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Wednesday 31st January 2007

Repossessions rise again in 2006

Sadly today the predictions of months back of the rising level of debt in the country have show their first signs of coming back to hit us as the number of properties repossessed has continued to rise sharply, up 9% in the second half of 2006.

This means that the total number of repossessions in 2006 was up 65% to 17,000 homes from 2005's total of 10,310 homes and 2004 total of 6,030 homes. This is below the peak of the under the last Conservative Government of over 75,000 homes in 1991 however the fast upward trend combined with the recent rises in interest rates is a worrying trend.

The problem is that the Government has failed to do anything to tackle house price inflation. People will always be desperate to fulfil a basic human need namely to have a roof over their head. To fulfil this need they will take on large levels of debt in the hope that in the future their income will increase and that they can both afford to live and have a home. For 17,000 families this dream came crashing down as they lost their home.

Until the government take action to reduce house price inflation the number of families losing their home will only grow. If they want advice on what to do then they need look no further than my November 2006 blog entries.

Commenting on today's new figures Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable said:

"These are very worrying figures but they still understate the severity of the problem. Roughly four times as many repossession orders are being started in the courts, reflecting the growing level of arrears. It's high time for the Chancellor to sit down with the mortgage lenders to discuss an effective code of conduct to prevent repossessions spiralling out of control as they did under the Tories."

BBC Report - Repossessions rise again in 2006

The Council of Mortgage Lenders - statistics

Vince Cable MP - Mortgage repossessions understate severity of problem

David's Blog 16/11/2006 - Poor Consumers Pay Credit Premium

David's Blog 03/11/2006 - Personal Bankruptcies Soar Due to Higher Interest Rates and Irresponsible Lending

David's Blog 01/11/2006 - Irresponsible lending fuels housing market and is bad for first buyers

Tuesday 30th January 2007

Government failing on flood defences

Today Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ming Campbell has visited the Thames Barrier in London to highlight another aspect of climate change the danger of flooding. He also highlighted that it is possible to show the danger of climate change without travelling to Norway as another leader of an opposition party has done.

And the figures are quite startling they show that :-

  • The Thames barrier was raised three times last week after the highest ever tidal rise of four metres
  • There has been a sharp increase in recent years: between 1986 and 1996 the Thames Barrier was raised 27 times and between 1996 and 2006 it was raised 66 times
  • Forecasts from Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show that under current climate change predictions, the barrier will need to be raised up to 325 times a year by 2100
  • Flood risk management budgets this year (2006-7) have been cut from previous plans by £14.9 million half way through the financial year.

The danger of flooding is a real and present one which is on the increase now and will increase further in the future. It is essential that we prepare for the future and look closely at the areas of the country that are vulnerable to rising sea levels and start to make plans on how to cope in that event.

However the Government sees the environmental budget as some thing which is less important than other areas of spending like the war in Iraq. So they have actually cut the flood defence budget by £15 million. This has got to be one of the most short term think plans the government has come up with in its term in office so far.

Commenting on his visit and the Governments flood defence policy Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ming Campbell said :-

"Flood defences like the Thames Barrier are a key part of our adaptation to the dangerous new world of climate change, yet the Government has cut this year's flood defence budget by £15 million compared with previous plans due to overruns elsewhere in Defra's budget. If the Government is serious about tackling climate change, and dealing with its effects, cutting the budgets essential to that quest is not a good idea."

Sir Ming Campbell MP - Government failing on flood defences - Campbell

Monday 29th January 2007

Reid expects more problems at the Home Office

John Reid expects to find more problems at the Home Office and has said reforming the department would take two and a half years. He has compared it to peeling back the wallpaper to find more problems. This comes after it emerged that the Home Office has failed to block the passports of convicted drug traffickers and Reid was forced to remind judges of the sentencing guidelines because prisons are, says Tony Blair, 'full to bursting point'.

For once the mess in a government department is not the fault of the person in charge of that department however it the fault of the Government. For almost ten years Labour have been in government and whatever problems they inherited from the past 18 years of Conservative Government should have at the very least been discovered if not fixed.

