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Wednesday 28th February 2007

Lottery for best school places

Amid protests from some parents, Labour run Brighton & Hove council is set to become the first to allocate secondary school places by lottery. Experts warned last night that the clamour for places will intensify under government plans to give families more freedom to choose schools. Tomorrow, around 1.2 million parents will be sent letters telling them whether they have succeeded in getting their children into a school of their choice. Research by the Telegraph suggests that around a third of all applicants in some parts of the country - especially London - will fail to get a preferred place with some schools reporting 10 pupils competing for every free desk.

Today's its education that highlights how much the Government is failing the public on Monday it was the Health Service. The government and the Conservative opposition both say the answer to poor schools is to give the parents choice to send their children to a better school. This is of course a complete fallacy some children will have to go the poorer performing school.

The only real answer is to improve the standards in schools to do this they should concentrate on three main areas :-

  • Smaller class sizes so that the teacher can invest more time in teaching those pupils that need extra help
  • Improving the teaching skills and subject expertise of the teachers
  • Ensuring that each school has a vibrant and successful headteacher

Yet the situation in the schools is completely the opposite :-

  • Government funding dictates to schools that class sizes should be around 30, instead of a more sensible 20 pupils class.
  • Government driven paper work and targets mean that the teachers get limited time improve their teaching skills and knowledge base. Instead holiday periods are spent mainly recovering to get enough energy and vitality to tackle the next school year.
  • Government pressure on headteachers to fill in paperwork and run schools in the manner they dictate mean that many senior teachers do not want promotion to headteacher and prefer to actually remaining teaching children.

These are the issues that along with full implementation of the Tomlinson report will improve greatly the standards in all schools to the point where which school children go to stops been of such importance.

Commenting on the schools lottery Liberal Democrat Shadow Education secretary Sarah Teather said :-

"When some schools are so heavily oversubscribed, a lottery is a legitimate system for managing admissions in some areas. But parents will despair that access to quality education is so unequal that a lottery is needed. Ensuring your child gets into a good school shouldn't have to be decided on luck. We must look at the root cause of why some schools are popular with parents and work to ensure that every school reaches their high standards. That means investing in smaller class sizes for young pupils, recruiting expert teachers in core subjects like maths and science and making sure all schools have a dynamic and effective headteacher."

BBC Report - Schools to give places by lottery

The Telegraph - School lottery introduced as pupils miss out

Tuesday 27th February 2007

Gordon Brown says immigrants should do Community Service

Speaking at a seminar on Britishness, Gordon Brown has today said that immigrants should carry out community work to help them integrate before being granted UK citizenship. This is in addition to last his call last week for immigrants to be required to be able to speak English.

This has got to be Gordon Brown's craziness idea to date. The notion that say a doctor or nurse who has been working here for years in the NHS should do community work in order to help integrate with society is completely mad.

What the Government should do is to help people become British citizens and help them integrate with society here by providing proper lessons:-

  • firstly for the teaching of English
  • secondly for the teaching about the Government, banking systems and the many clubs and societies we have
  • and finally about the history of this country.

Yet Gordon thinks it is good idea to class applicants for citizenship along side those guilty of criminal offences and punish them with community service. As a country we should be proud that of all the countries in the world people should choose to come and be a citizen of this great nation we should not punish them for that high ideal.

Commenting on Gordon Brown's latest speech on Britishness Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ming Campbell said :-

"This is just a gimmick, and would be impossible to enforce. We need proper provision for teaching English, not more headline chasing."

BBC Report - Migrants should volunteer - Brown

Sir Ming Campbell - Immigrants idea an unenforceable gimmick

Monday 26th February 2007

Government under attack over 'Perverse Delays' in NHS

The Government is facing renewed criticism of its handling of the NHS, after a Channel Four documentary revealed that almost half of NHS hospitals across England are deliberately delaying operations to save money.

This just highlights how much the Government have lost sight of the aims of our National Health Service it is to treat people when they are ill. When on occasions there are not the nurses, doctors and facilities available then it is understandable that sometimes non emergency operations are delayed a short while. However at present it appears operations are been delayed just over a month until the Government tops up the money pot.

They are doing this because of a Government edict that they must balance their books at the end of the year. This is completely wrong the hospitals should if they have the capacity treat people when required. If the amount of money the Government has allocated to provide Heath services proves in one year not be enough then in the following year more either more money or efficient savings will be required. It reality probably both will be needed. What the Government should not do is simply stop providing a Health service until the new financial year starts, but that is precisely what is happening with the current systematic delays.

The Government should sort out the financial systems of the NHS without inflicting pain and suffering on the people.

