Sunday, 22 January 2012

When I knew the game was up

It was in 2006 that i knew the labour government was in trouble, when they lost an element of Labour values.

The issue was Farepak, a company that supplied Christmas hampers and vouchers for shopping in retail chains, this company had gone into administration with around 120,000 customers left without compensation.

These people whom were the responsible working class and the Labour government would not intervene to protect their savings, unlike the Icelandic banking crisis later.

These hamper companies depended on local people selling and collecting regular contributions to fund Christmas for their families.

The typical customer was low paid workers, generally women, doing the right thing saving for a good Christmas, not using credit cards or borrowing, but being prudent, a few pounds a week with the average customer losing £400.

It is five years since Farepak collapsed, but that nightmare of Christmas past is still being felt by many low income families. Savers are likely to recover just 5p in the pound, while the final bill for the administrators and their legal advisers has already exceeded £8m.

The total cost of debt owed to Farepak individual customers was in the region of £38 million, peanuts when considered to the amounts paid to save the banking system.

Today we have learned that 200 people have died since Farepak went bust and they never received compensation.

The Labour government should of intervened on behalf of low paid customers, instead it did not, they allowed corporates to get the best pickings of Farepak and forgot the pain of ordinary people, clearly legally Labour ministers did the right thing, but morally they were completely wrong, it seems to typify the prevailing mood that the little person is less valued than corporate giants.

One of the founding principles of my political identity is that people have to take responsibility, work hard and look after family and be active in their community.

The 10p tax rate was a further example of attacking low paid single people, both Farepak and the 10p tax cut were systematic of a loss of focus on the hard working low paid, if we look at those whom abandoned Labour in 2010 it was the social economic groups C & D.

For Labour's message to be authentic, they could well learn the lessons of Farepark, but I guess Labours spokespeople have forgotten about those low paid people who still await compensation, it's too late for the 200 whom have died.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The hard yards

Opposition is never easy, especially if you have been the party of government for over a decade.

The Labour party has rediscovered the impotence of opposition, for a period after the general election it was preoccupied with a leadership election and the displeasure at the Lib Dems abandoning there pre election positions. This gave the Conservatives legitimacy that they could not arrive through the ballot box and the implementation of an agenda that was not put before the electorate.

Now the Labour Party has to rediscover an authentic message, it has to clearly articulate 'what the Labour Party is for'.

There is much to oppose in the governments agenda and it's essential the Labour shadow ministers points out the failings. The Party will have to develop new ways of getting the medias interest, one failing has been the lack of visibility of shadow ministers.

But the Labour Party will have to better develop it's themes, the message, this has seemed confused last year, why the Labour Party does not point out it's great successes in government it is beyond me, the Labour Party has allowed it's opponents to rubbish it's whole period in government and they have rewritten history, without challenge.

Labour has to be on the side of working people, the Conservatives say they want to build the private sector jobs, they have no plan to do so, they believe further deregulation of the labour market will be the answer. Labour should learn the lessons of successful economies like Germany, increasing vocational education, easier access for business investment through regional banks and greater involvement of workers' representation in the long term planning of the companies. The British economy has to be rebalanced in favour of wealth creation over finance and services.

Labour implemented the welfare state and universal benefits based on 'social insurance' this based on a safety net, if you paid in then in times of uncertainty you could receive income. The long term sick and disabled should always be look after, but welfare should never be seen as a long term option. There has to be a heavier emphasis on contribution, responsibility over rights.

The most important relationships people have are with family and where people live, Labour has to be on the side of the family, the basis of all family life is a safe and secure home and safe and secure neighbourhoods.

The Labour Party has to support active competition and regulation to combat rigged markets, concentrated power is not in the interests of the little person, if banks, utilities, media or government over steps then there has to be consequences, to defend the interests of the consumers.

In 2012 the Labour Party needs to say what is here for, it cannot afford another year like 2011, if it does victory in 2015 will be much harder.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Budget

This is my first post of the new year, so happy new year.

Tuesday evening the Town Council met to decide the Council's annual budget for the financial year 2012/13.

The headline figures are that the overall budget was raised from £182,287 to £182,749with a Council tax increase of 3% or £1.25 per year or 2.5pence a week.

The changes in the budget was minimal, the Council has included an additional £5000 for environmental improvements, such as street cleaning, this to mitigate the cuts made by the Conservative Mendip District Council, there is also a hope to improve grass cutting, this is to be negotiated with our contractor, also as a result of cuts made by the Conservative Mendip Council.

The Town Council has also agreed to fund two new grit bins and two dog litter bins to be fitted in Shepton, a small budget has been allocated to partnership fund replacement of slabs in the Town Centre.

The Community grants has been divided in two, with £1000 for the Digital Arts Festival and £1000 for general community grants, there is no increase in the grant budget.

The other area of change was the commitment to the Skate Park in West Shepton, we set a new fund of £7000 for maintenance and other works and put aside £20,000 from reserves, this only to be drawn if the community group is successful with raising £200,000 for the new Skate Park.

The final change was to increase the parish council election contingency by £500.

The savings were; as the Townscape Heritage Initiative scheme has ended saving £5500,£5000 was not included in the Civic Hall fund and Contingencies was reduced by £5000.

There were a number of budgets that were underspent from this financial year that have been used for reserves; ShopJacket a regeneration scheme never happened this was £4,450, Highways budget this was £5000, work on the redundant telephone boxes £1500 and it is expected that there will be £9000 of underspent contingencies.

The Town Council decided to continue the funding for CCTV, I with two other councillors wanted this budget to fund youth services in Shepton, these youth services are to be axed by the Conservative County Council, Shepton will be without a professional youth service that offers help for young people, with issues like self esteem issues, peer pressure, sexual health etc.

The other area of concern is there is no budget to celebrate the Jubilee or for allotment expansion, this budget is not overly expansionary, it covers the services that we currently fund, with the additional demanded Skate Park and additional spend on MDC environmental cuts, so it looks like for the first time in my memory the Council is likely to spend all of it's budget, this will make next year interesting.