When things go wrong as often as they do in the Home Office it is a clear sign that the people at the top both civil servants and ministers are so far removed from the day to day running of the department that they do not know what is happening. This can only be corrected if the department has clear accountability within it combined with clear reporting and checking systems. It is always going to be case that people make mistakes but it should never be the case that those mistakes are systematically repeated without anyone detecting a problem.

The Labour Government should have taken stock of each department when they came into office and made any basic changes that were needed to ensure the delivery of that departments tasks could be done and checked that they were been done.

Responding to John Reid's wallpaper comparison Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Clegg said:

"John Reid's creativity in passing the buck is taking a surreal turn. First he blamed his predecessor, then the judges, then the civil servants and now we are asked to believe that the problems in the Home Office are because of dodgy wallpaper in a fictional house in Whitehall. The British public don't want Bob the Builder as their Home Secretary. They want someone who is big enough to admit that the collapse in almost every aspect of our criminal justice system is a direct consequence of 10 years of mismanagement by New Labour. "

Commenting on this series of damaging Home Office revelations, Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ming Campbell said:

"Another day and another disaster - confidence in the home office among the public must be at an all time low. Home Secretaries have come and gone; Tony Blair has been in position for the last 10 years. Who should take responsibility for the continuing disasters at the Home Office"

BBC Report - Defiant Reid says 'I won't quit'

Nick Clegg MP - Home Secretary must stop making excuses

Sir Ming Campbell MP - Blair has presided over disasters in Home Office

Friday 26th January 2007

Now the Labour Government have problems with Police Stations and Youth Justice

Today Sir Ming Campbell attacked the government over their handling of law and order issues, particularly after figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats revealed that more than five hundred and eighty police stations have closed since Labour came to power in 1997. The worst hit areas include Essex with 66 closures, South Wales with 43 closures and Gloucestershire with 40 closures.

Some of the 580 have re-opened elsewhere, however, there has still been a net loss of over 270 police stations since 1997 and a number full-time police stations have been replaced with just a front desk that's open a couple of hours a day.

Police Stations provide a vital link with community and very visible presence in towns across the country. Yet even in Hampshire we are not immune to the madness of breaking the link between the people and police as 28 stations have closed here since Labour came to power in 1997. In fact the closures in Hampshire put us in the top five counties in the country for Police Station closures.

Yet again this Government have the emphasis wrong community policing is the heart of policing in the country and reducing this is any form is bad practice and commenting on this Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ming Campbell said :-

"No longer having a permanent police presence in their town or neighbourhood is a reality for many thousands of people. The Government should concentrate on community policing rather than spending billions on ID cards which will do little to tackle the reality of daily crime on Britain's streets and estates."

Also today in a further sign that Labour have got things wrong in the fight against crime the head of the Youth Justice Board of England and Wales has resigned over the government's policy on young offenders. Rod Morgan said the system was being "swamped" by minor offenders and warned of a looming "crisis" in prison places.

It is very rare indeed that a civil servant resigns in protest at Government policy and particularly rare that the person who resigns is such a senior figure. This is yet another place where the Governments emphasis is completely wrong they have looked to create good headlines rather than good performance of the system with measures to tackle drug addiction and under education in those who then become involved in criminality.

Commenting on this resignation Liberal Democrat Home Secretary Nick Clegg said :-

"What greater condemnation can there be of Tony Blair's personal culpability in destroying Britain's criminal justice system than this stinging attack from such a respected source? It remains one of the most grotesque legacies of Tony Blair's decade long experiment in media-driven populism that generations of young people have been summarily demonised and driven towards criminality, rather than brought back from the brink of a life of crime."

BBC report - Reid hits back in sentencing row

Liberal Democrats - "We Can Cut Crime" Campaign

Thursday 25th January 2007

Figures expose Labour's disastrous legacy on crime

The government is facing severe criticism of its handling of law and order issues, after new crime figures released today have revealed a major rise in robberies, drug offences and vandalism.

So Labour were going to be tough on crime and tough on the cause of crime. Well simply put they have failed and they have failed because they have concentrated on creating new laws and regulations rather than practical action on the ground like more police, smarter prisons and improved probation service.

The Government should have targeted their resources on criminals and not the law book, but I suppose when the Government is run by a lawyer it is hardly surprising the emphasis is completely wrong.