Commenting on this documentary report Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb said:

"The results of this survey stand in stark contrast to the Prime Minister's recent spin that waiting times are constantly tumbling. The reality is that the impact of deficits and the politically imposed deadline for breaking even, is resulting in health trusts making these perverse decisions. Patricia Hewitt's desire to save her own job by making the NHS break even this year is resulting in other people losing theirs, and cuts in services across the country."

Guardian report - NHS 'delaying surgery to save cash'

Norman Lamb MP - Perverse delays in NHS operations provide contrast to Blair's spin

Friday 23rd February 2007

Government climbdown over climate change bill

It emerged last night that the government's long-awaited bill on climate change had been downgraded by the government. The measure is to be published next month as a draft bill for consultation with the public and possibly by a joint committee of both Houses rather than as a fully fledged piece of legislation.

Climate Change is the most serious threat face this country today yet still the Government do not make tackling this problem the number one priority that it should be. They should be :-

  • Changing power generation from fossil fuel and nuclear fuel base to a renewable and sustainable generation forms i.e. wind, solar, wave, tidal, bio-mass, geothermal etc
  • Changing the power generation from a centralised system to a distributed one with greater emphasis on local power generation like turbines in river mills, solar-thermal panels on houses, ground source heat pumps and other microgeneration systems.
  • Changing the fuels that power cars with legislation to force garages to have supplies of ethanol and bio-diesel with large tax breaks on cars that are powered with non-fossil fuel engines.

These are just three things that the Government could do to both tackle Climate Change and give Britain a world lead the technologies of the future. Instead they delay a bill on tackling this issue by a year this is truly a pathetic performance and simply not worthy of a Government this great country.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary, Chris Huhne slammed the downgrading the Climate Change Bill and said:

"This is not just a climbdown but a total shambles. The Climate Change Bill will now be presented as merely a draft bill going for pre-legislative scrutiny before a joint committee. This means that the Climate Change Bill will be postponed to next year at the earliest, and that the Marine Bill will be even further down the track. This is another example of Defra's incapacity to push projects through to completion on time, and also augurs ill for David Miliband's leadership credentials."

The Times report - Miliband mocked by his critics as climate Bill is downgraded

Chris Huhne MP - Huhne slams Government climbdown over climate change bill

Thursday 22nd February 2007

Hospital Superbugs still on the rise

Statistics released today from the Office for National Statistics showing deaths involving hospital superbugs MRSA and Clostridium difficile are still on the rise.

This problem is not tackled with targets but a change in policy. Keeping a ward clean and the air fresh was the principle upon which Florence Nightingale founded modern nursing practice back in the 19th century. Even though it is over 150 years since Florence Nightingale first went to the Scutari Hospital during the Crimean War in November 1854 these principles are still the correct ones.

The hospital cleaning staff are part of the health care team they are not some group which can be hired in from outside and contracting out this service should be stopped. The clean staff for a ward should be fully part of the ward health team, work patterns and tasks should be directly determined by the ward manager (i.e. the ward sister). As their job is an important part of the health care they need time to do it. This means not running the wards with 90% plus occupancy but leave time for the bed and area around the bed to be completely cleaned. It also means leaving time in the schedule for daily complete ward cleaning.

The other area that needs to be tackled is the design of hospitals. The how to keep the area clean must be better thought about. It is much easier to keep nooks and crannies clean if fewer exist in the first place. Also separate toilet and washing areas for the three groups in the hospital i.e. staff, patients and public would help to reduce cross-condemnation rates.

All this may mean that more cleaners are required and that the costs may increase but the alternative is dead patients.

Commenting on the superbugs statistics Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb said:

"The government's drive to cut waiting times at all costs conflicts with what should be an absolute priority of cutting infection rates. An urgent investigation into the connection between high levels of antibiotic use and rates of hospital acquired infections is needed as well as a closer look at emerging technologies from other countries with low levels of MRSA."

BBC report - Hospital bug deaths on the rise

Norman Lamb MP - Government strategy on superbugs failing

Wednesday 21st February 2007

Government Wrong to Dismiss Pensions Report

Four people who had lost all or part of their pensions have won a High Court case against the Government. Judge Mr Justice Bean ruled that the government was wrong to reject last year's report by Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, into collapsed pension schemes. The report claimed that the government had misled large numbers of pensioners through maladministration and poor information published in its leaflets. The decision intensifies pressure on the government to compensate an estimated 85, 000 people for their loss.

This is definitely a case of three strikes and you are out, after the views of Parliamentary Ombudsman, European Court and select committee have been backed by a fourth in the form of the High Court, have all said the Government was in the wrong. The government must now pay up and give fair compensation to all pensioners affected in this way.

