Banbury Constituency Labour Party

Sean Woodcock’s campaign blog for 2015 General Election

Hello and welcome to my blog. This is where you can keep in touch with my campaign to become Banbury’s first Labour MP in May 2015Sean Woodcock at desk 1

Contact Sean: sean.woodcock@cherwell-dc.gov.uk

Tuesday 5 May 2015

I took part in a hustings organised by Oxfordshire Age UK and held in Banbury Town Hall. There are lots of issues for older people none more important than Labour’s committment over social care – providing thousands more carers and integrating social care and health care. But if chosen as MP I will deliver for all people in the consituency and give short shrift to those who seek to divide us, by age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability or for any other reason.

Saturday 2 May 2015

Sean Banbury Walkabout_23Meeting electors again in Banbury during the Old Town Party day. I think shop owners are doing a great job revatilising this part of town which has lost out in the past with the focus on Castle Quay. Later in the day I did some pre-election videos for loading on YouTube which will be available through our website early next week.

Saturday 25 April 2015

I’m in Banbury Town centre (High Street, Town Hall area) at 10.30am and Bicester (Sheep Street) at 2.30pm. Come and say ‘hello’ and tell me your opinions and issues.

18 April 2015

Walk-about in Banbury Market Place

Another valuable meeting with Banbury residents on a busy Saturday afternoon in Market Place Banbury.

Sean with Jane Downs

Sean with Jane Downs

 

 

 

 

 

 

11th April 2015

Walk-about in Bicester Town centre

Sean with Gillian Bevan

Sean with Gillian Bevan

An afternoon walk-about in Bicester Town centre with colleagues from Bicester Branch. I always value these times meeting people in the street and hearing first hand the issues that concern them. Worries about the way Bicester is rapidly expanding is a common theme and I’ve already expressed my worry that Bicester Garden City will be just another bonaza for housing developers with little thought for the housing needs of local people.

 

8th April 2015

Delayed Discharges from Oxfordshire hospitals

I issued a press release because the figures for the number of elderly people languising in our hospitals when they could be looked after in their own home has increased dramatically.

This Government’s plan for the NHS is failing. These terrible figures show the scale of the care crisis that is affecting the most vulnerable people in North Oxfordshire.

Increasing numbers of elderly people in our community are ending up in hospital, rather than receiving the proper support they need in their own home.

Labour will join up health and social care to help more elderly people in this area stay healthy and living independently in their own homes.

Here are some of the stats that I found most alarming:

5286 bed days wasted in Oxfordshire as delayed discharges reach all-time high

  • In Oxfordshire the number of wasted bed days has increased by 158%
  • In the past month, delayed discharges meant that 5286 bed days were wasted, as many elderly people were left stuck in hospital
  • Nationally, the number of delayed days per month has almost doubled under this Government – from 55,332 in August 2010 to 103,776 in January 2015
  • In the past month alone, the number of delayed days has increased by 14 per cent
  • Over the past year there have been more than a million delayed days, costing almost £287 million – enough to pay for 6,875 nurses or a year of home visits for more than 41,000 older and disabled people
  • Last month almost 3,600 patients were delayed in being discharged from hospitals, costing the NHS more than £28.5 million
  • Many elderly people are finding themselves stuck in hospital as they wait for the support they need to move back home, or for a place in a residential or nursing home – accounting for 40 per cent of all delays

Visit to BYHP in Banbury

Sean BHYP VisitInvited by Acting CEO Deb Parker to meet staff and some of the young people they are supporting who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. A sit-down dinner of spag bol and great company. Thanks to all.

 

 

 

31 March 2015

My position on WELFARE POLICY submitted to the Banbury Guardian:

In Banbury, I know a lady who is in a wheelchair. A stair lift has been fitted in her home. When things become particularly difficult, her daughter stays with her. As a result, she has been hit by the ‘bedroom tax’.

This Government has the wrong priorities. Their own figures show that Britain loses far more money to tax evasion and tax avoidance than is falsely claimed in benefits.

The real problem is the increased cost of living. Rising rents in the private sector mean more housing benefit paid to landlords. Poor pay, unaffordable childcare and a shortage of decent jobs has seen £900 million added to the tax credit bill.

We need a proper plan rather than measures, which create misery for ordinary people, but barely any difference to welfare spending.

We must start by tackling the housing crisis which means building new homes for genuinely affordable rent as well as giving private sector tenants more security and ensuring that they are not ripped off.

Instead of closing children’s centres, parents need access to affordable childcare, and good jobs at decent wages.

Labour is the only party that is promising to tackle these issues.

25 March 2015

On the Horton Hospital and the NHS

I was born at the Horton Hospital, and the staff subsequently saved my life. I am committed to defending it so that it can save the lives of other people.

The Labour Government rejected the plan to close the Horton following consultation with local people.  In contrast, the Tories are a direct threat to it. They have already passed an Act of Parliament which makes it possible for them to close good hospitals without consulting local people.

At the last election, Conservatives promised they would not reorganise the NHS, but they broke their promise and wasted £3 billion on an unnecessary reorganisation which fragmented the Health Service instead of integrating it. This waste means people wait longer in A&E and for vital diagnostic tests.

I am proud of Labour’s record in government with thousands more doctors and nurses, and hundreds of new health centres, including one in Banbury, to provide a drop-in service without an appointment.

Labour are committed to investing in our NHS again and providing more nurses, doctors and care workers on the front line. But health is about more than hospitals, and Labour will integrate social care and health to prevent illness and promote good health.”

 20 March 2015

I have been invited by the Banury Guardian, along with other parliamentary candidiates to submit my position sstaments on a number of issues. Here is my one EUROPEAN POLICY:

“The EU is a flawed institution. It is remote and aloof. It is undemocratic, and in places like Greece it has come to represent austerity policies that have brought misery to millions. The EU has become too tied to financial markets in London and Frankfurt, and it needs to be reconnected to the people of Europe.