To be fair to lawyer community not all see the problem as more law needed another eminent legal figure with far more experience i.e. Sir Ming Campbell QC commenting these crime figures said:

"Ten years of tough talk and endless new legislation have done nothing to make us safer, with street violence and vandalism still rising month by month. To fight crime effectively, we don't need to get tougher, we need to get smarter. The link between robberies and the number of people trying to fund a drug habit needs urgent investigation. Drug related crime is so widespread that it is inexplicable that the government should be allowing residential drug rehabilitation centres to close."

BBC report - Risk of suffering crime 'rises'

Sir Ming Campbell MP - Figures expose Labour's disastrous legacy on crime

Wednesday 24th January 2007

UK airlines attack 'Green' taxes

The air passenger tax has been attacked by three of the UK's leading airlines as the wrong way to fight climate change. British Airways, EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic, appearing jointly before MPs for the first time, insisted they were serious about cutting emissions. But Mr Brown's air passenger duty did not create an incentive to invest in cleaner technology, they said. All three backed carbon trading as the best way to reduce emissions.

Well the airlines are right Gordon Brown's Air Passenger Duty (APD) is just a tax and not a green tax. It does not give an incentive for Airlines to reduce Carbon emission by flying for full planes and with more fuel efficient engines. If the tax was on the fuel efficiency of the plane as with vehicle exercise duty for cars or it was a per seat basis so that airlines would pay all empty seats then it would be a Green tax.

The tax just goes to show how far off this Government is in both understanding the issue and how to tackle it. The only real way to tackle this type of emissions is as the airlines say themselves through a proper carbon trading system which year on year reduces the amount of carbon that can emitted.

Commenting on this 'Green' tax Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

"Turkeys don't vote for Christmas, but the airlines have to recognise that aviation is one of the most lightly taxed activities, despite the damage that its CO2 emissions cause to the planet. A tax on the emissions of each flight, instead of Gordon Brown's duty per passenger, would provide a further incentive to invest in fuel efficient aircraft and to fill up seats rather than fly half empty."

BBC report - UK airlines attack 'green taxes'

Chris Huhne MP - Aviation emissions must be taxed more

Tuesday 23rd January 2007

Complex benefit system at breaking point

One of the most damming reports yet on the state of the countries benefit system was published today. The Public Accounts Committee Report criticised the Government's use of hundreds of leaflets to communicate with the public because a "high level of literacy" was needed to understand Department for Work and Pensions publicity. So the MPs on the Commons public accounts committee have warned this means that people could be missing out on benefits because leaflets explaining their rights are too difficult to understand.

The explanation leaflets are complex because the benefit system is complex. The whole system needs a complete rethink and change. It has now reached the stage where specialise organisations are required to help people in real need get the help they require.

The thing that is often missed is that a complex benefit system requires a large administrative overhead to ensure it runs properly, for example it is only in recent years that the Child Support Agency (CSA) gave out more money than it cost to run.

A simplified benefits system, particularly if combined with a simplified tax system, would not only ensure that financial help reaches those who really need but it would also save the taxpayer millions by not paying for a over bureaucratic system to administer it.

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

"The sheer volume of information the government pumps out is hardly surprising considering the ludicrous complexity of our benefits system. We now have 50 separate benefits with around 250 different rates. We need to radically rethink how we structure the benefits people receive to make them both simpler and fairer. People should receive benefits based on need, not on how savvy they are at filling out lengthy claims forms."

BBC report - Benefits leaflets 'too complex'

David Laws MP - Complex benefit system at breaking point

David Goodall's Views - Benefits

Monday 22nd January 2007

Government to break up 'failing' Home Office

Today new plans for the Home Office from Home Secretary John Reid - it could be split into two departments. Under the plans, a 'Security' department would be responsible for anti-terrorism policy, immigration and the security services, while a Ministry of Justice would have control of probation, prisons and stopping reoffending. Critics and opposition parties called it an 'admission of failure', and warned that deeper and more serious changes are needed if the department is to be made 'fit for purpose'.

