Thursday, 29 March 2012

Pastygate: Coalition Tax On Students

A couple of days ago I posted how David Cameron had been "economical with the truth" in his claims to have broadened the base of donors to the Tory Party.

Now he has been caught out by The Sun telling a story about his last pasty - or was it a "porky pie"?

When challenged about the last time he eat a pasty Cameron said "I seem to remember I was in Leeds station at the time and the choice was whether to have one of their small ones or large ones. I have a feeling I opted for the large one — and very good it was, too."

Rashly, Mr Cameron added: "I am sure The Sun will have someone rushing up to the shop right away to check it out." And they did.

It soon emerged the West Cornwall Pasty Company does NOT have an outlet at Leeds station — because it closed in 2007. There was another pasty seller, Cornish Bakehouse, at the station. But it SHUT last week after Chancellor George Osborne announced the VAT hike in his Budget

Cameron denied the Government's plan to slap 20 per cent VAT on hot pasties, pies and sausage rolls shows they are out of touch with hard-pressed workers, families and students - just another Coalition tax.
And absurdly, if your pasty goes cold while you are waiting to pay at the till, it's no longer subject to tax. Who will know? Will there be an army of under-cover tax inspectors testing the temperature of a student's pasty in Greggs on Christchurch Road?

The Coalition Government - untruthful and out of touch.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Budget Bombshell - Bad News For Most In Redlands

George Osborne’s budget is a disaster for most people struggling to make ends meet here in Redlands Ward. The Tories have let the bankers keep their bonuses and rewarded their rich friends (including their dodgy donors) with a massive tax cut for millionaires paid for with a ‘Granny Tax’ which will rob 4.4 million pensioners of up to £323 a year.

Families trying to bring up children on incomes less than £20,000 a year lose £253 in working tax credits from April and the VAT rise is costing every household an average of £450. Car owners have been squeezed as fuel prices hit a record high under the Tories and the LibDems following the latest tax hike at the pumps. They’ve even slapped extra taxes on takeaway food and caravans and are increasing the price of a first class stamp to 60p as they prepare to privatise the Post Office.

Millions to pay more so millionaires can pay less
The millionaire Chancellor has certainly looked after his own with a budget that will see 14,000 of his fellow millionaires paying £40,000 a year less in tax and substantial tax cuts for other high earners pulling in wages of £150,000 or more. How can it be right to penalise pensioners who have paid taxes all their lives and increase the burden on hard working families just to make the super rich even richer ?
Pensioner groups slam budget ‘stealth tax’
Saga Director, Dr Ros Altmann, said: “This Budget contains an enormous stealth tax for older people. Over the next five years, pensioners with an income of between £10,500 and £24,000 will be paying an extra £3 billion in tax. “In short, this Budget is another shocking example of the Government’s attack on poorer and older people. It is dramatically unfair.”

Local people have been telling me how angry they are that the Conservatives and their LibDem allies seem to be more interested in rewarding the rich than in helping pensioners and hard working families on modest incomes to get through these tough times. Mr Cameron’s claim that, ‘we are all in this together,’ has turned out to be yet another empty promise.”

Labour – on your side in tough times
Labour’s alternative budget includes a plan for real growth with a tax on bankers’ bonuses to fund a real job guarantee for unemployed youngsters, tax breaks for small firms taking on new workers and a temporary cut in VAT to boost spending and get the economy moving. We will fight to reverse the ‘Granny Tax’ and the other unfair measures, all of which could be defeated if the LibDems stopped propping up the Tories in Parliament.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Dodgy Dave's Downing Street Diner

Follow The Money Trail To Downing Street  
25 March:  David Cameron said  "We've reformed party funding. I took over a party with £28 million of debt. It's now virtually debt-free. We've massively broadened our supporter base."

26 March:  Cameron forced to admit that 15 donors, who between them gave the Conservative Party £25million, enjoyed secret dinners and lunches with him at Chequers and in Downing Street. 

Same old sleazy Tories.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Southern Comfort - Guest Post

A guest post from Caroline Flint MP, Labour's Regional Champion for the South East

Caroline Flint Leads The Fight Back In Redlands
At the last general election less than 1 in 6 people voted Labour in the south-east. The simple, unavoidable truth is that we cannot elect a Labour Government without winning in places like Crawley, Milton Keynes, Southampton and Reading. Every radical, reforming Labour government has been the product of broad-based coalitions, with roots in every party of the country and all classes.

As Labour’s new regional champion for the south-east over the coming months, I’ll be leading teams of Labour MPs and peers on the campaign trail across the south-east. First stop: Reading.

Packed lunch in hand, joining me on the 10 o’clock train from Paddington were Vernon Coaker, John Woodcock and Alison Seabeck. In 1997 we won both Reading East and Reading West. At the last election, Reading West fell to the Tories and we slipped to third place in Reading East, behind the Liberal Democrats. We must win Reading back.