But the 21st Century poses challenges which can only be tackled effectively

by countries working together more closely. We cannot deal with climate change, pollution, international tax avoidance, organised crime, cyber crime, human trafficking and terrorism by ourselves.

Being a member of the EU has also brought massive benefits to our country in terms of trade and investment which are put at risk by the suggestion of Britain leaving the EU.

One look at the lorries on industrial estates in Grimsbury and elsewhere shows us the depth of our connection with Europe through trade and commerce. There are as many as 9,000 jobs in and around Banbury which are reliant on being able to trade with the EU. We should not put those jobs at risk.”

 14 March 2015

On Immigration

Immigration is important for Britain’s future and here in Banbury we have a record to be proud of.

Immigrants make a huge contribution to our society.  I am proud of our diverse and outward-facing town, where people have come from abroad over many generations to build businesses, work in our public services and contribute to our community.

Our NHS depends on doctors and nurses from overseas as any visit to the Horton Hospital will show you.

We must not scapegoat other people because of their nationality.

Immigration needs to be properly controlled and properly managed. We need to ensure that the Border Agency is properly funded, and we need to encourage integration and not segregation. That includes making sure that people working in public services can speak English.

Above all, we must tackle the exploitation that often accompanies immigration. That means strengthening minimum wage laws to stop unscrupulous employers undercutting the wages of local workers, and we should ban employment agencies who recruit exclusively from abroad.

Finally we need local and national government to properly invest in the jobs, housing, schools, hospitals and infrastructure that we all need.

 

13 March 2015

Bicester as a Garden City

I clashed with Barry Wood, the Leader of Cherwell District Council over Bicester’s bid to become a ‘Garden City’ at a recent public meeting held in the town.

During a question and answer session, I called for the proportion of low rent housing to be increased to benefit Bicester residents.  I think that only allocating 30% as ‘affordable homes’ of the  total of 13,000 new homes to be built by 2031, is not enough.  I asked for this proportion to be increased, but Councillor Wood rejected my demand.

I believe  that this ‘Garden City’ status for Bicester is a wheeze. The Tories are using it so that they can spend taxpayers’ money to subsidise their own voters: buy-to-let landlords.

The ‘Garden City’ movement had as one of its main drivers the provision of low rent accommodation for the people who lived in the area. Yet having secured ‘Garden City’ status for Bicester, Councillor Wood is content to allow the vast majority of the houses to be sold on the open market, where they will be out of reach of many local people.

This attitude is unforgivable when we have a housing crisis.


12 March 2015

Nigel Farage’s comments are despicable

I felt I needed to rebutt strongly UKIP Leader, Nigel Farage’s comments on TV saying that British people see Muslims as “a fifth column living in this country”.

Banbury is an excellent example of a community at peace with itself, given its religious and ethnic diversity. In Banbury we have three generations of immigrants coming together for the good of our community by being actively engaged in voluntary work, serving on local councils, working with our young people, running successful local businesses or looking after the vulnerable. People in Banbury should take pride and celebrate this success.

Mr Farage’s references to a ‘fifth column’ suggested an enemy within. That was a despicable thing to say. I think he should brush up on British history. If he visited the battlefields of Flanders, he would see the graves of thousands of soldiers of Islamic faith who gave their lives for Britain. This was been repeated throughout the 20th Century.

Real British values are not based on race, colour or religion; but on how we treat and respect one another.”


5 March 2015

BBC Radio Oxford

I was invited by BBC Radio Oxford to a hustings in Castle Quay Banbury and used it as an opportunity to give clear statements of my policy positions.

  • On immigration I said “The evidence is clear that immigrants are making an important contribution to our economy and there is free movement of labour in the EU. The key is to deal with exploitation issues (employment agencies advertising exclusively abroad, poverty wages and rogue landlords) and not make scapegoats of people just because of their nationality.
  • On Welfare and pensions I said, “The reason for the inadequate state pension is because of low growth and the loss of our AAA rating internationally under this government. I worry for people of my age, the pensioners of the future, who are having real difficulty in maintaining a reasonable standard of living and saving for the future. One of the first acts of this government was to increase VAT, which disproportionately affects less well off people and gave wealthy people a tax cut. In austerity Britain people at the top are making less of a sacrifice.
  • On HS2 I said “HS2 is a highly flawed design, for one it doesn’t link with Heathrow. I’m not convinced by it. Like China and other growing economies we need infrastructure projects that are better and quicker which can only be achieved by joined-up, cross-party, long-term planning.
  • On the NHS and in particular The Horton Hospital, I said I’m passionate about preserving services at The Horton – I was born there and so were my parents and grandparents, but there are two issues; one – the will to stand up for a better NHS and a better Horton, and not allow privatisation by the back door, and secondly, the money needs to be put in so that people can be cared for properly.

And when all candidates were asked if being MP would be their only job, I said “Of course it would be my only job. I made that declaration when selected to stand last year way before this became an issue. I am standing in my home town, I want to deliver for my home town.”

Listen to the programme here

9 February 2015

If I become your Member of Parliament I will oppose any fracking in North Oxfordshire

Sean Woodcock_11This evening I delivered a speech to the Banbury Town Branch in which I set out my thoughts about Cameron’s policy on fracking and the dangers of fracking to our communities and countryside.

Here is my speech in full:

“Get rid of all this green crap.” That was the message that David Cameron gave his Tory MPs at the end of 2013.

So much for the days when his message was ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’.

As in so much else, the Tory Party has come full circle during his time in charge.

But actions speak louder than words, and the Tory record on the environment is one which speaks volumes.

They have refused to set a target for removing carbon from the power sector by 2030.

They scrapped the Local Air Quality Management Strategy, despite the fact that polluted air causes 29,000 early deaths a year in the UK.

Who remembers how they tried to privatise the forests?

Then there are the badger culls and plans to re-legalise fox hunting!

Even where they tried to make a difference, with the Green Deal, they failed with a pitiful take-up.

