of this unique and much loved amenity. Liberal Democrat county councillors have previously opposed attempts to close this facility and will do so again, in order to protect such an important part of Surrey's musical and artistic heritage. I have written to the Leader of the Council and the Chief Executive asking them to extend the consultation to six weeks, in order for as many residents as possible to respond.
"The Performing Arts Library is a great asset to the County. The Library not only benefits the many groups that use play scripts and musical scores to perform plays and orchestral works, but also benefits the audiences who enjoy the performances. The beneficial impact of the Library is immense and we need to do everything possible to retain it. I am calling for as many residents as possible to respond to the County Council's consultation and also to sign the petition we have launched today to retain the Performing Arts Library and protect it from closure".
Cllr David Goodwin, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Communities, added:
"This service must be retained for the benefit of all Surrey residents. There has been little or no scrutiny of this proposal by county councillors and a two week consultation period is totally inadequate. These plans should be fully examined by all county councillors in Surrey before any decisions are made. To lose such a specialist service alongside many dedicated and knowledgeable staff would be an act of great folly, and we will oppose it".
A link to the petition can be found here:
The County Council online consultation on the future of the Library can be found here:
On Saturday, 9th September I joined 3,000 Liberal Democrats at Hyde Park Corner. EU flags were waving, placards were being held aloft and there was an abundance of stickers.
Through the somewhat hit-and-miss medium of handheld loudspeaker, Catherine Bearder MEP addressed the crowd, followed by party leader Vince Cable. They wished us well on the upcoming march and said its timing was key, as Parliament will debate the repeal bill (formally known as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill) on Monday. The Conservative government has included in the Bill provision to give itself powers over which pieces of EU law remain copied over into UK law, and which are amended or repealed, bypassing any further scrutiny by Parliament. These are known as Henry VIII powers: in short, a power grab.
Fired up by the need to defend parliamentary democracy, we started to march, joining the rest of the People's March for Europe at Curzon Gate. We stopped briefly as the march passed Downing Street to direct a few chants at the Prime Minister, then continued on. As we arrived in Parliament Square, the sky briefly clouded over and the statue of Churchill loomed large, causing me to wonder what he'd make of all of this.
There were a wide range of speakers, but the two that stood out for me were Bhupinder Singh and Tom Brake MP.
Bhupinder Singh has been one of the key volunteers helping the Grenfell Tower survivors. He reminded us that most of the residents of Grenfell were immigrants, a large proportion were refugees, and all were poor, living in one of the wealthiest boroughs in Europe. Those who have died have not all been identified and those who escaped have not all been given the right levels of accommodation and support, particularly with regards to mental health treatment. He concluded: "the measure of any society is how it treats its poor".
Tom Brake MP, who is the Lib Dem spokesperson for Europe, divided his short speech into two parts: the lies behind the Leave campaign and the cynical attempts by the government to reduce scrutiny of its actions. He said that the Brexit bus had promised £350 a week for the NHS, but in reality the NHS will have higher costs because of Brexit, including having to pay for the visas of EU nurses. As if Brexit weren't bad enough, the government's repeal bill is also "trampling on Parliamentary sovereignty" and must be opposed.
The mood throughout the day varied between reflective, angry and energised. There were imaginative ways of expressing opinion, from a placard saying "I'm rather cross", to a crude cartoon of Donald Trump, to balloons proudly spelling out REMAIN. One point was consistent throughout: this bill is not being done in our name. When negotiations end, we need the option of an exit from Brexit.
Written by Carrie Hynds a member from Brighton and Hove.