Locally this affects the pensioners at APW in Chandlers Ford and commenting on the judgement, local Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne said:

"This is great news for pensioners at APW in Chandlers Ford because it is a step to improved compensation for their massive losses. Those under 50 years old have lost more than 80 per cent of their pension entitlement even though the Government encouraged saving in the scheme, and promised to regulate it so that it would pay out safely. Only the over 50s are covered by the Government's Financial Assistance Scheme, which cuts losses to 20 per cent, still a very substantial amount"

This problem occurs when a company shuts down the pension fund is seen has a company asset. This is wrong the pension fund belongs to the pensioners and should not be shutdown just because the company folds. Also it should be possible for employees to choose which company pension fund they join. It should be possible for the employee to have a different company pension fund to the employer's company and the employer should have to pay their employer contributions to the pension fund chosen by the employee. This would :-

  • enable better movement of labour between employers - giving greater flexible to business.
  • enable small employers to offer jobs with good pension benefits because they could just team up with a larger companies pension fund.
  • increase the value of an individuals pension because they would not lose money transferring pension between funds because the need to do that would be removed.

Commenting on the High Court case win against the Government, Liberal Democrat Work and Pensions Secretary, David Laws said:

"This is a fantastic 'David versus Goliath' victory for the pensioners who have fought for justice. Ministers must now set out how fair compensation will be paid to those who lost their pensions after government maladministration. If the government refuses to act after this decision we will table an amendment to the Pensions Bill forcing them to act."

BBC report - High Court victory for pensioners

David Laws MP - Government must act after pensioner court victory

Tuesday 20th February 2007

Housing Report backs mixed communities and end to Secure Tenancies

A government report on the future of social housing, released today by John Hills of the London School of Economics, has recommended creating more mixed communities in order to tackle inner-city deprivation. This would involve moving some council homes out of the poorest neighbourhoods, and even rebuilding the worst estates. Hills also suggests council tenants could be forced to prove they still need their homes in regular means-tested reviews. He concedes that the possible loss of a secure tenancy would be "controversial", but adds that such a move could be needed in order to "make better use of very scarce and pressured resources".

The breaking up of large social housing areas and building a more diverse mix in estates with tenants with varying incomes and backgrounds is a good idea to create and sustain real communities.

However the second idea to bring the world of means testing to housing is complete and utter nonsense, to suggest that on a regular basis a family should have to battle the landlord keep a home in ridiculous. A house is not just a somewhere to live which keeps the rain off it is a home with many family memories associated with it. To force people to move just because having this home has meant their life has stabilised and their situation improved is completely the wrong way to go.

The basic problem is outlined in the reason why such a controversial move a means-tested reviews was even considered, it was to "make better use of very scarce and pressured resources". Social housing is a scarce resource demand far exceeds supply, that can only be tackled by the building of more houses for social rent.

The bottom line is that having fewer homes available at any time since the second world war at time with over 1½ million families needed a home is a scandal and government should really tackle this problem. For advice they would do better to turn to the Liberal Democrats - Affordable Homes policies than the London School of Economics.

Commenting the report Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesperson, Dan Rogerson said:

"It is good to see Professor Hill backing a social mix on estates. Our housing estates need a mix of backgrounds and incomes if we're to build and preserve genuine communities. This report has practical ideas on what needs to be done in the longer term to improve social housing, but the big issue remains. The government has taken 500,000 homes out of the social housing sector, and now, surprise, surprise, there are an extra 500,000 families on council waiting lists. Changing security of tenure is simply rearranging the deckchairs whilst the ship sinks. This government must build more social homes now."

BBC report - Housing plan calls for better mix

The Guardian - Report backs end to secure council tenancies

Dan Rogerson MP - Evicting tenants won't solve housing crisis

Liberal Democrats - Affordable Homes

Monday 19th February 2007

No quick fixes for a disenfranchised generation and guns

Following the recent spate of teenage shootings in London and Manchester, Tony Blair has said he wants to lower the age at which young people can receive long prison sentences for possessing a gun from 21 to 17. Liberal Democrat South London MP Simon Hughes met with Home Secretary John Reid on Friday to discuss the shootings. He described the meeting as "constructive and positive", saying that :

"there is unity that South London is no ghetto and these issues can blight any community in Britain, which is why they matter to us all."

Simon Hughes also pointed out that the 2003 Criminal Justice Act made it possible for anybody in England and Wales guilty of firearms offences and over 18 on the date of sentence to have a five-year minimum period of imprisonment. So Tony Blair plan to tackle this problem is even more hot air than normal.

The real answer is that there are no quick fixes. To tackle the any law and order issues the only real way to do this is through have police in the areas where the problem exists. This means Police on the streets and to effective cover the area that means more Police. Sadly this is something that the this government argue against at the last election and something which they continue to oppose.