Meanwhile in the European Parliament, Tories consistently oppose EU legislation to tackle climate change.

But should we expect any better?

This is a Prime Minister who promoted climate change sceptics to the top of his government; even making one the Environment Secretary.

But that is because in reality the Tories do not care about protecting the environment.

Nowhere is this more obvious, than with the issue of fracking.

David Cameron has made it clear that he wants fracking. He believes that if only fracking were allowed to go ahead, then everyone will support it.

Well not me.

And my first campaign pledge is that if I become your Member of Parliament then I will oppose any fracking in North Oxfordshire.

Fracking will irrevocably alter the local landscape. A single well could mean hundreds more trucks on our over-stretched roads.

Fracking will contaminate local water supplies with methane gas.

Fracking releases harmful gases into the atmosphere causing acid rain & contaminated air.

Fracking is so dangerous that it has been banned in the state of New York.

Labour has always said that shale gas extraction cannot go ahead unless there is a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection.

It is David Cameron who has repeatedly ignored people’s concerns.

On Monday 26th January, Government accepted a Labour amendment to the Infrastructure Bill to overhaul the regulations for shale gas.

This new Clause 19 establishes 13 conditions without which no shale gas extraction can take place in the UK.

It covers a ban on developments in National Parks or under aquifers, a duty to report fugitive emissions, properly independent well inspection and other areas.

This is the largest single overhaul of the shale gas regulations to date. It is also a massive U-turn by the government and a huge victory for Labour.

Some people, like the Greens; have suggested that Labour should have backed a moratorium on fracking. But this opened up the possibility of business as usual once that moratorium had ended.

Given a choice between Labour’s position of no fracking without tough conditions being met, and a temporary moratorium without any protections, Labour’s stance is the right one.

Yes. I want us to go further and commit positively to a future without fracking.

But what is clear to me is that this will not happen if David Cameron remains Prime Minister after 7th May. If his government of climate change sceptics and landscape vandals is returned, fracking could become a reality in North Oxfordshire.

And a vote for anyone but Labour on 7th May makes the chances of that happening even more likely.

So if you want to say ‘no’ to fracking, and ‘no’ to David Cameron; you must vote Labour.

4 February 2015

Thinking of voting Green? – Think again

Anyone thinking of voting for the Green Party candidate will just  be helping David Cameron to get back in Westminster.  I also feel very strongly that people need to know that in many areas of policy, the Greens are quite reckless.   Their proposals would leave our country at risk from attack because not only do they want to scrap Trident, but they also plan to scrap the armed forces – and have even said they would end border controls on immigration!

I ask you, ” Can anyone genuinely believe that these Green policies will make us safer?

Labour is pledged to fight climate change and I support policies to protect the environment – I will oppose fracking in North Oxfordshire.  If you care about the future of our planet, I urge you to vote Labour, not Green.

22 January 2015

Health is about more than just hospitals

Last week a 67-year-old retired teacher in Kent, was left on a trolley in an accident and emergency unit for 20 hours. The week before, an 81-year-old woman, unable to get up off the floor waited 11 hours for an ambulance.

In Oxfordshire, as with the rest of England the number of people waiting more than four hours to be seen in A & E rose this winter.

When he was Leader of the Opposition; David Cameron promised that his priority would be three letters… N-H-S. But what we are seeing under his government is a National Health Service that is being brought to its knees.

This should not surprise any of us though, because beyond all those empty promises we knew then what we have always known; you cannot trust the Tories with the NHS.

Only under a Tory government would we see charities volunteering to help in accident and emergency units.

Under them we have had a reorganisation that they promised they would not deliver. One which cost £3bn. Imagine what that money could do in the National Health Service today?

Instead though, they have fragmented it; opening it up to market forces whose interest is in profit, not in patients.

Don’t take my word for it either. Take the word of the directors of Circle who recently announced that they no longer want to run Hinchingbrooke hospital, Cambridgeshire because, wait for it, there are too many patients using it.

This crisis in our hospitals extends beyond Accident and Emergency. 35,000 remain in hospital simply because there is nowhere safe for them to be discharged to. We already know about the shocking state of delayed discharge here in Oxfordshire.

And then there is the shocking fact that the number of people waiting more than 6 weeks for vital diagnostic tests has risen from 3,000 in 2010 to 19,000 now.

The damage being done to our hospitals by this ideologically driven shower must be exposed, and that is why I am putting the NHS at very centre of my campaign.

But health is about more than just hospitals. Because whilst the headlines are in our wards and hospital corridors, the roots of this crisis can also be found further afield – in the draconian cuts that we have seen to local authorities. Councils tightening their belts so that only the most vulnerable get help, leaving everyone with lower-level care needs to fend for themselves. Is it any wonder that they flock to their local hospital A&E?

And this is a crisis that is going to get worse, the longer that the Conservatives are in office. Under them we are seeing people driven out of their homes by the bedroom tax. Even if their home is specially adapted to suit their health needs. We are seeing developers being given the green light to build homes of a lower standard; less efficient in terms of heat retention. Then there is their allowing of academies and free schools to avoid the rules ensuring that every school meal is of a decent quality, their refusal to introduce plain packaging on cigarettes because of lobbying from the tobacco industry and their failure to introduce a minimum price for alcohol.

When I stood before you wanting to be your candidate, I told you that I joined the Labour party to fight for our NHS.

Well, this is a government that is running our NHS into the ground. This is a government that is not only bad for the nation’s finances, but bad for the nation’s health. Let us get rid of them, together.

13 January 2015

I officially launched my General Election campaign

At the AGM of the Banbury Branch on 12 January 2015 I asked our members and supporters to support my campaign and expose the Conservatives for what they are – a self-serving elite.

For my speech I decided to focus on the economy because I believe it to be one of the key battlegrounds.

Despite the Conservatives large majority in the Banbury Constituency at the last election I believe we can win the argument on the doorstep to demonstrate Labour’s competence to run the next government.

