Friday, 28 January 2011

The Forces of Stagnation

The latest consumer confidence index shows an ever worsening mood of the British people. The Index sees confidence at levels back not seen since 1994. Families have decided to reduce spending on the basis of the certain times and this indicates that household finances has deteriorated since the end of last year. The recent VAT increase, higher inflation and squeezed incomes mean that households are struggling to make ends meet.

With consumer confidence low, unemployment growing and likely to rise further and with other tax rises and spending cuts this year, debt levels look to increase. On top of this, the weakness of the housing market is not good news for consumer spending.

Even high performing retailers like John Lewis are feeling the strain of lack of spending,
" John Lewis figures suggest that consumers are becoming increasingly less prepared, or less able, to spend as higher inflation and muted earnings growth squeezes their purchasing power."
Despite this, the coalition government are planning to make workers less secure at work, implementing new employment rules, that will give employers two years before unfair dismissals could be pursued, reversing the Labour government change from one year.

Employment tribunals will now insist that employees will have to pay up to £500 before they can take their employers to an employment tribunal.

PM David Cameron claimed the current laws were “too costly” and acted as a “barrier to growth”, this shows that David Cameron believes workers should be treated as employers wish and have few working rights.

The Business and Skills department have produced an employers’ charter which the Unite union believes gives employers "a green light to bully and intimidate, It even encourages employers to sack staff ".

In one of the gloomiest weeks for the economy this year we've heard nothing from the government about creating jobs. We only hear about the need for cuts and harassing people out of work.

This increasingly right wing government believes only unfettered markets can produce growth, this includes cutting university places, training schemes and the Education Maintenance Allowance.

As has already been said this week, the Conservative led government has no vision for the economy, 2011 is looking increasingly difficult for families, unsurprisingly these families will spend less as inflation rises to 5%, the government cutting £20billion this year will further depress spending, it's looking grim, with the coalition government being the true forces of stagnation.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

I agree with Nick

Today we saw a 0.5% shrinking of the economy, this not just a statistic but peoples jobs and living standards. This before the main tranche of the austerity cuts by the conservative led government come into force and VAT increases.

At the general election Nick Clegg said in his own words to Reuters "My eight-year-old (son) ought to be able to work this out -- you shouldn't start slamming on the brakes when the economy is barely growing. "If you do that you create more joblessness, you create heavier costs on the state, the deficit goes up even further and the pain with dealing with it is even greater. So it is completely irrational."

So I agree with Nick, it's just a pity George and Nick doesn't agree with Nick.

Yesterday we saw the retiring General Secretary of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Sir Richard Lambert criticised the government because they"failed so far to articulate in big picture terms its vision of what the UK economy might become under its stewardship." He went on "It's not enough just to slam on the spending brakes. Measures that cut spending but killed demand would actually make matters worse," and concluded the government were "apparently careless of the damage that they might do to business and to job creation".

People like David Blanchflower pleaded for investment to be protected. Not only would it maintain important jobs, it would lay the groundwork for a modern, technologically-driven UK economy. Without the necessary infrastructure ready for the upturn, we will continue to see growth lag our rivals.

So it's critical for a Plan B, this to take measures on the supply side of the economy, such as the Future Jobs Fund, or the Educational Maintenance Allowance.

Monday, 24 January 2011

The 16660 question

Tonight I visited the Mendip Scrutiny Board to discuss the grants made by Mendip District Council to Bristol Academy of Performing Arts (BAPA) of £16660, £20000 and £27000.

I put several questions to the Scrutiny Board;

1.When each of the grants was made who investigated the financial viability of BAPA and it's ability to fulfill its (what)promises made to Mendip Council?

2.When considering the applications for the grants, what meetings took place in deciding the ability of BAPA to continue, which stakeholders and who in the council decided to award the two grants of £27,000 and £16660?

3.On which dates was this audit of BAPAs accounts conducted and by whom and what minutes were made and which evidence was the award based?

4.What service level were promised when each of the grants were handed over?

5.Were the three sums of £16,660, £20,000 and £27,000 given in response to specific requests to fund what functions?

6.Was any service agreement asked by Mendip when the grant was made, or what the stated terms of the awarded grant were made?

7.In the name of transparency, I am calling for an independent investigation by your scrutiny committee to investigate, to give Shepton Mallet residents the confidence in Mendip Council, I asked for each question of the report to be sourced with minutes attached, so it is clear the evidence that decisions were made.

8.Before the Musical Theatre School ceased trading last year it needed funding to attract pupils, was Mendip Council formally asked for further grants to continue, if so was there any investigations into the MTS finances.

I am pleased that the Mendip Scrutiny Board decided to conduct a scrutiny investigation into the questions raised, they hope to have a report by March 2011.