Reorganisation of the Home Office is clearly the right thing to do, however John Reid is missing the point somewhat with his current ideas. The current Home Office has three main pillars of operation they are :-

  • Crime, Policing & Counter Terrorism
  • Immigration & Nationality including the Identity & Passport Service
  • National Offender Management Service including Criminal Justice Reform

Mr Reid's grand plan to reform the Home Office is to simply take the third part which is basically the Prison and Probation Service, take it unreformed out of the Home Office and put it into it's own Ministry. This is not a the fundamental reform necessary what is required is reform :-

  • that flattens the structure to make those responsible for operations as near the 'coalface' as possible so they can keep on top of issues in an efficient manner.
  • that gives clear accountability between an individual service and a minister
  • that devolves as much as possible to the regional and local government levels*

This is on top of the obvious policy changes as per the Liberal Democrat "We can cut crime" campaign of more Police, clearer sentencing, better control of our town centres, improved Prison Service and better compensation for victims.

Commenting on John Reid's announcement Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Nick Clegg MP said:

"This belated recognition that the Home Office is over-sized is of course welcome, since we have long argued that it should be split up. However, a Whitehall reorganisation will not work unless it is accompanied by a total change of political approach towards home affairs by this New Labour government. The wholesale degeneration of our criminal justice system is largely due to a political culture of frenzied law making, short term target setting and a day to day pursuit of headlines."

BBC report - Home Office could be split in two

Nick Clegg MP - Splitting up Home Office 'rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic'

*this assumes that the Government actually finishes the reform of the local government in the UK so that in England has a level of regional government level with only Unitary authorities below that as Scotland and Wales already do!!

Friday 19th January 2007

New Liberal Democrat research highlights CSA Failure

Tens of thousands of families in every region of England are owed money which is supposed to have been collected by the CSA, according to figures released today. Research by the Liberal Democrats shows that the highest number of families not receiving the funds owed to them are in the North West of England - almost 60,000. Meanwhile, the highest proportion of unsettled claims is in Wales (1.29% of the entire adult population).

If it was already not as clear a day the tax and benefit system in this country is a complete mess and all this has done is make more of a mess. The whole system means simplifying and making fairer, so that those worst off in society get the help and assistance they need and we all get the public services we desire, but without a system which actually makes the situation worse for the very people it is supposed to be helping.

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

"These figures are deeply worrying. The CSA must be abolished, and replaced with a new organization inside Revenue and Customs which has complete access to income details, and the ability to deduct money at source from those who refuse to pay. However, the government has continually delayed reform of the CSA, preferring instead to implement expensive gimmicks."

Liberal Democrats - Crisis at the Child Support Agency

David Laws MP - Tens of thousands in each region owed money by the CSA

David Goodall's Views: Benefits

Thursday 18th January 2007

Local Government Finance Settlement Fundamentally Flawed

Final local government grant figures have been confirmed today by the department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The total formula grant for 2007-08 will be 3.7 per cent higher than last year. Specific grants, such as the Dedicated Schools Grant, are on top of these figures and bring the total increase in funding for local authorities to 4.9 per cent in 2007-2008.

The problem is that about 75% of local governmental finance is centrally determined by this grant announced today and with each passing year this percentage increases. The means that effectively central government controls the purses strings of local governmental and strings is the right word to use as much of the money comes with strings attached.

Local government should funded mainly by local taxation fair taxation and taxation based upon the persons ability to pay. Local taxation and how it is spent should be determined by local people in local government in town halls and not by central government is Whitehall.

The only way local taxation can be fair is if is based on people's ability to pay it and therefore their income. The current council tax should be scrapped and replaced with a local income tax. This income tax should cover the majority of local government needs and the central government grant should only be there to help poorer areas of country.

And of course in any change to a local income tax the general increase to local income tax should be matched by a cut in central income tax so the level of income tax taxation does not increase. The change is from central to local taxation and not an overall increase in the amount of taxation taken in the manner.

Responding on the local government finance settlement announced today, Liberal Democrat Local Government Spokesperson, Tom Brake MP said:

"This settlement is fundamentally flawed. If the Government is serious about devolution, councils must have greater freedom to raise and spend their money. Instead councils are getting an increase lower than the real-rate of inflation. They will face tough choices - either put up council tax and risk being capped, or cut services. We need a wholly new funding system based on fair local taxes, re-localising business rates and addressing local needs, rather than government targets."