The Tories think that this is their trump card, but I say ‘bring it on’ because the Tories have demonstrated during their time in power that they are not the party of low taxation and don’t have the economic competence they claim. In this parliament they have introduced or increased 24 new taxes.

I challenge their claim to economic competence because they’ve wasted or squandered billions of pounds of tax payers’ money.

The mishandling of the West Coast rail franchise re-tendering, cost taxpayers £100m. The Department of Work and Pensions, wrote off £34m on failed IT projects and the NHS reorganisation cost £3bn, which nobody seemed to want.

But the key one here is the national debt, with George Osborne borrowing £200bn more than he said he would thereby doubling the national debt.”

7 January 2015

Threat to Children’s Centres when cuts take effect

My colleague, County Councillor Mark Cherry has publicly voiced his concerns about the £6m budget cut to children’s services in Oxfordshire between 2015-2018.

I support him and his fears regarding children’s centres in the face of cuts.

Local authorities face unprecedented budget cuts and a responsible party should not make unfunded promises. That is why Labour has refused to make promises that we cannot fully fund. Indeed, the Institute for Fiscal Studies declared in December 2014 that “Of the main parties, Labour has perhaps been the most cautious of the three” with regard to spending commitments.

This is in contrast to David Cameron, who says that he can deliver £7.2bn in tax cuts with no indication of where the money will come from.

But those who raise their voices about cuts are right to regardless of whether or not they have an alternative prepared so they can avoid them. They are right because the debate about cuts goes right to the heart of the issue of what type of society that we want to live in.

We should remember exactly where the financial crisis, cited as the root of this austerity, started. It was not a crisis of government debt born of spending on public services. It was caused by recklessness and greed in the financial services sector.

Last year, the United Kingdom was declared the fourth richest country in the world. But it was also estimated to be one of the most unequal with 44% of the wealth in the hands of just 10% of the population, compared to 9.4% in the hands of the bottom 50%.

Those, like me, who question the cuts, do so not out of naivety or selfishness but because we see a society that we do not want to live in. The people making the biggest sacrifice in terms of lost benefits or tax credits and losing access to vital services are the people with the least – despite the fact that it was people at the top who were culpable for the financial crisis.

In his letter Councillor Cherry stated that “the power of democracy is in the people’s hands.” In this he is absolutely right.  It is time for people to decide about the sort of society they want to live in.

12 December 2014

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has revealed that Taxpayers in the Thames Valley are subsidising gun owners to the tune of £5m.

In our region there are 34,553 people who hold a gun licence, which cost them £50 each, but ACPO say the actual cost of issuing and checking a licence is £196.

I think the findings are ludicrous when government cuts mean the loss of 147 police officers when we need more officers on the front line. To ask for any sort of public support for what is essentially a private hobby is an absolute disgrace.

Bicester Review LogoRead full story in Bicester Review

 

10 December 2014

I was pleased to speak in Adderbury at the meeting of the North Oxfordshire Villages Branch to discuss the Chancellor’s Autumn statement which illustrates how the Government is failing to keep its key promises.  David Cameron was willing to promise anything to win in 2010, but now we cans see how the Tory election promises have been broken:

–  ‘Living standards will go up,’  Working people are on average £1,600 worse off.

–  We will cut welfare payments,’  Payments are up, because more people are in low paid jobs, and rents have escalated, and so have numbers receiving housing benefit.

–  ‘We will balance the books,’  They have borrowed £219 billion extra.

–  ‘We will reform the welfare system,’ 400 people in Banbury (60% of those entitled to benefits) are still waiting for assessment .

–  ‘We will grow the economy,’  Growth rates have been downgraded year after year.

–  ‘We will safeguard the credit rating,’    It was downgraded in 2013.

–  ‘We will cut immigration,’    Immigration has risen.

–  ‘No top down reorganisation of NHS,’    There was!  And it cost millions of  pounds that should have been used for patient care.

The government has failed, even when measured on their own terms.  Why should the electorate trust them?  We need a Labour Government that will represent the needs of working people, that is why we are  working together to win this campaign’.


28 November 2014

Doubling in size of detention centre is a human rights issue

I issued press releases today calling for Cherwell District Council’s Planning Committee to reject an application to expand the detention centre at Campsfield, Kidlington.

Campsfield House is an Immigration Removal Centre and there are up to 216 detainees at any one time.

It is operated by private sector contractors, Mitie, but supervised by Home Office immigration officials. Having previously been a youth offenders institute, it re-opened as an Immigration Detention Centre in November 1993 despite opposition from local residents.

I have to declare from the outset that I am wholly opposed to the idea of Britain locking people up without proper judicial oversight when they have not actually committed a crime.

The fact that these people are immigrants may not guarantee them much sympathy, however these people will have fled poverty, disease, persecution or violence. To then be locked up without having done anything is simply abhorrent to me.

This has nothing to do with NIMBYISM but combatting injustice. The Cherwell District Council Planning Committee may feel these issues are beyond their remit in making a decision but I disagree. They must reject this planning application.

Oxford Mail  Protestors call for Campsfield to close – see story

Tuesday 25 November

Government’s welfare scheme is costing £billions

Echoing the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Rachel Reeves, I have publically called on the Prime Minister to get a grip of the benefits and credits system this week in the face of further evidence of Tory Welfare Waste.

This government has spent £5bn more on Tax Credits than it envisaged. The root cause of this is the proliferation of poorly paid jobs. This should make people angry like it does me. Not only does it mean that businesses, particularly multi-national corporations, are being subsidised by the taxpayer for their failure to pay their employees a decent wage, but more than that we are seeing people genuinely suffer as a result of this government’s ham-fisted welfare reform policies.

The bedroom tax is a perfect example of this as tenants have been forced to move out of council or social housing into the private sector. The irony of course, is that this ends up costing the taxpayer MORE money as private landlords are able to charge extortionate rates to the tenant, with their housing benefit bill (should they claim it) going up as a result.  So not only are this government’s policies wrong, they are also backfiring.