To tackle the problem of disengaged young people turning to a gangland style way of life, we need :-

  • More effective schooling that engages better with those at the lower end of academic range. These kids need the opportunity to be taught a trade whilst at school without the humiliation of obviously being on a separate course for kids which can make the highest academic levels. This was proposed by the Tomlinson report but rejected Government.
  • Better more engaged youth and social services to help those many parents who can't cope with the complex family and financial situation they find themselves in. The youth and social services do a good job but they are far too stretched to provide thing more than a sticking plaster service.
  • Better housing - places which are not just practical but also pleasant places to live, as well as places that are mixed in terms of the types of property in the area and with low running costs. The only way to achieve this in many of the quickly built estates of the 1960's and 1970's is to knock them down and start again with high quality design.

To tackle disengaged people the only way is to engage them more them society and make them believe they can a better life that way than the way they have chosen so far. This is only achievable with long term plans quick fixes simply don't work.

Commenting on Tony Blair's rush for legalisation Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ming Campbell said :-

"The Prime Minister can't legislate his way out of the problems of gun crime and gang culture. Rather than new laws we need more police and more effective policing. All young people should feel that they have a stake in society. Effective schooling, more engaged youth services and better community support are also needed to help disadvantaged young people escape the cycle of deprivation and gang culture. There are no quick fixes."

This controversy continues to rage following the shooting of three teenagers in separate incidents across South London. Armed police are currently patrolling the Peckham area in large numbers, in an attempt to tackle the area's 'gang and gun' culture. Tory leader David Cameron has called for more powers to "compel" fathers to look after their children and live up to their responsibilities. He told the BBC he backed tax breaks to help families stay together and promoting a culture of responsibility and respecting authority.

This is where David Cameron really shows his Old Etonian up bringing. Just as Tony Blair sees the problem as one requiring more laws David Cameron appears to see the problem as a simple one with a simple solution. It would of course be good if every child has a good father. Yet it is not possible to ensure that and it has never been possible to ensure that. You can not compel fathers to be good fathers.

You can give support to the family. You can help parents with better parenting classes. You can improve the social and youth service support. However it is not possible to help parents unless they want it.

The emphasis should be on helping the children improve their self-esteem and sense of ambition, so that they don't feel the need to achieve these things through the membership of street gang.

Commenting on the three shootings Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ming Campbell said :-

"There are no quick fixes to the problems of relationship breakdown and a disenfranchised generation. Nurturing families and building communities takes years. We need a strong police response for now, but in the long term it is only by encouraging respect for others that we can end the cycle of violence."

BBC report - Blair wants gun crime age reduced

BBC report - Fathers 'must fight gang culture'

BBC report - Why Tomlinson was turned down

Sir Ming Campbell MP - No quick fixes on gun crime

Sir Ming Campbell MP - No quick fixes for a disenfranchised generation

Friday 16th February 2007

Global politicians sign up to new Climate Change Pact

Leading international politicians have reached a new agreement on tackling climate change, at a Washington summit organised by Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (Globe). Delegates agreed that developing countries will have to face targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions as well as rich countries. The informal meeting also agreed that a global market should be formed to cap and trade carbon dioxide emissions.

The agreement is none binding on any of the countries. However its importance is still high because for the first time this agreement has the agreement of senior figures from both the main parties in the United States. Republican and Presidential candidate John McCain said :-

"I am convinced that we have reached the tipping point and that the Congress of the United States will act"

John McCain and Democratic former US Vice President candidate senator Joe Lieberman are to jointly sponsor US Congress law on cutting emissions within the next 18 months. It is possible for President Bush to veto this, let's hope that either the congress majority is so great he is prevented from acting against it or that this time President Bush actually sees sense.

There is a lot of talk about the growth of China and India but it is still the United States which emits by far the highest levels of carbon dioxide. Therefore it is important that they start to cut their emission levels.

Commenting on this new climate change agreement Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

"The Globe meeting is encouraging because it suggests that the US mid-term elections have given a majority in both houses of Congress for federal limits on carbon emissions. If this is the case, it will be hard for President Bush to veto legislation. The US can now join the European Union in pushing the world community towards an early replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out in 2012."

BBC Report - Politicians sign new climate pact

Chris Huhne MP - Bush must not block new climate change agreement

Thursday 15th February 2007

Government forced to rethink Nuclear Power Programme

Greenpeace has won its High Court bid to make the government rethink its programme to build a new generation of nuclear power stations. A judge ruled that the consultation process before making the decision last year had been "seriously flawed" and "procedurally unfair". The DTI argued that the energy review was only part of an ongoing process, but the judge said the document had appeared to be simply an "issues paper".