Government Press release - Government confirms funding for local councils

Tom Brake MP - Local government finance settlement fundamentally flawed

Liberal Democrat - Fair Tax Campaign

Wednesday 17th January 2007

NHS Deficit puts A&E Departments at risk

Today a report from the British Medical Association warns Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments are struggling to sustain improvements to waiting times because of NHS deficits. Almost 90% of doctors told the BMA that the lack of inpatient beds was the main reason for not meeting government targets. They also blamed staff shortages and patients turning up at A&E inappropriately with minor complaints.

Firstly I must say it is wrong for the BMA to blame the patients for going to the hospital when ill. The problem has been created by the government changing the way local services operate, including GP out of hour services, which mean that too often the only place people know to go to is A&E.

And it is clear that funding is a real problem in the NHS however it is not as big as trying to get the organisation right. The government sets the targets, hospital budgets and prices they can charge. The costs are the only thing that the hospital as some control over and there are only two main items that they can control, one is to limit the number of patients and the other is to limit the number of staff. However the main object of the hospital should be to limit the suffering of the patients which will not be helped by limits on patients or staff.

There are of course efficiency savings to be made in the way the way hospitals internally are managed and this was well highlighted in the BBC2 series 'Can Gerry Robinson Fix The NHS?' but there is also this fundamental structural problem in the way the hospital service is run which has to be fixed if the NHS is to cease been a problem topic for governments.

Hospitals should define their own budgets, salary levels, prices as part of a service level agreement with the local authority. This should lead to an end of hospital deficit and better running of the hospitals because they can stop concentrating on Health department edicts and concentrate on getting the hospital working as best as it can to fulfil the terms of a service level agreement.

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

"The combination of the government's obsession with targets and crippling NHS deficits is damaging patient care and demoralising the dedicated professionals working in the NHS. It is patients who will lose out in the struggle between hitting targets and achieving financial balance, as hospitals will face no option but to cut vital services."

BBC Report - A&E success 'not sustainable'

BBC2 programme - Can Gerry Robinson Fix The NHS?

Norman Lamb MP - Patients will lose out from hospitals chasing absurd targets

David Goodall's Views: Health - NHS

Tuesday 16th January 2007

Public in Richmond back Green Tax parking policy and so it is approved

Following a wide-ranging consultation, Liberal Democrat Richmond upon Thames Council is pursuing its radical proposals to charge on a sliding scale for residents' parking permits based on vehicle CO2 emissions. The Council made the groundbreaking proposals in October 2006, stating at the time that its final decision would be informed by the outcome of a consultation to be carried out across the borough. The consultation has now revealed residents support the proposals by 49% to 39%, with 12% undecided.

This just does to show that where political leadership is strong there is a good environmental policy on solid policy grounds then the people will back the change even if it means some tax increases. It is pity that nationally the Labour governmental lacks leadership on the environmental matters and has yet to take real action to tackle climate change.

Commenting on the results from the consultation the Liberal Democrat Leader of Richmond Council Cllr Serge Lourie said:-

"I am delighted by the results from the consultation. They indicate a clear majority in favour of the proposals. I am particularly encouraged by the fact that 64% have indicated that they would be prepared to take practical action and switch to a less polluting vehicle. If policies like this are to have a real effect in the long term then everyone must adopt them. And I hope that Richmond upon Thames can lead the way"

Daily Telegraph report - 4x4 owners get the blues as council goes green

Press release - Richmond Council to pursue adoption of groundbreaking parking charges

David's October Blog - London Borough to charge for residents' parking according to carbon emissions

Monday 15th January 2007

A separate Scotland and England is not solution or the problem

Today on the eve of the 300th anniversary of the parliamentary union of Scotland with England and Wales the Conservative leader David Cameron has written in the Scottish Mail on Sunday saying that the case for preserving the union of England and Scotland must be made "with the heart as well as the head". He was responding to criticism from the chancellor, who has accused the Tories of risking the future of the UK by siding with nationalists.