And the chaos continues further as only this week we saw figures released showing that 440 people in the Banbury constituency are still waiting assessment for their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – which has replaced the Disability Living Allowance. This is shameful because it’s a lifeline for many very vulnerable people.

Read my comments on the PIP situation in Banbury


Monday, 10 November

1.  Defending the NHS

It was under Labour that Banbury’s maternity services stayed open. Let us remember that it was Alan Johnson, the Labour Secretary of State for Health, who rejected the Health Trust’s proposed to close maternity services at the Horton Hospital. I am passionate in defence of the NHS and public services, and I know that only a Labour government can be trusted with National Health Service.  We created the NHS, we have saved it before and we will do so again.

Waiting Times Up

A crisis is now hitting the NHS: the number of people waiting 4 hours in A & E has trebled; the number of patients waiting on trolleys over 4 hours has more than doubled and 35,000 more people have to stay in hospital simply because there is nowhere safe to discharge them.  What shocks me most is that the number of people waiting more than 6 weeks for vital diagnostic tests have gone from just over 3,000 in 2010 to nearly 19,000 this year.  Delay affects life chances with diseases like cancer.

Labour’s Time to Care Fund

Labour will establish a ‘Time to Care’ fund of £2.5bn, drawn from taxing hedge funds, tobacco companies and properties worth more than £2m. This will go towards providing 20,000 more nurses and 3,000 more midwives in our hospitals.  And the ‘Time to Care Fund’ will also go towards providing 8,000 more GPs as well as 5,000 new homecare workers. Our aim is not to just provide the best possible hospital care but to improve the health of the nation so hospitals become that last point of treatment, not the first.

Integrating Health and Social Care

I believe that health care policy is about more than just hospitals.  Local government is also the right place for decisions on health.  Councils already have responsibility for public health, but housing, education, sport and leisure, diet, licensing, public transport and planning are important too, things in which local government has long had an active role.  I fully support the proposals of Shadow Health Minister, Andy Burnham, for an integrated system of health and social care.

Central to My Campaign

I recall the words of Aneurin Bevan, ’No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical treatment because of lack of means.’   Free access is vital, but poverty also injures health, which is why I support a Living Wage.  I will place health and the welfare, from cradle to grave, care of children to the elderly, at the very centre of my campaign. This is our NHS, Labour created it, Britain deserves it.

2.  Rail Fares – A Kick in the Teeth for Commuters

In an age when commuting to work is so important, because to live in London is simply not an option, year on year increases in rail fares are yet another kick in the teeth for ordinary people.   The Tory policy for the railways is  just like the discredited energy market and systemically damaged housing market, where powerful vested interests are profiteering at the expense of the man and woman in the street.

Huge Fare Increases

Passengers have seen increases of 25% in rail fares over the last five years. I know the cost of rail travel affects many people living in Bicester, and it is an important issue for my campaign.  In 2013  people travelling from Banbury or Bicester North to Marylebone faced an increase in the average cost of a standard season ticket of £200 – then in August 2014, increases in rail fares of as much as 6% were announced.

Real Wages Falling

Yet again we are seeing the failure of this Tory-led Government to deal with the cost of living crisis affecting the people of this country, despite the fact that for many, real wages continue to fall.  The typical Tory answer is to tinker around the edges.  But rail-users are literally paying the price for the Conservatives’ ideological devotion to a failed privatisation of the railways.

Fundamental Reform & Passenger Rights

What we need are fundamental reforms which only a Labour government can deliver. I believe we must reform railway provision in this country, building on the success of the publicly operated East Coast Mainline which has consistently proven to be the rail service which is the most efficient, best run and best value for the taxpayer.

Publicly Owned Companies

This means allowing publicly owned companies to run franchises in place of private sector. It means devolving more power for rail services to local communities and passenger groups. And it means the choice for voters at the next election will be either more of the same – with further increases by as much as a further 24% in rail fares by 2018, or a Labour government that will deliver a better deal for both passengers and taxpayers.

Monday 3 November 2014

I thoroughly enjoyed attending the Banbury Constituency Local Policy Conference on Saturday. It was great to hear from members and discuss the campaign ahead with them, particularly to look at local issues affecting Cherwell District Council.

At the start of the conference, I gave a short introductory speech about democracy and ‘localism’.

In November 2011, the Localism Act was written into statute.

Localism was driven by three key policy priorities of the Coalition government.

–          The ‘cuts’ agenda, driven by the debt, means the public sector will be reduced

–           A  desire  to  shrink  the  state  in  the  name  of  localism  and  decentralisation:  a “control shift”.

–           A desire and necessity to encourage greater social responsibility, “social action” or “people power” as the Prime Minister said and ‘take up the slack’.

As part of the ‘cuts’ agenda, the Department for Communities and Local Government was not ring-fenced or protected from cuts, and so between 2010/11 and 2015/16 has had its budget cut by a staggering 30%. Cuts in spending power and budgeted spend are also systematically greater in more deprived local authorities than in more affluent ones – a difference of around £100 per head in both England and Scotland.

With cuts in grant, where does that leave Council Tax the other main traditional source of funds for a local authority? As you will all be aware, councils have not only received a grant (the equivalent of a 1% rise) for freezing council tax for the past three years, but they are now also bound by legislation to hold a referendum if proposing a rise of 2% or more. Perhaps that is what David Cameron meant by “people power?!”

Some local authorities, including Tory ones, have decided to ‘fly close to the wind’ by raising Council Tax by 1.999%. One authority, Labour-run Norwich city, was accused by Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis of ‘dodging democracy’ for doing just that. Cherwell, on the other hand, has chosen to accept the grant for freezing rates despite the long-term impact it might have on the council tax base.

The response of local authorities to localism has therefore been varied. Perhaps this diversity can be viewed as a sign of its success.  The key driver for this though, has clearly been financial, as cuts in grant have pushed, and continue to push, the agenda of all areas of local government.  In the case of Cherwell, officers are forecasting, a gap of £5m in revenue funding between now and 5 years time.