Our road back to power starts in local councils, and in this year’s local elections 16 seats are up for grabs in Reading. The day started with campaigning in Redlands ward, which currently has 2 Liberal Democrats and 1 Labour councillor. Knocking on doors in all the streets around Erleigh Road, we found lots of people supporting our Labour candidate Tony Jones.

With red kites (the bird kind) overhead in Katesgrove ward, we met residents who are backing Labour candidate Rose William’s campaign for landlords to be made to clear up mess and overgrown gardens, and chatted to parents at Katesgrove Primary School.

Hitting the airwaves on BBC Berkshire, I had the chance to explain how our policy to put all over-75s on the cheapest tariff for their gas and electricity could save over 9,000 pensioners in Reading as much as £200 a year, proving that even when there is less money around Labour can still deliver fairness for elderly people struggling with their soaring bills.

After Reading, John Woodcock and I hit the campaign trail with Fiona Mactaggart and our colleagues from Slough’s Labour Council – a shining example of a council that has refused to be paralysed by the huge, frontloaded cuts imposed by this Government. At a great Progress event later that evening we talked with local councillors, candidates, party members and activists about how we can recapture and shape the centre-ground and win again in the south-east.

Arriving back in Doncaster just before midnight, I reflected on the day, how we’d won in places like Reading in 1997 and what we need to do to win them back. Times have changed. We’re not going to win the next election trying to recreate the 1997 campaign. The easy optimism of the late nineties and the noughties has given way to a different mood. More anxious. More insecure. Living standards flat-lining. Unemployment rising. Concerns about identity and community. We will address those insecurities, show that Labour is a party for all times, and not just good times and prove that we understand that fairness is about what you put in, as well as what you get out, and a fair welfare state is based on rights and responsibilities.

But, most of all, we’ll be ambitious and optimistic, and show people that Labour is on their side if they want to work hard and make a better life for themselves and their families.
Next stop: Southampton.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Developers Told: Do Whatever You Want

Is Wilson Happy With DfE?
This Government has made great claims about transparency and localism.

Why is it then, when seeking to create a new Technology Academy out of the ashes of Rob Wilson's failed UTC, that Department for Education Ministers in Westminster should presume that they can ride rough-shod over the views of local people?

I understand that Partnerships for Schools (the government's delivery agent for capital investment programmes into schools) have been instructed by Ministers to seek a commercial partner who would purchase the whole site on the condition that they sell half the site back to the DfE on which to build the new Tech.

Their conclusion is that "That way the commercial partner satisfies planning conditions for having educational use on the site, and then can do whatever they want with the other half."

It is understood that two companies have already been lined up to do the deal.

Reading Borough Council's planning policies have designated the Alfred Sutton School playing fields at Crescent Road as open space. But Government changes to the planning laws in favour of developers may seek to over-ride these locally determined policies.

Things are moving fast, so now is the time to say "No" to Rob Wilson and the DfE and "Yes" to protecting our open spaces.

UTC Is Dead: Technical Academy & Housing On The Way?

Selling England By The Pound
The plans for a new University Technical College are dead.

When he launched the plan last October, Reading East MP Rob Wilson described the UTC idea as "fantastic news for East Reading".

Now Wilson's comment that "I would like to thank all those who have been involved and given me their support in making this happen.” seems a bit premature.

The latest desperate twist now is for a new "Technical Academy" which would take 14 to 19 years old from a 15 mile radius of a Crescent Road campus. The rest of the site would be handed over by the government or current site owners University of West London to a commercial partner for housing development.

I understand that the University of Reading has said that it would not take a seat on the board of the new institution. So just as the last rites are read over the UTC, the need for a new, full subject secondary school from age 11 remains.

There are not enough school places for children living in the east of Reading in Reading Schools and future projections will make this worse. Parents want to know that their children will be able to attend a good school within a reasonable distance of where they live.
It should be stressed that any new education provision is a plus, and such schools will go a long way to equipping less academic youngsters with the technical skills to become assets on the increasingly tough job market.

But at an already confusing time in a young person's life it will be highly disconcerting to be moving schools after two years and just before GCSE courses begin, and schools face having their year nine stripped of pupils heading for a Technical Academy.

So please sign the petition and let others know.

Friday, 16 March 2012

East Reading UTC Plans On The Verge Of Collapse?

Could East Reading Children Be Bussed To Green Park?
Word reaches me that plans for the University Technical Collage (UTC), proposed by Reading East Tory MP Rob Wilson, are on the verge of collapse.

I'm led to understand that with no agreement in sight for a location - the favoured old school site on Crescent Road site apparently being opposed by the Greens, and even a ludicrous suggestion mooted that the 14 year olds and older would be bussed to empty offices on Green Park - it seems that some of the original partners to the controversial plan may be beginning to have second thoughts.