The financial officer said that Mendip Council has no recollection of a payment of £16,660 to BAPA on Mendip Councils records, and the amount does not ring any bells with him.

Friday, 21 January 2011

The Alternative

This evening I spent an enjoyable time discussing current issues with several young people.

This week has seen the continued evidence of the weakening of the economy, youth unemployment nearing a million people, inflation RPI up to 4.8% with annual pay rises at 2.1%, although in reality less skilled people receive lower pay rises. The VAT rise and the fuel increases adding to the low paid misery.

The final nail was put into the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), all parties supported this allowance before the election, but the Lib Dems and Conservatives finally voted against it, this helping poorer young people to stay on in education. Never mind the £40million penalty fee to capita for doing so.

Another example of the cuts to supply side measures is the scrapping of the Future Jobs Fund and Aim Higher to help the youth back into work or training, it is well known if young people do not find work they stay long term unemployed.

The Conservatives claim 'we're all in this together' a smooth one liner, but we're not, when the cuts arrive in April, we will see the most vulnerable hit the hardest and this week we've seen despite big words by the government the relentless paying bank Bonuses this year are expected to total around £7 billion, and it looks like, just three years after the global financial crisis, bankers can breathe a sigh of relief, with their bank balances – if not their reputations – intact.

With this government only taxing these bonuses at £1.2billion under Labour raised £3.5billion in tax from bank bonuses.

This week saw the launch of Justice for All a campaign against the Legal Aid cuts, about £350 million worth, these changes effect the poorest most disadvantaged the hardest, but despite this, this week the government sneaked out in a written answer in parliament, only spotted by the Legal Action Group, the entire financial inclusion fund has just been axed, funding nationally 500 Citizens Advice and other debt counsellors, just when more families fall into debt crisis.

It looks like there will be a 50% cut from the County Council in the Bus service budget, this likely to put pressure on the local bus service, six years ago we fought off the loss of Sunday and evening bus services on rural routes including the 161 service, the 668 Shepton to Street bus so we must suspect these services will now be in jeopardy.

The National Government has cut the Bus Operator Grant by 20%, this transferring the subsidy into higher fares. Passenger growth has seen between 3-8% growth this year. The subsidy to the bus pass has also been cut from 64p a ticket to 34p, this effecting the viability of the bus service.

The alternative to the cuts agenda is there, invest in the supply side of the economy, tax fairly, tackle tax evasion, boost growth. With the deficit being tackled slower, but tackling it in a way that doesn't cast aside the young, the vulnerable aside.

That's the difference between the Conservative led government and Labour.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011


Today the rate of inflation was listed at RPI at 4.8% or the CPI at 3.7%.

This effecting those on fixed incomes the hardest, once this would be typically would have been pensioners. But with public sector pay freezes and low pay rises in the low pay and unskilled jobs many millions of workers are effectively having their incomes squeezed.

This because the engine of inflation is imports, food, petrol, energy costs and utilities costs. The VAT rise that we are to endure at 20% will undoubtably increase inflation in the coming months.

The Bank of England would normally increase the base rate for borrowing, to control inflation, but because the government has deflated the economy, by tax increases to the majority, and mass job cuts in the public sector, the Bank of England have no room for action fearing another recession.

The government needs to strengthen the regulatory framework of the former public utilities, I see little evidence of competition delivering lower prices, I see more like a cartel in action.

There is a real need to develop a new economy, where employees are more than just passengers on route, governments of all colours talk about public sector reform, yet are silent on the private sector. Yes, they have laws to restrict trade unions, but what about democracy in the workplace for employees in private companies?

We effectively control banks in this country, RBS and Lloyds, yet they has failed to borrow to businesses that want to invest in expanding business, with the government setting a poor example with Forgemasters in Sheffield, there must be a case for an investment bank, or regional investment banks, we cannot depend on the City of London for taxes, like the Germans, we need a real economy.

Should there not be some linkage between the company tax cuts and training and research and development of companies, if we are to grow and create high quality jobs, then investment in people and product development will be required, shouldn't progressive companies be rewarded for this approach, like wise shouldn't less enlightened companies be punished, why should good companies have good staff poached by companies who don't invest in training?

If we want growth, I believe the government needs to be more proactive, than leaving it to the market.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Justice for All

On Wednesday the launch of Justice for All was held in Westminster. This group launched in response to the reforms of the legal aid system proposed by the coalition government. The Justice for All campaign aims to ensure that the principles of legal aid, enshrined when they were set out in 1949, are maintained, especially as the coalition’s tough austerity package bites in 2011.

This a fast growing coalition of over 1300 legal and advice agencies, politicians, trade unions, community groups and members of the public. My Trade union Unite is also a member of this campaign.

The coalition government are planning to cut legal aid by £350 million, the Green Paper proposes cutting legal aid funding for advice on debt, education, employment, housing, family, immigration, welfare benefits and some other areas.