The government thinking is that less nuclear means more fossil fuel use, but this is fossilised thinking. It is not a straight choice between fossil fuel and nuclear use. The only realistic game in town is far great use of renewable energy.

The real choice the government has a between nuclear power which has :-

  • radioactive waste,
  • high running and full-life cycle costs
  • and takes years to build

or renewable power sources which have:-

  • no waste,
  • low running costs and lower full-life cycle costs,
  • and can be built up quickly

It appears like a no-brainer for most people who have seriously looked at the problem - renewables win hands down. This was the result the serious report done two years ago by government scientists. However Tony Blair didn't like the answer so he asked for another dodgy dossier to be drawn up with a different answer. Yesterday the High Court ruled that this report was "seriously flawed" and "procedurally unfair" so the government should drop its expensive nuclear plans and fully back at increase in renewable energy use.

Commenting on Greenpeace's High Court success against Government's policy, Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

"This great result means the government will have to consult properly about the full implications of a new generation of nuclear reactors. This is also a rebuke of the prime minister's style of 'sofa government'. You cannot perform a U-turn on nuclear power, as Tony Blair did between the last two government statements on energy policy, without a proper debate and a full discussion of the options."

BBC report - Nuclear review 'was misleading'

BBC report - UK 'lagging' on renewable energy

Liberal Democrat Campaign - Say no to Nuclear Power

Chris Huhne MP - Greenpeace nuclear victory welcome

David Goodall's Views: Power Generation

Wednesday 14th February 2007

United Nations says Britain is failing children

The UK has been accused of failing its children, as it comes bottom of a UNICEF league table for child well-being across 21 industrialised countries. The report looked at 40 indicators including poverty, peer and family relationships, and health. One of the report's authors told the BBC that under-investment and a "dog eat dog" attitude in society were to blame for Britain's poor performance.

This is indeed a damming report and one that should really shame the government. More should do more to :-

  • Reduce financial pressure on families - assistance for parents and not just child minders to look after children and measures to tackle the appalling rise in house price inflation. So that as a society we all help the parents of today bring up the generation of tomorrow.
  • Increase the educational ability of all children - too much government pressure so on schools to turn out pupils ready for university, there should be equal emphasis on turning non-university bound children ready for the world of work and in turning out all pupils ready for life.
  • To ask children what their problem are - too often politicians talk down and tell kids what their problems are more needs to be done to help children with what they say their problems are. This is something that the Prince's Trust does with their "xl clubs in schools" programme.

Too often Governments introduce new schemes, laws and taxes without thinking about the effect on the family, this way of think has to change, building a health society is not all about healthy bank balances it is also about building healthy relationships between people and within families. So particularly on Valentines day this report is something the Government has to take seriously and act on.

Commenting the UNICEF report Liberal Democrat Children and Family Spokesperson, Annette Brooke said:

"It is shocking that we are doing so badly at bringing up our children. We are guilty of placing too much pressure on our children by forcing them to start formal education so early and then subjecting them to constant tests and exams. Every child should be entitled to live in a stable, loving family environment. Effective measures are needed to address the early signs of family breakdown, which puts the interests of the child first."

BBC report - UK is accused of failing children

Prince's Trust - xl clubs in schools

Annette Brooke MP - Government record on children shameful

Tuesday 13th February 2007

More Social Homes have to be built

Communities' secretary Ruth Kelly has said council tenants should receive more help to get on the housing ladder. She suggests offering a new "right to own" to encourage tenants to buy as little as a 10% stake in their homes, buying more throughout their lives.

With 1½ million families waiting at present on the council housing lists across the country the government need to action to reduce this problem. Their measures for the last ten years have only fiddled with the problem and while they have fiddled about 500,000 more families have been added to the numbers.

Even the chief executive Shelter Adam Samson thought this was the wrong approach, when he said:

"I think it's important that everybody, particularly poor people, do get some opportunity to build up some asset base. But if this is a measure to address housing then I think it is at best relatively irrelevant to the housing crisis and could well exacerbate it because the way the right-to-buy has operated has been to severely reduce the number of homes available for let in the social sector."

The government should ensure more social housing can be built by :-

  • Looking at freeing up government owned land for building
  • Changing the powers local authorities have to increase the percentage houses in a development which should be allocated to social housing
  • Making available to councils the low-interest loan facilities so that more social housing can be built

There simply needs to be more accommodation built and more should be built. However new houses that are built should avoid the mistakes of the past, they should :-

  • Be built as part of a mixed housing development - to avoid the large sink estates we now have
  • Be built as high quality buildings - to avoid to large numbers of sub-standard dwellings to the future and to decrease the maintenance costs.
  • Be built to good environmental standards - to avoid high running costs in terms of both power and water

Commenting ahead of Ruth Kelly's new social housing proposals Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesperson, Dan Rogerson said:

"Yet again the Government and those living on planet Whitehall have missed the point. The real crisis in social housing is the half a million extra households on council waiting lists since Labour came to power. None of the policies announced today will deal with that. In fact they'll make the problem worse unless more social homes are built."