The problem is not the union of Scotland with the rest of the UK but that the English regions are still too centrally controlled by Westminster and any proposals to change this by having only British MP's representing English constituencies voting on bills affects just England will not change this. England would still be centrally run from Westminster the only difference is that with only 4 Scottish or Welsh Conservative members at Westminster the Tories would have a greater say England without and general election!! David Cameron interest in siding with SNP is not for the Scottish people or the Britain as a whole, but for his own narrow political agenda to get the Tories into government even at the cost of damaging the union.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ming Campbell summed up David Cameron's tactics best when he said:

"Mr Cameron seems determined to put short term electoral advantage against the long term interest of the people of Great Britain. This is a reflection of the fact that his own party is dying on its feet in Scotland. You can be certain that if the Tories were making any headway North of the border Mr Cameron would be extolling the virtues of the Union. This is convenience politics."

The only way to fix the problem Westminster is to have power devolved down to the English regions. Then British MP's should only be left to vote on matters affecting the whole of the country, which is actually how it should be. This is reform of the United Kingdom which is well over due.

Commenting on the Union between England and Scotland, Liberal Democrat Shadow Constitutional Affairs Secretary, Simon Hughes MP said:

"The Union between England and Scotland, and the United Kingdom of four countries, has been a huge success for all of its component parts. There is, of course, a continuing case for constitutional reform to make the United Kingdom work better, and give people in all four countries more say over the decisions that affect them. But separation or break-up of the Union is absolutely not the solution."

BBC Report - Brown bullying Scotland - Cameron

Simon Hughes MP - Constitutional reform needed but Union break-up not the answer

Friday 12th January 2007

A serious day for health and education

Health - on this front according to no lesser person than the Chairman of British Medial Association there is just one year left to save the NHS. Chairman James Johnson said :-

"Deficits and the end of record budget rises in 2008 mean the clock is ticking to get the NHS in order"

This report further underlines the need to get rid of the over centralised NHS structure that is causing all this problems :-

  • Until hospital managers are given full control of both their costs and their charges there can be no hope of getting the funding under control.
  • And until local health services are controlled by local people there is no hope of proving the health service they need and require.

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

"We should take these warnings extremely seriously. Despite record levels of investment, chronic mismanagement by ministers is resulting in jobs and services being cut across the country. Patients and medical professionals are being sidelined as the government rushes through contradictory reforms. It is a fundamental principle of the NHS that care is provided free at the point of use. This principle mustn't change but government policy should."

Education - on this front the Department for Education and Skills has confirmed plans to raise the school leaving age - to be introduced by 2013. This will not mean that pupils have to stay in the classroom or continue with academic lessons, but they will have to continue to receive training.

Alan Johnson the Education Secretary is right to say that children should at 16 remain in training and education, but his solution is a partial one. The real reform that is required is to scrap the current GCSE and 'A' Level system and replace it with a school diploma which starts at 14 and concludes at 19 in which both academic and vocation course can be taught. So what has Alan Johnson missed :-

  • The Education Secretary has missing the point that for a number of youngsters it is not just the two years after sixteen which are wasted educationally but also the two years before sixteen, where kids are turned off learning because the subjects are too academic and they don't see to them as relevant for their future needs. Yet Maths and English lessons combined with bricklaying, plumbing, hairdressing, retailing, gardening, roofing, car mechanic, banking and so on would both keep these youngster interested in learning and provide them with a good trade to start their adult life with.
  • The Education Secretary has also missed the point that for those at the top of the academic scale the current A level system is too narrow. I am someone who in my day job in industry sees in a year hundreds of CV's from graduates and many have very good 'A' levels i.e. 4 or 5 subjects all A passes, so to distinguish between them I find myself looking at the interests and hobbies section of their CV. The more academic students need a broader range of study with up to 3 subjects taken to the highest level.
  • The Education Secretary has also missed the point that for the bulk of the children between these two extremes mixed courses of both vocational and academic lessons would also be a good idea to ensure they too reach their full potential.

So Alan Johnson Education Secretary the job of improving education is only really set in the right direction if the examination structure is improved, raising the leaving age is not enough on its own.

Commenting this report Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary, Sarah Teather MP said:

"Raising the leaving age in isolation will not achieve the desired effect. Ministers need to address the reasons that young people drop out in the first place. For many students the secondary curriculum is old fashioned and uninteresting. The government must introduce a modern British diploma system that allows teenagers to mix vocational courses with academic learning."