These cuts will effect the poorest citizens the hardest, restricting access to legal services. It is clear, for example, early access to legal advice makes debt advice much more effective and easier to be solved.

Why should an employer have access to legal support yet a low paid worker have no access to legal advice in employment tribunals, this would clearly be unfair!

Why should vulnerable tenants not have legal services against a landlord who is harassing them?

With complicated welfare cases, again legal services are required, if they are not, how can vulnerable people understand the complexity against professionals in appeals?

It is clear that people in real need and do not understand the processes and practices and have to counter skilled practitioners will have their access to justice severely restricted, in the age of austerity this is handing more power to the powerful at the cost of the powerless.

The Mendip Citizen Advice Bureau was at the launch on Wednesday to lobby our MPs for Justice for All.

There is in parliament an Early Day Motion 1194 ;

That this House welcomes the Justice for All campaign launched in the House of Commons on 12 January 2011; supports the aims of the campaign which are to raise awareness of the vital importance of advice and representation on legal matters for the most vulnerable in our society and to ensure that everyone is treated fairly under the law, no matter who they are, how much money they have or where they live; recognises that the strength of feeling is reflected in the fact that the campaign is a broad coalition of legal and advice agencies, trades unions, charities, community groups and members of the public; regrets that the reduction in spending on legal aid, through restrictions in scope and eligibility and the blanket 10 per cent. cut in the lower fee paid to providers of legal services, is having a detrimental effect on access to justice and on the well-being of the most vulnerable people; questions the real cost savings to the public purse that this budget reduction will achieve, given that early advice on legal matters saves money by keeping families together in their homes, and in work and education; believes that free, independent advice and representation on legal matters is essential to achieve justice for all; and calls on the government to rethink the provision of legal services for the poorest in society.

I hope our MP can sign this motion, because Justice should be for All.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The public has spoken

What a splendid turnout of Shepton People at the public meeting to discuss the closure of Shepton and other Libraries in Somerset.

The Council chamber was packed to the rafters, so to speak. There was unity of purpose, everyone who spoke wanted their library to stay open.

Firstly, let me say I was impressed that John Osman, deputy leader of Somerset County Council came to front up to Shepton residents. It would have been easy not to. I may disagree with the message, I certainly do not agree that the coalition government needed to cut so early so deeply to the public sector, that in part caused these cuts to our libraries. But least he heard what Shepton people had to say.

Tessa Munt came to the meeting, she stated her objection to the closures of the libraries, she believes cuts could be made in the back office and if they cannot Eric Pickles should be consulted. I leave it to others to judge whether it's central government or local governments fault that our libraries our proposed to be reduced by 20.

Let's be clear Shepton residents wants our library to be in the centre of our Town, it wants a Library that is networked into the County Council, we want professional librarian staff to be employed to offer a top service.

The County Council should be proud of the library service, it is efficient and gives value for money with dedicated staff.

I know after gathering signatures over Christmas, people genuinely are against these closures, Shepton has gathered best part of 3000 signatures, the message is clear.


The message is clear: libraries matter. Their presence at the heart of our town sends the proud signal that everyone – whoever they are, whatever their educational background, whatever their age or their needs – is welcome. Free and fair access to books – to reading and technology – is a right and one we should fight for.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Slow down

Today we have seen further evidence of the governments rush to make cuts failing in it's aims.

Last year we were told that the bonfire of Quangos would save £1billion, but after some sombre reflection a cross party parliamentry committee says these reforms have been "botched".

In some ways the report is quite shocking, the report Shrinking the Quango State, the cross-party Commons public administration select committee said the tests used to judge the quangos were "hopelessly unclear".

"The current approach is not going to deliver significant cost savings or result in greater accountability," the report found.

"There was no meaningful consultation, the tests the review used were not clearly defined and the Cabinet Office failed to establish a proper procedure."

So at the time when the cuts were announced, many people told of the dangers of culling quangos as they do an immense amount of good work as economic generators, defenders of consumer and legal rights, environmental champions, and guardians of standards in public life.
The Unite union says "the fact that the government, which has been in office for nine months, is still unable to say how much will be saved by this exercise speaks volumes for its ability to formulate coherent policy. "

Jon Trickett, shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said: "This proves the chaos theory of government. They are producing an irrational, unaccountable and expensive mish-mash of proposals, which will do nothing to improve the quality of services to the British public."

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


With all the excitement of the Town Council meeting of last evening, I never mentioned the VAT tax rise to 20% yesterday.
In the General Election campaign ALL parties were against an increase in VAT. All said VAT was regressive, hurting the lower to middle earners the most! This increase in VAT has nothing to do with deficit reduction, the coalition government are using the VAT rise to offset the cut in corporation tax, banks benefit £18 billion by 2014/15, income tax threshold changes and National Insurance changes for employers, these changes net the Treasury £12.6 Billion whilst the VAT rises income is expected to raise £13 billion.