BBC reports - Minister calls for housing help

Dan Rogerson MP - Government missing point on social housing

Monday 12th February 2007

Failing CSA paid £25 million in bonuses

Following questions by Liberal Democrat David Laws the government has revelled that Staff at the failed Child Support Agency were paid 25 million pounds in bonuses over five years. In 2006, when the government announced the CSA would be replaced, £4m was paid out in bonuses. The CSA is being abolished after failing to collect 3.5 billon pounds in child maintenance payments.

I can fully understand that hard working staff in a government department can earn bonuses, but surely the bigger pictures needs to be addressed here. If the government has 25 million pounds to spend it should go the children who are suffering as a result of the mess that the CSA is in and not to the staff of the CSA. In industry ordinary members of staff too get bonuses too but only if the company is performing well and making a profit.

There are two problems with the current CSA :-

  • The collection of the sums agreed to be paid by the absent parent.
  • The agreeing the amount of the absent parent pays.

The best government agency from collecting money is the Inland Revenue and they should have this role and deduct the money from the absent parents wage packet.

The formulae used to calculate amount to pay should be a fair it should take account of the absent parents possible new family circumstances and it must leave the absent parent enough to live reasonability on. There also must be rights for the absent parent to visit and access to their children, assuming of course there are not child abuse issues.

The government must act swiftly to replace the CSA and stop rewarding poor departmental performance.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, David Laws said:

"It is frankly ridiculous that while the CSA fails to collect over £3.5 billion of unpaid maintenance, it sees fit to reward its employees with £25m worth of bonuses. The CSA is in need of fundamental reform, but all we see from the government is delay after delay."

BBC report - Failing CSA paid £25m in bonuses

David Laws MP - CSA bonuses slap in the face for lone parents

Friday 9th February 2007

UK reaches wind turbine 'milestone'

The UK is about to become only the seventh nation in the world to have more than two gigawatts (GW) of operational wind power capacity. Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling described it as a "significant landmark" for the UK wind industry.

This is a significant milestone but it also underlines how slow the Government are in increasing use of this important UK resource. The UK has 40% of Europe's wind resource yet we are behind Germany, Spain Italy and even little old Denmark in the electricity generation from wind power. In fact are great new 2 gigawatt capacity is only 10% of the amount generated by Germany. In Britain we have the greatest natural wind resource in the whole of Europe and should be well ahead of all other European nations.

This under performance in renewable energy is not limited to wind power, as a nation we also have a large tidal and wave power resource which we are not using. This renewable energy resource is available now using today's technology and can be brought online far quicker than any nuclear power station. It is both safer and cheaper than nuclear power and the Governments targets for its up take are far too timid. They should be driving a major expansion to make renewable power generation the largest in the energy generation sector.

Commenting on this rapid increase in wind turbines Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

"The doubling of our electricity generation from wind in a little more than a year shows what renewables can do, and gives the lie to the need for a new generation of nuclear power stations. However the government is still far short of doing what is necessary to encourage tidal and wave power."

BBC report - UK wind power reaches milestone

Chris Huhne MP - Wind milestone highlights nuclear lie

Thursday 8th February 2007

Labour and Tory MPs reject Liberal Democrat plan to cut crime in high crime UK

Last night a Liberal Democrat plan to cut crime was voted down by 293 votes to 57 in the House of Commons. Labour MPs voted against, and Conservative MPs abstained on, a Liberal Democrat motion proposing a new direction in government policy to deal with the crisis in the criminal justice system. The motion proposed reforming prisons to make education and training compulsory, and triple the number of prisoners doing paid work, with contributions from earnings going towards a victim compensation fund. More use of restorative justice, an expansion of secure mental health facilities and providing more police officers (paid for with the money saved by scrapping ID card) were also proposed.

The Liberal Democrat plans are a sensible and reasonable direction to take the criminal justice system in this country. They are also a radically departure from the direction this Labour led Government and past Conservative led governments took. It is exactly what is required and shows that the only way to really tackle crime in country is to vote Liberal Democrat because the other two parties are simply not willing to change their way and the current failing system.

Commenting the debate Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Clegg said:

"Our proposals to cut crime are principled and practical: making prison work to cut repeat crime; giving victims fair compensation; using money for more police, not ID cards; honesty and transparency in sentencing. It is extraordinary that after ten years of tough talk and institutional incompetence the Labour government cannot even bring itself to vote for these sensible measures. The Conservatives are in a complete spin on crime and don't know what they think - no wonder all they could do is abstain is when asked to make a decision."