BBC report - One year to save NHS, doctors say

Norman Lamb MP - BMA comments must be taken extremely seriously

BBC report - School leaving age set to be 18

BBC report - Why Tomlinson was turned down

Sarah Teather MP - Curriculum reform needed as well as leaving age change

Thursday 11th January 2007

Bush continues to get in wrong in Iraq

Today the US President George W Bush highlighted yet again his extremely bad judgement on how best to do things in Iraq, as he announced he is to send more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq to help secure Baghdad's streets as part of a new strategy to tackle the conflict. The troop announcement brought immediate criticism from Democrats, yet British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett welcomed US plans, however she did add the UK has no plans to do the same. She also said reports that 3,000 British troops would leave Iraq by May were "speculation".

Despite advice of his top Generals and the Iraq Study group headed former James Baker the US President decided that talking to Iraq's neighbours in particular Iran and Syria was not possible. He has decided that it is possible to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people at the point of a gun only. The believes that getting the electric supplies running, the water system working and normal business up and running will not win the hearts and minds. Well George W Bush if you think that then you are a bigger fool than one who could not supply immediate help to his fellow countryman in New Orleans after Katrina hit.

Commenting on Bush's announcement Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ming Campbell said :-

"President Bush's determination to send 21,500 more American troops to Iraq goes against the conclusion of the Iraq Study Group and the views of the vast majority of the American public. This is a strategy that Tony Blair should not follow or endorse. The British strategy should be one based on phased withdrawal sooner rather than later."

And as if to underline the fact that US President Bush has to understanding of how to win the hearts and minds of Muslim people around the world in the fight against terrorism today is also the today's fifth anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay. This is another situation used by Al-Qaeda to say look the West is against all Muslims just look at the way they treat us in Guantanamo held without charge or sentence this is unjust.

If we are to beat terrorism groups like Al-Qaeda we must act in a manner which treats all fairly under international law only then we will win the hearts and minds of all people. This is the only way to undermine the terrorist support network and so remove the threat of terrorism.

Ahead of today's fifth anniversary Sir Ming Campbell has written to Tony Blair asking him to condemn the Guantanamo Bay camp and to use all his influence with President Bush to secure the release of the British detainees. Yesterday Sir Ming and other Liberal Democrat MPs including Sarah Teather and Edward Davey attended a candlelit vigil opposite Downing Street to put pressure on the government to secure the men's return home.

Commenting on this anniversary Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ming Campbell said :-

"The continued detainment of eight British residents at the Camp - without any apparent prospect of charge or trial - is unacceptable. The Foreign Secretary has described Guantanamo Bay as 'unacceptable in terms of human rights' and the Lord Chancellor has described it as an 'affront to democracy. I concur entirely with their words, and I hope that the Prime Minister will use this anniversary as an opportunity to echo those sentiments."

BBC report - Guantanamo protest at US embassy

BBC report - Beckett welcomes US troop plans

Iraq Study Group

BBC in-depth report - Al-Qaeda

Sir Ming Campbell - Blair should use his influence to bring back Guantanamo detainees

Wednesday 10th January 2007

Home Office ineptitude over British criminals abroad

The Association of Chief Police Officers yesterday said British criminals may have been cleared to work with vulnerable people in the UK after committing crimes abroad. The Home Secretary John Reid has confirmed today that details of 540 serious criminals were left in files, and only 260 have now been entered on the Police National Computer (PNC). Police say some may have been cleared to work with the vulnerable in the UK.

To be fair to the current Home secretary this problem is not of his direct making as it takes time to build up a pile of about 27,000 cases and this Government change Home Secretaries on such a regular basis that no one actual has time to sort out the mess the Home Office has become. This problem is simple one of not having the correct management structures in place to over see the operation of the department - In short incompetent management.

The Home Secretary should have under him a ministerial team each of whom are clearly responsible for part of Home Office operation. At first it may appear to someone looking at the Home Office structure on their website that there is such a team of people. However looking at the structure in more detail in is a very vertical one with many managers just managing other managers. So it is possible in such an organisation for things to happen or not happen without the person at the top knowing what is happening. The structure should be flatter and the Minister need to be nearer the 'coalface', without this fundamental change cock ups like this one will continue to be a frequent occurrence.