Living in rural Britain our fuel costs continue to rise with the VAT and 1pence extra duty forcing the cost up, again more regressive tax measures.

Let's hope the government starts closing the loop holes in tax evasion, so everyone pays their fair share.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Shall we plant a money tree at the Town Council

The Town Council set it's budget this evening, the third year running with nil increase in the Town rate.

The Town Council used it's usual mixture of £30,000 underspend from the tax taken this year to subsidise the council tax for next year, so little money spent this year to give the illusion of a financially sensible council, but in reality it is a Town Council with no vision and no active programme for Shepton. Moribund the word.

Effectively, we have no active programme for the coming year, every none committed budget headline is under risk so can be vired to save other services, cuts made by either the County or District Council, if the Town Council vire money to save the Library or Youth Services or other services this will commit money, the Council are effectively spending £26,000 more than they are taxing this year, so next year if the Town Council use all it's money to protect services, they will increase the Council tax by £8 or so.

I supported a small increase in Council tax for this year, if we are to protect the Town services, we are going to have to raise money to pay for them in a sustainable fashion, for example £10,000 raised costs about 5pence a week, I am not hiding from my decision, here it is in black and white, because there is no money tree at the Town Council, you raise revenue or you cannot help the Towns priorities. However the majority of the Council did not support this strategy.

The Town Council chose to extend it's Collett Park contract with quadron until March 2012, at RPI, I said this was unacceptable, we should not be offering such good terms and we should be offering to local contractors to keep local money in local hands, again this was rejected.

Mendip Council are offering their ground care contract on the basis of offering the service based on a lump of money, with the contractor telling Mendip what they will do for the money, goodness knows how this will be performance manage this contract.

The Town Council are sponsoring a Public meeting on Friday 14 January at 7.00pm at the District Council chamber to discuss the cuts to the Library Service cuts in Shepton.

Saturday, 1 January 2011


There is no doubt about it 2011 is going to be an extremely difficult year, to be fair whom ever won the 2010 general election the coming couple of years were going to be tough. However the choices the Conservatives and Lib Dem coalition made are certainly made 2011 tougher than might of been.

Here in Shepton we are fighting a fire storm of public sector cuts. At the present the campaign to Save the Library is the most prominent. There will be massive cuts to the Youth service, and police making cut backs, the District Council struggling to set a balanced budget with cuts to Arts, the voluntary sector, rumours surround our outdoor swimming pool, just a few years after spending £500,000, we have to await until February before the District Councils cuts are fully explained. We await the 50% reduction in bus services.

How many of these cuts would have been not made by our local councils if the coalition government had chosen a slower pace of cuts to the deficit?

I have attended the previous two Mendip Council's cabinet meetings, what is apparent is the Conservative administration has no vision for the district, but what was also apparent was the Liberal Democrats having no alternative, in fact the last meeting neither their Chair of Scrutiny nor their Group leader attended, so those Arts and Voluntary groups never heard how the Lib Dems were going to mitigate the cuts, but one has to asks if these cuts come from Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the treasury are the Libs Dems campaigning locally to save their bacon?

The District Council elections are held this year, three and three quarters ago, the elections were a shambles, electoral numbers not on the polling cards, postal votes that never arrived, I spoke to the leader of the Lib Dems on Mendip about the shambles, what ever happened to the Inquiry? How did Lib Dem opposition hold the Conservatives to account? Elections held since has seen the Electoral Commission intervene to give helpful advice to Mendip because of there poor election management. We can only hope for better in May.

Our focus for 2011 has to be Shepton Mallet, the fight to save the Library will be a fight worth winning, what is also worth recording is that people what to be more involved in the services provided, the days are gone when people are grateful to receive services, greater empowerment in the delivery and breadth of service is required.

Young people have been hammered by this government; cuts to Sure Start; cutting back of Connexions services; cuts in the child trust funds £500; child tax credits abolished for babies £500; 10% higher charges for childcare for poorer families up to £780; EMA removed £30 a week for poorer young people and of course tuition fees raised to up to £9000 max.

Unemployment is expected to rise to 9%, with the young, the marginalised and the unskilled hurt the most, leading to low pay rises and worse working conditions.

Shepton is fairly lucky as it has capital to be spent in the form of s106 monies from Tescos and Dobbies so some improvements should continue to occur in our High Street, we must ensure value for money is extracted from that money with greater public involvement in decision making, we cannot continue with the discontent about the BAPA grants, I am writing to the Chairman of Scrutiny at Mendip asking for a investigation into the award of this grant, this so the full facts are exposed for public inspection.

Finally, I hope we can have more cracking events in the Town, I always available to help, we are going to need community spirit to get through this year.