A number of councils have made decisions regarding their staff and services particularly in respect of joint-working with other authorities. In Cherwell’s case, this involves partnership with Stratford and South Northants District Councils while further moves are considered with the Vale of Aylesbury DC. These effective mergers involve staff working for multiple authorities with the costs spread and have,

I feel, inevitable consequences. These enlarged District Councils, (which have only part-time councillors and so are largely officer-run), mean that as officers merge, their advice will be the same across authorities and so front-line services will merge until we have unitary authorities in all but name.

Definitely ‘A control shift’, thinking back to Cameron’s words.   But ‘people power’?  So cuts in government grant are not just damaging local services, but they are damaging local democracy piece by piece.

This is not to say that there are no other sources of revenue than the grant. We have the New Homes Bonus, which incentivises/rewards local authorities which allow for housing development in their areas. But while this has given councils like Corby and Cherwell opportunities to plug a funding gap with much needed revenue, there are two obvious flaws. The first is that in two-tier authority areas; 80% of the New Homes Bonus goes to the District Council, 20% to the County despite the vast majority of infrastructure requirements falling under the remit of the second, larger authority.

A bigger, more far devastating problem, however, is that the New Homes Bonus is further increasing the divide between the have and have-not areas. Because developers are building homes only in areas where they can make maximum profit – and in areas where people most want to live; i.e. London and the South East. Other, more deprived, districts, such as in the North are gaining nothing from the New Homes Bonus.

Then there are business rates, which are theoretically localised. However, as the unbelievably complicated system of top-up and tariff authorities suggests, increased retention of business rates is only really going to benefit areas where people want to base their businesses; currently, yes, you guessed it – in London and the South East.

Hence these deprived areas face a double whammy of diminished grants and less new income from the New Homes Bonus and Business Rates than more affluent areas.

At Cherwell then, ladies and gentlemen, councillors have been in the front-line of seeing a transformation in local government under the Coalition but not one for the better.   Instead, the changes are accelerating some of the biggest problems with our democracy at the moment.

Yet from this gloom, I now see potential light, and it has come from Scotland. The fallout from the Independence Referendum has once again seen the West Lothian question being posed. But more than that, it has perhaps, finally awoken all parties to the un-viability of the current system of English Local Government. Talk of devolving power to the regions is now a hot topic in a way that it has not been for a number of years.

Labour must grasp this nettle and embrace the case for reform of English local government. Whether in the shape of more unitary authorities and dissolving district councils, or the creation of regional assemblies. The status quo will not do, but the moment is now at hand, and I for one hope Labour will seize it.


Wednesday, 22 October

Cherwell District Local Plan

It has been a busy week for me, culminating in what felt like a marathon 3-hour Cherwell District Council Meeting.

The modified Local Plan was the main Council business. As you will have seen on this website before, Labour has consistently called for the Conservatives to get a grip and give us a Local Plan at long last. Their repeated failure to deliver this over the last decade has led to the planning free-for-all that Cherwell has suffered.  Labour voted for the Plan because it is the only way that the Council can “get back control of planning within the district” to quote Cllr. Michael Gibbard, the Lead Member for Planning,

Producing the Local plan has been a shambles throughout, and it was the same on Monday night:  We arrived with an agenda of 600 pages (largely the Plan) that Councillors had had, at the MOST, a week to read through, only to find additional amendments on the desk in front of us – and then another large document of amendments was distributed about 30 seconds before the meeting actually started!

This is damaging to democratic accountability, but more than that, repeated delay has physically damaged our District, with areas of outstanding historical or ecological significance, like Gavray Meadow in Bicester and Salt Way in Banbury, finding themselves in the front-line of the battle between a planning authority that has lost control and speculative, profit-driven developers; with the council finding itself in no position to defend these areas.  

So, I remain critical of this Conservative authority for the mess that it has got itself in on planning, and the chaos it has fostered.

Cherwell District, like the UK as a whole, needs more housing. Partly it is Cherwell’s failure to get enough housing delivered that is at the root of this problem locally – but behind this lies the deeper issue of the failed housing market. The private sector has an important role to play in development. But for too long councils like Cherwell have stood back with “hands-off” policies and left development to the private sector.   Yet these same Tory councillors then complain when the private sector fails to deliver in the way that they want it to. An example is Bankside in Banbury- earmarked for development for a decade, yet work only started in the past year.

What the Tories on Cherwell have learned, but will not admit, is that only when the Council leads will the housing needs of local people be met. We see that in the way that housing delivery in the District is beginning to grow through Council initiatives like ‘Build’ and ‘Graven Hill’, as well as the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders and re-generation of derelict buildings within the town.

This matters because we face the biggest house-building crisis in a generation. The levels of house building have dropped under this government to the lowest in peacetime since the 1920s. And we should remember that when we talk about houses we are also talking about people’s homes. One of the things that all of us may take for granted is having a place to call ‘home’.

That is why I welcome Labour’s plan to build 200,000 homes after winning the election in May 2015. No one should be homeless in 21st Century Britain, and so we need a government committed to building more homes, particularly affordable homes.

However, it is not just about numbers; it is about reform of a failed housing market and giving back powers to local authorities. Too much development land is held as a speculative investment when local people need homes. This artificial scarcity of land for housing has created distortion in the land market, limiting the rate at which new homes are built and giving an incentive to the acquisition and trading of land. Under Labour, local authorities will be able to designate new ‘Housing Growth Areas’ which will have powers to assemble land and give certainty that building will take place.

Only a Labour government will build the homes that Britain needs.


Tuesday 14 October 2014

BY-ELECTION ANALYSIS

There can be no doubt that the results of the 2 recent by elections show a Conservative Party that is in serious trouble. Its own voters deserted it in droves because, for the first time, there is a party in UKIP that is more Tory than the Tories. Cameron’s modernisation has stalled and created a great schism on the right of British politics. Hence it should be no surprise that not only did UKIP win in Clacton but that they came second in Heywood and Middleton.

