Tuesday, 24 July 2012

A big day for Tesco, a terrible day for Coalville

Yesterday was a big day for Tesco in North West Leicestershire.

Say goodbye to 'artists impressions' and goodbye to Tesco Coalville

In Ashby Tesco held the formal opening of their 'Tesco Extra' extension, an effective doubling of the size of the store which will bring wider product offers for customers and more jobs for local people. I wish the new store the very best of success.

Over in Coalville however it was a very different story.

Tesco formally confirmed that they will not be coming to town, something we all expected but a great disappointment just the same.

I know that many local residents never wanted Tesco in the first place. The vast majority of people with whom I speak tell me very clearly that they preferred the rival ASDA planning application.

But the fact is that in granting Tesco planning permission the district council were saying 'yes' to a number of significant benefits.

Tesco promised Coalville not only their store but also a range of secondary units which would have been attractive to other larger national multiple retailers. Let's not forget that Tesco also offered the prospect of new, town centre homes - something I believe would have been a great benefit to Coalville.

Now all of those promises have gone and all we are left with is a semi-derelict bank of land on Hotel Street which I have no doubt that without immediate intervention by the authority will be allowed by Tesco to deteriorate even further.

North West Leicestershire District Council must work with Tesco to ensure their Hotel Street properties are developed and brought back into use as a matter of urgency. And if working with Tesco's doesn't work we should not be afraid to take enforcement action to make it so.

Regeneration of Coalville is my top priority and our district council has lessons to be learned out of this mess.

First and foremost, I believe, in our search for an anchor store in town we granted Tesco (and let us not forget the precinct owners, Threadneedle) planning permission and then left them alone to get on with it. That was a mistake.

Granting planning permission should only have been a first step with Tesco (and Threadneedle) as a district council we should have skills in place to nurse those developers through to completion of their builds. To help overcome obstacles and to remind them that there are real benefits in coming to Coalville.

Our Council must make economic regeneration more of a priority. We must get into place those skills necessary to assist developers in seeing major projects through to completion.

It's not just about saying there are real benefits however, it's also about proving it. Our Council must work more with local retailers and shoppers to plan what Coalville needs for the future.

That is why Labour will be seeking to make better links with local businesses over the coming weeks and months. That is why I am seeking to hold a meeting with Coalville retailers as a matter of urgency to see what a Labour Council could do for them. 

Bringing regeneration to Coalville is not an easy task but let us be honest the Conservative administration at Whitwick Road have had six years now to make inroads but we have only seen our town go backwards.

We must dare to think out of the box to work for the regeneration of Coalville. We must think about not only attracting national multiples, anchors and independents but we must question what can a changing Coalville actually support.

We must address our leisure and night time economy to get people coming in to town and not least we must make it attractive for local (and not so local) people to want to spend time here.

As we have seen the Tesco fiasco unravel we have come to realise that the Tories cannot be trusted to prioritise regeneration of Coalville high enough up the agenda.

Labour will work with the current administration in seeking regeneration but where they are not going far enough we will pressure them and go out searching for investment in our town.

The very last thing I want is for regeneration of Coalville to be an election issue in two years time, it's too important to wait that long. I fervently hope our Council will have taken signficiant steps to address Coalville's problems.

I fear however that left to Tory devices we will still be floundering and in an even worse position.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Terry and June

Earlier today, as I often do of a Saturday lunchtime, I took my children out to the nearby supermarket for a bite to eat.

As we sat waiting for our meal an elderly couple who likewise visit most weeks came in for their regular weekend treat.

For the purposes of this entry I shall call them Terry and June although obviously that isn't their real names.

I have known them since I was a child and now both well into their eighties Terry is still deeply in love with June and I am sure vice versa.

But unfortunately June is suffering from severe dementia. She no longer speaks and only ever shows fleeting glances of even recognising her own husband.

Terry has dedicated his life to looking after June since her illness began and he does so with a tenderness that has to be seen to be believed but the simple fact is he is finding it increasingly difficult to cope.
He still looks on his beloved wife with the same eyes as when he first saw her at a dance a lifetime ago.