Could this continue as a UTC if the University of Reading pulled out? And some of the private sector business partners may be alarmed at the apparent lack of a coherent viable business plan.

What remains true, however, as I've reported before, is that East Reading now more than ever badly needs it's own local secondary school for all children leaving primary schools in the area, from aged 11 upwards - and not some half-baked plan which seems to be drifting further away, or subject to the whims of Wokingham council..

Answers please, Mr Wilson.

In the meanwhile, concerned residents can register their concerns on the e.petition here.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Adopt A Peer To Drop The NHS Bill

Contact A Noble Lord To Stop TheNHS Bill
The Health and Social Care Bill has been changed since it entered Parliament in January 2011, but it is still a huge threat to our NHS. Recent amendments have done nothing to remove the fundamental dangers of fragmentation, competition, instability and inequity.

As voices of opposition have grown and grown, the government has merely ignored them.

The clamour from virtually every organisation representing the clinicians and professionals who make our NHS work and are being asked to implement these reforms has become inescapable, but has only led to those organisations being shut out of discussions.

More than 170,000 people have signed the official e-petition calling for the Bill to be withdrawn – making it by far the best-supported petition on the Downing street site.

The government refuses to release the risk register for the Bill, despite being told to do so by the Information Commissioner and losing an appeal against this decision.

And now Liberal Democrat spring conference have refused to back the leadership’s call to approve the Bill, yet party leader Nick Clegg is pressing on with support

Adopt a Peer

The Third reading in the House of Lords is likely to be the last chance that politicians get to have a say in a meaningful debate on the Health and Social Care Bill –Monday 19th March is decision day for our NHS.

Please send an email or letter to a Peer, asking them at this late stage to use their votes to protect our NHS, either by voting against the entire Bill or against the most harmful parts.

Follow the link below - and pass on to family and friends.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Drop THe NHS Bill: An Appeal To Lib Dem Supporters

A Guest Post from Cllr Bet Tickner, Reading's Lead Councillor for Health and Community Engagement

Only days or weeks remain before the Tories try to force the disastrous and universally unpopular NHS bill into law, in the teeth of opposition from virtually every medical professional body and the public. Now Lib Dem activists have voted not to support the Bill at their weekend conference.

At this eleventh hour, Labour MPs have forced a Commons debate on the Drop the Bill e-petition, which was started by a GP and now has over 173,000 signatures – that’s a record - this Tuesday.

Let’s remember that there is no democratic mandate for this Bill – Cameron said before the last election that there would be no top-down reorganization of the NHS.

Nick Clegg says now “this is a bill for patients not profits”. It emphatically is not. GP commissioning will open the floodgates for private healthcare companies to drive into the heart of the NHS. This is because good GPs want to spend their time treating their patients, not on the cumbersome and complex task of commissioning.

I call on every Lib Dem supporter to ask their Lib Dem councillor or MP – where do you stand? What will you do to stop this Bill?

Will you now join with the public, the doctors and healthworkers who want an NHS which resolves the issues of the future, not through competition but by collaboration and cooperation to preserve one of the best healthcare systems anywhere in the world.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Privatising The Police: A Step Too Far

A Guest Post From Cllr Tony Page, Deputy Leader of Reading Borough Council

The Government has recently allowed two police authorities to privatise some police functions.

The invitation to tender includes investigating crimes, detaining suspects, responding to and investigating incidents, supporting victims and witnesses, managing high-risk individuals, patrolling neighbourhoods, as well as traditional ‘back office’ functions such as forensics, legal services, finance and human resources.

Only the actual power of arrest is excluded.

This is ‘virtual policing’ in which a huge range of very sensitive services are to be contracted out and, bear in mind, there is no private company out there with experience across even a fraction of this work.

We could see 999 calls being dealt with by call centres half-way round the world, drivers doing blue light jobs in their own cars, the people who have been clamping cars on private land given powers to dish out Penalty Charge Notices on our streets, PCSOs being replaced by private security guards, and a huge lack of accountability as the contractor would be bound only by his contract.

These two police authorities are going out to tender in advance of the election of police commissioners this November. I think any commissioner who is elected should ditch the process, and the chief constable who dreamed it up into the bargain.

This is a privatisation too far.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Exclusive: RBH Boss Resigns

RBH: Time For A Fresh Start
News reaches me that the Chairman of the Royal Berkshire Hospital Trust, Colin Maclean, has resigned.

Sources inside the hospital say that the move followed the report this week of the independent inquiry into the recent management of the Royal Berks.

Earlier this year confusion arose around whether the Chief Execuitve Ed Donald had been sacked, resigned or was sent on "gardening leave".

Hopefully this now allows a line to be drawn under an unhappy period at the hospital and a fresh be made. However, this can not be taken for granted as the attitudes of the remaining Non Executive Directors is, as yet, unclear.