A lot has been said about Labour losing votes to UKIP in the north.  It is true that Farage has been on a charm offensive in the inner-city and northern urban areas that have long been Labour’s heartland.  Some Labour voters have undeniably gone to UKIP.  However, what it is worth remembering is that Labour’s share of the vote actually increased in Heywood and Middleton.

I think a more important and alarming (but under-reported) phenomenon is the number of people who may have voted for the first time in decades, or maybe never before.  I am convinced that a large number of these first-time/ first-time-in-a-while people are voting UKIP.

The lesson for me in this is two-fold:     

1)    We cannot ignore the concerns of voters on the ground. That means talking about the issues that concern them. Local issues matter to people, but so does actually having politicians who stand for something, rather than just giving inane or bland sound bites.

2)    The second linked, but more important, lesson is that Labour must not try to reverse the UKIP trend by a veer to the right on the subject of immigration.  Immigration is an important issue for many people. I do not dispute that, as someone who regularly knocks on doors where it is the number one issue.  But talking to people on the doorstep has also taught me to listen beyond the gripes such as “there’s too many of them over here”.

There has always been fear of immigrants – the Huguenots in the 17th Century, the Poles or Irish a century ago, or migrants from the former colonies in the middle of the 20th Century. There will always be a section of society which is implacably hostile to foreigners who settle here. Labour should not pander to the prejudice of this small section of society.

The issue of immigration is almost always linked to another concern. It may be an immigrant getting a house while someone from the local area misses out, or an immigrant getting a job on low wages while a young person they know is still unemployed. The fear of immigrants feeds off inherent problems in our society. It is exasperation at the failure of mainstream politics to resolve these issues that attracts most people to UKIP,  in the same way that the Scottish Nationalists gained a lot of their support from the sheer frustration many Scots feel towards a distant Westminster establishment that seems disconnected from their own concerns and troubles.

Labour, must learn these lessons if it is to provide the real change and inspiration this country needs. I totally agree with Ed Miliband’s statement: “I will not cede the issue of immigration to those offering fear or falsehood.”

The Palestine Vote

I am absolutely delighted at the last night’s House Of Commons vote to give recognition to the state of Palestine. Labour has consistently supported the principle of recognising statehood for the Palestinians and in 2011 and 2012 urged the government to support Palestine’s bid for statehood at the United Nations. The 2002 ‘Road map for peace’ was clear that during its second phase, the UN, European Union, Russia and the United States would promote the international recognition of a Palestinian state, including possible UN membership.

This motion does not commit Labour to immediate recognition of Palestine or mandate the UK government to immediately bilaterally recognise the State of Palestine, but it does reaffirm Labour’s support for the principle of Palestinian statehood. Recognition cannot be an alternative to negotiations, and there is now a real responsibility on the part of the authorities in control of the Palestinian territories to get a grip and stop the unacceptable rocket attacks aimed into Israeli civilian populations. Recognition though can be a contribution to securing the greater support for the peace process amongst the population of Palestine.

At the same time the appalling, and frankly avoidable, number of civilian casualties during this summer of violence in Gaza puts Israel squarely at odds with the principle of proportionality in war. It’s stated objective of self-defence is also contrary to its illegal but continued settlement building in the West Bank.

But what is important is not to continue to throw blame around this part of the world rather to enable both sides to take the steps to resolution. This conflict has dragged on for far too long, prior to even my father being born. However I remain optimistic that we will see a peaceful, two-state solution to it in the not-too-distant future.


Tuesday 7 October 2014

Firstly, I would like to add my voice to those who have spoken out against the barbarous killing of Alan Henning by ISIS. This act confirms, if there was any doubt, the true malice and evil intent of this organisation, who have no place in the future settlement of the Middle East. What is needed now however are not promises of revenge but a single-minded clear determination to ensure that Mr Henning did not die in vain. That means cold, logical thinking, and a clear strategy for settling the region, as I espoused in my previous blog posting. Issues like Syria, Iran and Palestine cannot be seen in isolation. In a region in which people are so inextricably linked by culture and religion as well as economically, one crisis in one state will inextricably affect another. That is the ultimate lesson of the Arab Spring. And it is why fire-fighting crisis after crisis is no longer an option.

The past two weeks has seen UKIP, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats hosting their party conferences. Here are my thoughts on all three below.

UKIP – While it is clear that Nigel Farage is trying to portray himself differently, the reality is that UKIP is a neo-liberal/conservative party. They believe in privatisation of the health service, the dismantling of the welfare state and tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations. Less than 18 months ago Farage himself stated that he was the “the only politician keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive.” They are another Tory party and that is the message all Labour activists should hammer home.

The proof of the pudding in this, is that the overwhelming number of defections to UKIP are from the Conservative party, a fact that was only highlighted further by the defection of Mark Reckless on the eve of the Tories own conference. But what we saw alongside that was a demonstration of the fact that Cameron’s modernisation has not only stalled, but backfired completely. These are exactly the SAME OLD TORIES that they have always been. Promising tax cuts for the richest without any idea of how to pay for them, cuts in tax credits and support for the lowest paid and most vulnerable, and their obsession with Europe. Not only that, but they want to take our country backwards by bringing back fox hunting and withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights. This are not a party of modern Britain and the sooner they are got rid of, the better.

Lastly, the Liberal Democrats. This week we have seen impassioned speeches from senior Liberal Democrats trumpeting their record in government. I agree, so let’s consider that record. A bedroom tax hitting the poorest that is only there because of their support, and despite their belated attempts to distance themselves from it. A health service that has become fragmented and is struggling to cope after an unnecessary and unwanted re-organisation that has wasted £3bn which could be spent on training more doctors and nurses. A trebling of tuition fees despite personal pledges to scrap them from Nick Clegg and others at the top of the party. This is their legacy as much as the Conservatives.