His love now, as then, is unconditional.

As Terry's own health falters understandably he is becoming increasingly concerned about what will become of June.

The last thing that Terry wants is for June to go into a home - it would break his heart.
We are living in a society with an increasingly aging population. A society where Terry and June's story is becoming increasingly common.

Even if you don't know one now I am certain over the next few years you will encounter a Terry and June.

Over the next few years care for the elderly is going to be one of the biggest challenges facing our society.

How are we going to support the millions of people that will be in similar positions to Terry or June?

How do we let them live their lives together in dignity when frankly they can't afford the support necessary to provide for themselves?

There are no easy (or cheap) answers.

We must be radical in ackowledging and addressing this massive problem.

But face this problem we must, right now and with an urgency that suitably honours those mothers, fathers and grandparents to who we owe so much.

Young, elected and jobless

The following article, by Cllr Roxanne Ellis - a fantastic young councillor in Gedling, was first published in the LGA First Magazine on 5 July 2012.

It's a thought provoking insight into the challenges facing many people dedicated to serving their community but dealing with the practicalities of doing so in a worsening economy.

My thanks to Roxanne and LGA for allowing reproduction of the article.

Councillor Roxanne Ellis"Would you give up being a councillor to make yourself more available for work?"

I sat in the Jobcentre in shock, unable to believe what the clerk had just said, and mumbled something about resigning from a few committees.

Sounds extreme, doesn't it? However this is a situation many young councillors are facing.

Councillors have the attributes that employers say they want – teamworking, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. However, responses to my call for young councillors to describe their experiences of job-seeking were overwhelmingly negative.

With rocketing unemployment, being in public service is seen as a hindrance. It is obvious after a few interviews that as soon as you mention the word councillor you aren't going to be considered. Common advice is: "Don't tell them until after you've been offered the job."

The LGA claims that "anyone can be a councillor" but when it comes to the young and unemployed this isn't true. The 2010 Councillor Census shows that the average age of councillors is 60 and that young people are under-represented.

No disrespect to our colleagues, but as young people are bearing the brunt of the recession, an unrepresentative local democracy adds to their disillusionment and disenfranchisement.

Most councillors receive their allowance on top of any other earnings. Unemployed councillors have it deducted from their benefits and are considered not to be available for work when doing their council duties. Unless you have someone willing to support you financially, it is virtually impossible to survive as an unemployed councillor.

I'm still looking for work but I don't know whether to stand for a second term. Not because I don't enjoy being a councillor, I really do, but because I can't afford to. At 24 I may be putting my future career prospects at risk by wanting to serve my community.

Acting on the advice of the LGA, I put in a complaint about being asked if I would be willing to give up being a councillor. A month later and I am still waiting for a reply.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A return to Thatchers Poll Tax?

Will benefit cuts have the same effects?
For anyone in their mid-thirties and over you will remember the poll tax. The tax that in many ways ended Thatchers reign as Prime Minister.

You will remember the mass refusals to pay.

You will remember the queues outside court buildings.

You will remember the riots.

Thatchers poll tax was massively unfair in many ways not least because it completely ignored the widely accepted maxim, held by the majority of the population, that those with the deepest pockets were expected to pay a larger proportion than those on the breadline.

Thatchers poll tax saw the the likes of the Duke of Westminster paying the same in tax as the poorest cleaner.

What made the system even more unfair was that everyone, irrespective of income, was expected to pay at least 20% of the tax.

The burden was simply too great for many to bear.

But now twenty years on we are moving back towards Thatchers greatest ignominy.

We have already seen the regard this Tory government, followed by the poodling LibDems, has for the poorest in our society.

We have seen the increases to VAT which massively disproportionately affects the poorest.

We have seen the cuts to top rate tax whilst 400 surestart centres have been forced to close their doors for good.

Now we ready ourselves for the harshest and most debilitating cut of them all.

Next April council tax benefit changes will come into force which means that local councils must adopt their own benefit system for the poorest residents of our districts.

At the same time the government has said they will cut their grant for benefit by 10%.