The failure of the Labour and Conservative parties to back Liberal Democrat plans to improve the criminal justice is particularly bad following the European Crime and Safety Survey published on Monday. This survey suggested that the UK is a "high crime country" with a very high risk of common crime. Figures show that the UK had the highest levels of assaults without force and of burglary. The survey found also found a high level of hate crimes, and a high risk of theft from cars and personal theft.

Commenting the security survey Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Clegg said:

"These figures confirm what an increasing number of people already know. We need a radically different approach to crime if we are to emulate some of the best practice elsewhere in Europe. The government should ask itself why the prisons are at bursting point and yet the level of several crimes is still higher than elsewhere in the EU. The present strategy must be rethought urgently."

BBC report - UK a high crime country - survey

Nick Clegg MP - Radically different approach to crime needed

House of Commons - Government's Crime Record (Lib Dem Opposition Day)

Wednesday 7th February 2007

Court Case over lost Pensions

Today the High Court in London is hearing a judicial review on behalf of four people who lost all or part of their pensions when their pension schemes went bust. The review challenges the government's rejection of a report by the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

What crime have these people committed that the government should seek to punish them to the tune of thousand of pounds per year for the rest of their natural lives? Well they worked hard all their working lives, saved for a pension as the government advised and then lost that pension when the company went broke. In the Labour government run Britain that is apparently a punishable offence. Yet both the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the European court have ruled that the only wrong doers here are the Government for not compensating the company pensioners for their loss.

The government should both pay up the compensation and change the law to stop this problem occurring in the future. The real problem is that the pension scheme is seen has part of the company assets and is not it's own legal entity so if a company goes bust and the pension fund will always go with it. The two should be separate and the company should not be allow to take pension holidays when they stop paying into the pension fund.

Commenting on the judicial review on pension compensation, Liberal Democrat Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, David Laws MP said:

"The Government has acted disgracefully in casting aside not only the Ombudsman's report, but also the European Court of Justice's judgement. The Government should accept the principle of 'three strikes and you're out' and pay the fair compensation which people are entitled to."

BBC report - Why we are going to the High Court

David Laws MP - Government must not bully those seeking pension justice

Tuesday 6th February 2007

Maternity Care - Government Advisor proposes Regional Super Centres

Some English hospitals should be stripped of doctor-led maternity care and specialist children's services, a government advisor says. The children and maternity tsar is calling for regional super-centres instead.

If there is one service that should be based as locally as possible Maternity Services is it. The idea that a woman should have to travel 10's of miles whilst in labour is completely absurd. Every district hospital should have the staff and equipment to cope with normal maternity care.

It is of cause necessary to have very specialised care for premature babies on a larger scale than a district centre, even so district hospitals should still be able to cope in an emergency birth situation. Transfer to the specialist centre could take place after the mother and baby's situation has stabilised. Even so the specialist centre should still be within easy travelling distance for the parents to visit. As a father of twins who spent 2 weeks in a specialist centre I know how important that is.

Commenting on calls for regional super-centres for maternity services, Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson, Sandra Gidley MP said:

"This model pays scant regard to choice in provision, which should be available to all women. The government's drive towards regionalised care is back to front and driven by financial panic. They are shutting local services and moving care away from hospitals in a desperate bid to save money. Maternity care should be available to mothers in the setting which will benefit them the most."

BBC report - Big shake-up for maternity care

Sandra Gidley MP - More central control will not improve maternity care

Monday 5th February 2007

Prison violence soars under Labour

Today research released by the Liberal Democrats show that prison violence has risen by 600% under Labour. Parliamentary answers show that there were 2,342 violent incidents in prison in 1996; by 2005 this had risen to 13,771, the equivalent of nearly two an hour. During the same period the prison population had risen by a third. Sir Ming Campbell will be meeting Anne Owers, Chief Inspector of Prisons, on Tuesday to discuss the link between escalating prison violence and prison overcrowding, and to discuss the Lib Dem plan to tackle prison overcrowding.

If a person ends up in prison their life as reached rock bottom and the prison system should then help each person prepare for the day they re-enter society having served their punishment in prison. Yet the prison system is overcrowded, with large numbers of prisoners held in old Victorian prisons, which are unsuitable to give the prisoners the education and life skills they need to live outside the prison a crime free life.

Reform of the prison system and the accommodation is required and has been required for years yet this government like pass governments refuses to really tackle the issue. Until it does the numbers of people which once released from prison reoffend will continue to out number those who do not reoffend. The prison system should result in a decrease in the numbers of victims of crime, but currently this is not the case.