Let us beat them both, together.


Saturday 27 September 2014

Well, another blog after another busy week for the Labour Party.

Middle East

Even though it happened at the end of the week I think it is only right to start with the vote on action against ISIL and the fallout from it. We should make no bones about it; ISIL is an evil organisation that brutally murders Muslim and non-Muslim alike. This organisation has no future in a settled Middle East.

The problem I have is that I am not convinced that this vote in favour of air strikes against them in Iraq helps the situation in the Middle East either. I can understand the government’s need to do something in response to threats made against its citizens who have been kidnapped or killed by this organisation. But it reeks of gesture politics especially as the planned air strikes are limited to Iraq, leaving ISIL in Syria untouched.

This I could stomach more however were there clear signs of a long-term strategy for dealing with the issues in the Middle East. Yet in the space of a year we have gone from almost bombing President Assad of Syria to bombing his enemies. Whilst this is of course simplistic, I do believe it shows a failure on behalf of governments (‘the West’) to adopt any kind of analysis of the situation in the Middle East and a plan to go with it.

I believe that until such an analysis is made of the Middle East which takes into account of how issues like Syria and Palestine are inter-related and how they will be resolved, we will spend the next decade and beyond with governments intervening militarily in various places where our interests are affected or when our citizens have their lives put at risk; as ISIL have been doing.

But a bigger problem is the hundreds of thousands of people who live in the region and are dispersed or at risk from the violence of war or death from famine and pestilence caused by the long term instability of the region.

Without a resolution here and simultaneous humanitarian efforts, I fear that our Armed Forces will be revisiting the region at regular intervals with the inevitable casualties that will follow.

Party Conference

Earlier in the week, party conference took place in Manchester, where I attended my first conference two years ago. Back then Ed delivered his first ‘One Nation’ speech. This time, it was about setting our stall out for the General Election.

There has already been a lot of comment on the conference, so I’ll pick out my highlights and why I think they are important for our campaign. Raising the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020. This is the bread and butter of Labour Party; fair pay for a fair day’s work. I personally think we need to make the ‘Living Wage’ a legal requirement. Some say this would impact on jobs but I believe that the contrary is true. It will end a reliance on welfare to top up low wages, which in turn will lessen the burden on the taxpayer while encouraging growth by giving individuals more money to spend in the economy. But while it is not as far as I would like to go, it’s a start and right where we need to be.

Andy Burnham and 91-year-old Harry Smith gave stirring speeches demonstrating just how much Labour is the party of the NHS. I did not support him in his campaign for the leadership in 2010 but since then Burnham has continued to impress me in his role as Shadow Secretary of State for Health. His analysis, about the importance of integrating health and social care, is spot on. What is lacking from it all, and I don’t blame him for this in the slightest, is a real exploration of a funding model for care in the 21st Century. I believe that people in Britain are prepared to pay for their care through progressive taxation. What they lack is faith in the system. I believe a ring-fenced national insurance model of paying for health and social care has to be the way forward in reality. We will however see what happens going forward.

Now that’s me done. I am off to watch the Merseyside derby.


Sunday 21 September 2014

What a week it has been.

Firstly I would like to say how pleased I am with the results of Thursday’s Scottish flagScottish Independence Referendum. I firmly believe that the Union has been a good thing for Scotland but more than that it has been a good thing for the rest of the United Kingdom too.

But I also think the lessons from the referendum are plain for all to see. As we saw in Scotland people were genuinely motivated by the campaign, whichever side of the debate they were on, in a way that few have been for other elections. I believe that what this proves is that the general public are not apathetic as some would like to claim. On the contrary they really can be inspired by politics but only when it offers what they see as a real opportunity for having an impact on their lives. Most people do not currently feel that about the political system or politics generally. So this is about more than closing loopholes or dealing with anomalies in our system, however justified these things are in themselves.

That is why I welcome the proposals announced by Ed Miliband for a Constitutional Convention to look at how the UK should be governed in the future. We need real change, not just tinkering around the edges to satisfy one group of voters or another and I hope that this convention offers that. So, I look forward to seeing how it pans out.

Oxford by-election

Chewe Munkonge

Chewe Munkonge

There was another vote held on Thursday night, in Oxford where Labour’s Chewe Munkonge won Quarry and Risinghurst in a local by-election. I would like to offer my congratulations to Councillor Makonge and everyone involved in the campaign for this result.

 

 

 

That's me on the left signing the petition

That’s me on the left signing the petition

On the subject of politics closer to home, I was pleased to see coverage in the Bicester Review and Bicester Advertiser for the petition launched by Bicester and District Labour Party about completing the ring road around the town of Bicester. This may seem a minor issue to some of you reading this, though the fact that this petition very quickly received 500 signatures would suggest you would be mistaken.

Behind this petition lays a more fundamental problem. Bicester is on the way to becoming Oxford’s second biggest settlement. Indeed this week we saw an announcement of yet more housing which will make the town bigger than Bracknell.

In my professional life I see the impact of this country’s housing shortage daily, and so I generally welcome housing growth, particularly where there is an increase in much-needed social housing. But a town needs more than just housing. It needs infrastructure and facilities. Without these, growth becomes unsustainable and what you find are areas that people live in but in which communities cannot thrive.

This is bad for our society, this is bad for our economy and bad for our country.
Bicester retains the infrastructure of a town that is half its current size. This is the case in terms of healthcare provision where we have a hospital that is under-resourced. It is the case with leisure facilities with those involved in athletics having to use tracks in Banbury or even Aylesbury. It is also the case with roads, as anyone who has ever ventured into the town around peak times, like I have, will tell you.

Bicester needs a strong voice from the community to ensure that this need for infrastructure is not overlooked. I believe that voice is currently lacking and so that is the campaign that I will be leading in the coming months.

If you want to talk about any aspect of my campaign for 2015, please do not hesitate to get in touch. Visit the ‘Our Councillors’ page and you can find details of how to contact me.

Until next time
Sean

 

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