What this means is, with certain exceptions such as pensioners, the worst off are likely to see their council tax benefit cut by 20 to 25 per cent.

Next March hundreds of families here in North West Leicestershire who struggle to get by right now because of their low income are likely to receive council tax bills for hundreds of pounds or even more.

The inevitable consequence will be to cause greater poverty, to see more costly legal action being taken to try and recover debts that will never be paid and to see collection rates deteriorate.

At Cabinet tonight the Tory administration here at North West Leicestershire will start the process of determining the 'fairest' way to cut council tax benefit.

The Tory cabinet are hamstrung. I am sure they know just how badly local residents are going to be affected. How much they are going to hurt.

But the Tory cabinet are part of the self same Tory party that has devised these cruel new rules.

Once again this party of bankers, property developers and landowners have shown their chronic disregard for the hard working and low paid.

Over the coming months Labour will fight hard to protect those hard working families who will be hurt the most.

We will do our very best to highlight to the Tory administration just how badly you will be affected.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Act NOW to save Glenfield Childrens Cardiac Unit

You will have by now heard that the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has given the go ahead to close the ECMO (extra corporeal membrane oxygenation) and Children's Cardiac Surgery services at Glenfield Hospital.

The news has devastated many parents who rely on the service and who will now face trips of many hours to get to the nearest similar unit at Birmingham Childrens Hospital.

Expert doctors have very clearly said that transferring the service may result in the deaths of up to 50 children because it will take the relocated service up to 5 years to get up to speed.

We must act now to fight this appalling decision.

A petition has been created calling for the department to be saved. It already has more than 40,000 signatures.

If the petition receives 100,000 signatures it will force a debate on the issue in the House of Commons.

Please sign the petition here. Please ask everyone you know to sign it now.

Together we can make a difference.

Sources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-18783972, http://www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk/Dismay-swift-loss-Ecmo-unit-Glenfield-Hospital/story-16535635-detail/story.html

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The case against House of Lords reform

I remember, 20 years ago now, studying for my Government & Politics A Level.

I was very angry in those days about many things but somewhere very high up the list was the House of Lords.

I was disgusted that as recently as the turn of the twentieth century a bunch of hereditary toffs could stop democratically approved legislation being enacted pretty much indefinitely.

What right did 'the upper house' have to take such action?

Surely in a country aspiring to be a beacon of democracy everything the Lords stood for was abhorrent?

And of course it was.

But time moves on and we get older... and wiser.

Of course in my early days my anger towards the Lords was entirely focussed on the abomination that was hereditary peerages.

I am very proud that it was a Labour government that took significant steps to reduce the power of hereditary peers several years ago, and although 92 remain even here there is an element of selection.

Of course I would like to see an end to those who sit in the house through birthright but we have come a long way.

Hereditary Peers aside though, I have come to admire and indeed be proud of what the House of Lords stands for.

The Lords is a magnificent beacon for scrutiny.

It is a chamber populated by experts who are passionate for their fields.

A group of men and women who may well express a party allegiance but because of not ever having to worry about an election can be a great deal more independent than their colleagues in the Commons.

I fervently believe that the Government, of whichever colour, should listen to the counsel of the Lords more. Not necessarily to be bound by them but to hear their wisdom.

But if we change the composition of the Lords to a wholly elected one we change its very nature.

Both houses would be elected, so which would be more important?

How many real Independents would we see in a wholly elected House of Lords, or would virtually everyone originate from a political party?

How many experts would we see elected, or would more and more become nothing more than professional politicians?

Most of all I believe it is because our Upper House (overall) does such a good job that there is no public appetite to change it.

I have never spoke to anyone not loosely described as a 'politico' who has ever been remotely interested in the House of Lords.

In general ordinary men and women around this country have other more pressing things to worry about - like paying bills.

If we thought AV disconnected people just imagine what a referendum on the Upper House would do.

Anyone that demands a major legislative battle would, I believe, come across as being out of touch with the issues that really matter: jobs, homes and our economy.

Yes, minor amendments in an ideal world would be nice, but there is always a time and a place to make changes to our democratic system.

That time or place is neither right or here or right now.