Maclean became Chairman of the Trust in November 2000 having served since 1999 as a non executive director of the Berkshire Health Authority and held directorships at Unilever and Glaxo.

Child Benefits: Coalition Cuts Must Be Stopped

Cuts to child benefits for higher rate tax payers were rashly announced ahead of the 2010 Conservative party conference by George Osborne to demonstrate that he had the courage to raid his own party's supporters' pockets for the deficit reduction programme - thereby proving to everyone else that "we're all in it together.
But now more and more people are waking up to the fact that the cuts are unfair and unworkable.  Thousands of parents on low and middle incomes face losing a huge proportion of their income overnight. And far from making work pay, many parents could find they are better off on benefit. This makes no economic sense at all.

The first problem  is one of fairness. It cannot be right that a two-earner family each earning £42,000, a total of £84,000, would keep all their child benefit, but a single-earner family on £43,000 would lose it all at a stroke.Then there is the problem that families lose it all at once, so a pay rise – perversely – could see a family worse off than it was before

So far from being all in this together, Cameron, Osborne and Clegg have chosen to give the banks a tax cut this year while their Budget measures are hitting women harder than men and pushing up child poverty. And families with children will lose an average of £580 per year from policies coming into effect this April alone.
The Coalition government must think again on changes to tax credits and child benefit which will cost families with children up to £4,000 per year.

First, their changes to eligibility for working tax credits are set to clobber hundreds of thousands of parents in part-time work by up to £74 per week. From April couples with children earning less than around £17,700 will need to increase the number of hours they work from a minimum of 16 to 24 hours per week or they will lose all their working tax credit of £3,870 per year.

This change will penalise parents who are working and trying to do the right thing, but cannot increase their working hours at a time when the economy is flatlining and unemployment rising.

This unfair and damaging change could and should be cancelled using the hundreds of millions of pounds the government itself has said could be raised by closing a stamp duty tax avoidance loophole on properties worth over £1 million.

But will this be another example of a stubborn Coalition wanting to be seen as acting tough no matter what  the consequences?

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Clegg Set To Ignore Party Over NHS Bill

Clegg Said THe NHS Bill Was Something The Lib Dems Could All Get Behind
Nick Clegg, so desperate to hang on to his personal position as Deputy Prime Minister / Lap Dog to the Conservatives, looks set to ignore his own party over the unwanted NHS Bill, according to the Independent, even if it risks haemorraging hundreds of councillors at  May's council elections.

The Liberal Democrats meet in Gateshead next weekend where some rebel  activists will attempt to table an emergency motionto drop the NHS Bill. However, Clegg believes the majority in his party will still be in favour of supporting the amended Bill.

But Clegg suffered a setback this week when Graham Winyard, the former deputy Chief Medical Officer, resigned from the party in protest at the leadership's backing for the Bill.

Dr Winyard, who was chairman of Winchester Liberal Democrats until last year, told Mr Clegg in a letter "It is just not sensible to impose this top-down reorganisation on an NHS struggling to meet the biggest financial challenge in its history. To continue to do so in the face of near unanimous opposition from patient, staff and professional organisations simply invites slow motion disaster both for the NHS and for the party."

He said that he had no option but to resign "with great sadness".

Well done Dr Winyard.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Prediction: Daisy Benson Will Change Her Position On The NHS Bill

Desperate Daisy Set To Flip
How many days before the next council elections on 3 May will Daisy Benson and her anonymous candidate in Redlands change their position on the NHS Bill?

Daisy has been a vocal and long-term supporter of the changes from the very start. It's hard to say about their candidate because so little is known of him (I'm told he was their 4th choice).

However, as pressure grows, I predict both will announce they are no longer in favour of the unwanted and unnecessary bill. But if they were in favour of the original bill and it's since been amended to make it even more voter-friendly, why would they change? You might well ask.

As for their Redlands candidate: Where does he live? Is he married? Does he have any children attending our local schools?

It's all a bit of a mystery. Aren't these things voters have a reasonable right to know? Why so coy?

Clegg Confirms He Really Does Back The NHS Bill

Cameron and Clegg: Privatising the NHS
It was beginning to get a bit confusing as to where Nick Clegg actually stood on the NHS Bill.

First he was pleased to be jointly proposing it with David Cameron. Then, more lately, he seemed to be scheming behind Cameron's back, apparently urging Lib Dems in the House of Lords to scupper it.

But at this week's Prime Minister's Questions Clegg made his position clear, stating unequivocally that he does indeed back the troubled legislation, which could see up to 49% of NHS hospital beds be put in the hands of profit-making private companies.

That will undoubtedly come as some relief to Lib Dems in Redlands, where Daisy Benson and their latest candidate are supporters of the controversial NHS changes too.