Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Facing the Financial Chellenge or Ideological Cuts

I went on to BBC Radio Leicester this morning to talk with Nick Rushton about the Tory controlled North West Leicestershire's plans for cuts to our council over the next three years.

The future is bleak.

To make books balance the council needs to reduce revenue spending by £1.5 million per year over the next three financial years - this really is a tough ask.

The resulting cuts will see:

  • Parking Charges hiked up
  • Leisure Centre creches closed
  • Coalville's Picnic in the Park stopped.
  • Community Grants reduced
  • ... and Nick cancelling Christmas (or very nearly doing so)
All this comes at a time when everyone is tightening their belt, not least many local businesses who are suffering.

My question is 'are these cuts really necessary'?

The truth is, just like the national picture the Tories are taking the opportunity to make ideological cuts and use the financial crisis to cover them up.

Let us look at the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) which went to Cabinet in September.

It said the projected revenue shortfall in March 2015 will be £1.26 million a year NOT the £1.5 million savings that is being aimed for - the report suggests that £1.5 million is a prudent level of savings to aim for but arguably a savings target of £1.4 million would do the job equally as well saving £100,000 of services being slashed each year.

The MTFS is always written as a best guess. Within the report is made the assumption that Council Tax will not go up in 2012/13. What the report doesn't provide for however is that the Government has since announced they are to increase grant funding next year to effectively make up for not increasing Council Tax. In other words grant funding will be more next year than the MTFS anticipates.

Finally the report is very clear about how much needs to be saved each year. The report says that in 2012/13 the Council needs to save £276K. Why then is Nick proposing cuts for next year of £768K?

That's half a million more than Nicks own report says needs to be cut next year.

We are very much in danger in North West Leicestershire of seeing the Tories mirror their national counterparts. The cuts are too deep too soon and there is a very real danger that they will cause serious damage to our communities.

Of course Nick will say all Labour want to do is spend more and not acknowledge the true financial position. So here is a suggestion.

As Leader of the Opposition, because of the number of hours I work additional to that of a backbench councillor, I receive a Special Responsibility Allowance. I'm the only Labour Councillor to receive one.

According to my best guess at least 9 Conservative Councillors get an allowance for Special Responsibility which is more than mine.

How about us voluntarily foregoing 10% of our allowance in recognition that times are indeed tough? According to my calculations that will save the Council £6K a year.

It might not balance the books but it will show our acknowledgement that we really are all in this together.

I'm up for it if you are...

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Autumn in Grace Dieu Woods

For anyone who reads this blog occassionally you will know I try to visit Grace Dieu woods on a periodic basis to capture some of the beauty of our local countryside.

In the brief Indian Summer we experienced last weeks I took the opportunity to go to the woods to see them in their autumnal glory.

If you get the chance pop out into your local countryside this weekend or next to see first hand what, for me, is the most stunning time of year.

You might even find some Conkers!

The problem of payday loans

Would you ever take out a loan where the APR was 4214%?

Thought not but 4214% is the representative APR shown by Wonga.com on their homepage as being typical interest rate.

Have you ever heard of Wonga.com?

Possibly not, but Wonga is a typical example of one of a large number of payday loan companies designed to service that ever increasing sector of the market outside normal credit services who find themselves not being able to make ends meet until payday.

For want of a better description, actually thinking about it it's a perfectly valid description. Wonga (and others) are legal loan sharks.

The big concern is that the number of people not being able to make ends meet is growing significantly.

Noone knows the exact figures but here is an example.

In 2009 1.2 million people took out 4.1 million payday loans amounting to £1.2 billion.

In 2011 Dollar Financial, which owns the high street payday loan chain The Money Shop said that their high street network could expand from 350 shops to 1200.

Payday loans are not sustainable and effectively when you are in debt up to your neck they just manage to pull you all the way under.

Of course the economy is worsening, more so for the poorer in society.

Of course we need to turn people to more ethical financial products, such as credit unions.

But most of all we need to say that such levels of APR are not socially acceptable.

Stella Creasy is Labour MP for Walthamstow and is working hard to address this issue. If you want to know more (and what you can do) you can read a much more detailed explanation of the problem by clicking here .

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Labour Supporters Network

Are you fed up with the current Coalition Government?

Do you want a better future offering equality of opportunity for everyone?

Do you regularly vote Labour but don't want to go the whole way of joining a political party?

If you answered 'yes' to ANY of the above why not join the Labour Supporters Network?

The Labour Supporters Network doesn't cost you a penny and you won't be asked for anything (other than you views in developing Labour policy).

Why not join today?

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Motorway madness or sense?

I have always said that when the Tory-lead government gets something right I will say so.

So in that respect I say well done to Transport Secretary Philip Hammond for launching a consultation on raising motorway speed limits from to 70mph to 80mph.

I'm really pleased the government have decided to look at this issue after all how many of us have not driven safely at 80mph on a motorway, although I'm not sure how sensible it really is.

There are strong arguments that increased speed limits will improve the economy through reduced journey times.

Incidentally it is also probably true that increased speed limits will swell government coffers through increased tax revenue brought about by poorer fuel economy (you tend to get less miles per gallon at 80 mph than 70 mph).

On the other hand, safety has to be a major consideration.

Yes, I know speed limits are higher in France and even the US but from plenty of personal experience driving abroad there is a big difference. Motorways in those countries (outside of approaches to cities) are far less congested.

The simple fact is France and the US are just much bigger than Britain.

How many of us have come back from a holiday driving through France and commented 'it was a pleasure to drive'? We never say that in Britain because of already congested roads (and more roadworks).

We have to consider that increasing the speed limit may well cause more serious accidents, more deaths and probably (although not so importantly) more congestion.

I am sure most of us have driven over the speed limit, I know I have. Most of us have never got tickets for doing 80mph on the motorway because I have always been lead to believe it is seen as 'acceptable speeding' by pretty much everyone.

The question is what if the speed limit is increased to 80mph? Does 90mph become the new 80mph?

It could quite validly be argued that it would make sense to increase the limit to 80mph but enforce speed limits much more vigilantly. How socially acceptable will it be to get a ticket for only a couple of miles over the limit?

Now I must confess that these days I don't tend to go above 70mph. I like to conserve fuel and more pertinently with young children I am much more conscious about safety.

Not least we don't live in a big country like France - it is pretty difficult to take such a long journey in Britain that going at 80mph will have a major difference.

In the motoring equation going on in my head the benefits of travelling at 70mph always seem to make more sense than saving what is only likely to be a couple of minutes journey time.

Now I appreciate that this is only my view and many will disagree.

In fact I would suspect that raising speed limits would be very popular. But being popular doesn't necessarily make good law.

So my suggestion would be this.

Why not keep speed limits at 70mph but increase them on a variable basis to 80mph when road conditions allow?

Variable speed limits are now commonplace but when we encounter them mentally we tend to veer more towards the 'standard' limit, in other words we tend to go a bit over the variable limit. So why not keep the standard limit in place but let drivers know when it is safe to go faster?

Just a thought...