Commenting on these figures Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ming Campbell said:

"Ten years of Labour mismanagement of the prison and criminal justice system have left our prisons in crisis and the public at risk. If you keep putting people on an already crowded ship eventually the ship will start to sink. Prisons are so full they have become ineffective and increasingly dangerous. We need effective solutions. Liberal Democrat proposals will reduce the prison population, cut reoffending and ensure greater safety for the British people."

Sir Ming Campbell - Prison violence has exploded due to Labour mismanagement

Friday 2nd February 2007

Climate Change Down to Human Influence

Today a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says Global climate change is "very likely" to have a human cause. The report said temperatures were probably going to increase by 1.8-4C (3.2-7.2F) by the end of the century. It also projected that sea levels were most likely to rise by 28-43cm, and global warming was likely to influence the intensity of tropical storms.

This report is a welcome addition to the growing body of evidence that shows action needs to be taken on climate change. The headline rise in sea levels appears more conservative than other prediction however this rise excludes future rapid dynamical changes in ice flow and uncertainties caused by the climate-carbon cycle feedback because a basis in published literature is lacking.

In layman's terms they exclude sudden melting of ice of the type already observed in Antarctica and they exclude the fact they as the earth warms the melting of the ice-sheets will increase. They do this because as scientists they have not studied the subject enough to calculate the precise effect on sea levels.

Fortunately as a chartered engineer I am more practical and I can say the rise in sea-level will be measured in metres and not centimetres. The small amount of published literature indicates this to be the case and this report itself says such temperature increase in the past on Earth have also lead to large sea level rises.

The report does also says :-

  • Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years.
  • The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture.
  • Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level.
  • At continental, regional, and ocean basin scales, numerous long-term changes in climate have been observed. These include changes in Arctic temperatures and ice, widespread changes in precipitation amounts, ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts, heavy precipitation, heat waves and the intensity of tropical cyclones.
  • Paleoclimate information supports the interpretation that the warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1300 years. The last time the Polar Regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125,000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to 4 to 6 metres of sea level rise.

The problem we have in the UK is that the Government reaction to this is almost non-existent; they are caught like a rabbit in the headlights. They are not stepping up and having marked increase in renewable energy generation, they are not using taxation as a lever to change people carbon use. They are just saying this is a problem.

Commenting on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) report, Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

"This report is a cautious and consensual statement of the overwhelming scientific evidence that we have to act quickly. Man-made climate change poses an increasing risk to people and businesses across the globe. There will be disastrous consequences if we don't act now. The economic evidence, following the Stern Review, is clear - tackling this challenge is both achievable and affordable. Rather than tinkering around the edges, Gordon Brown must now make a serious effort to use the tax system to change peoples' behaviour. We need greener and fairer taxes, but not higher taxes overall."

BBC Report - Humans blamed for climate change

Chris Huhne MP - We must act quickly to halt climate change

David Goodall's Views: Power Generation

Thursday 1st February 2007

NHS Dentists are refusing patients care

Today the British Dental Association has said that Dentists are turning away patients because local health chiefs are running out of funds. A new dental contract started last year, but figures suggest the government overestimated how much money would be taken in patient fees and this has led to NHS trusts cutting their budgets.

Yet again another NHS story illustrates why a central controlled and managed NHS system simply does not work. The one size contract fits all simply will work no matter how that contract is made. This one illustrates that perfectly with some areas reporting no problem whilst at the same time other areas having to stop dentistry work.

The other problem with central contracts like this is that when they go wrong they go spectacularly wrong and affect everyone in the country and also they leave no room for experimentation. The result is a contract dictated from above which local health managers have no control over.

The response from the Department of Health appears to be to tell the local health managers to get a grip of the situation. This is clearly the daftness advice, how can they get a grip when they have no control of the contract they are working to, other than to stop paying bills because the money has run out. This money is of course also determined and paid by the Department of Health.

The only way to get spending on control is to give the local authorities control of local NHS services like dentistry. They can then work with the local health service providers to determine the best possible service for that area. This solution of course also relies on the reform of local government funding so that local government as control of that, otherwise we are back to square one with central government still controlling local health matters via the purse strings.

Commenting these reports Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Sandra Gidley said:

"This is yet another botched NHS contract by a Government hell-bent on driving through reforms with little understanding of the impact on patients and professionals. It is simply unacceptable that patients seeking NHS dentistry are being encouraged to go private. A mere 10 months after the new contract was introduced, we are witnessing a major crisis in NHS dentistry."

BBC Report - Dentists 'turning away patients'

Sandra Gidley MP - Dental contract another botched NHS reform

David Goodall's Views: Health - NHS

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