Commenting on these revelations Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Clegg said :-

"This blunder not only exposes this government's administrative incompetence, it puts the British public at greater risk from these offenders. Once again Home Office ineptitude has left the police and the public in the lurch."

BBC report - Commons clash over foreign crimes

Nick Clegg MP - Home Office incompetence places public at greater risk

Tuesday 9th January 2007

Blair all talk and no action over food miles

Today both Tony Blair and the Environment Secretary, David Miliband, endorsed the 'Just Ask' local food campaign, which encourages consumers to ask about the origins and 'carbon footprint' of the food they are buying.

This campaign is from the Country Land and Business Association is a worthy campaign and good on their part to highlight the problem of food miles, where the environmental damage of transporting food around the world using fossil fuels to power the plane or the ship is not reflected in the price of the goods on the shelves. However as a government Tony Blair and his ministers could do far more to both help British farmers and reduce the carbon footprint of the food we eat.

The main lever the Government can use is taxation, shoppers may not always look at the origin the apples they buy, but they will often take a note of price. Government could use taxation to discourage products with a high carbon footprint and encourage products with a low carbon footprint. They would of course have to balance this policy with taxation to encourage Fairtrade products.

Using the taxation system to encourage Fairtrade and lower carbon footprint products would be a good thing however this Government chooses to do nothing but talk. Talk is cheap and ineffective only action counts.

Commenting on the Prime Minister and David Miliband endorsement of the 'Just Ask' local food campaign, Liberal Democrat Environment Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

"Tony Blair is asking a lot of the British public when his government has done so little to tackle food miles. The Government has refused to put a duty on air freight so it cannot be too worried about the air miles of apples from South Africa. They have cut the budget of the organisation responsible for promoting British-grown foods. Farmers can't trust ministers on local food after the debacle of the single farm payments and Government inaction to break what the Prime Minister described over six years ago as the 'armlock' supermarkets have on farmers. More should be done to ensure customers are aware of the harm caused by food miles. But consumers will only be persuaded if they are shown leadership."

Telegraph report - Blair backs 'buy British food' campaign

Just Ask Where Your Food Comes From Campaign

Chris Huhne MP - Blair asking a lot of consumers and farmers

Monday 8th January 2007

Warmest ever year prediction shows need for action on climate change

Today the UK's Met Office said the world is likely to experience the warmest year on record in 2007. Experts are forecasting an extended warming period, resulting from an El Nino weather event in the Pacific Ocean, which will probably push up global temperatures. They say there is a 60% chance that the average surface temperature will match or exceed the current record from 1998.

If the usually warm Winter is not enough to convince the Government that climate change is a real problem which requires more than targets and talk then maybe a record break hot summer do the trick. In truth I suspect that either will convince them to take real action on climate change like:-

  • investing greatly in renewable energy to switch our energy supplies to a mainly renewable resources i.e. tidal, wind, wave and solar, as well as carbon capture technology for the remaining fossil fuel power stations.
  • investing in our public transport infrastructure to switch more people from road/air to rail powered by electric power from the new renewable resources.
  • using the taxation system to make environmentally friendly action of benefit and un-environmentally friendly actions costly.

These three actions alone could greatly reduce carbon emissions but you will not find them in either the Labour or Conservative empty policy bucket only in the Liberal Democrat Policy portfolio will you find these measures to tackle climate change and give Britain a world lead in the technology of the future.

Commenting on the Met Office report Liberal Democrat Environment Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

"This has to be the year we face up to the need for action, not just well-meaning words and impressive-sounding targets. The big test will be whether the Government reverses the cuts in green taxes that have taken place every year since 1999 and begins to use the tax system to help us change our behaviour. Without a serious effort to reduce the fast-growing emissions from cars and planes, the Government will not have a climate change programme worth talking about."

BBC Report - 2007 to be 'warmest on record'

Chris Huhne MP - Warmest ever year shows need for action on climate change

Friday 5th January 2007

NHS job cuts "likely to increase in 2007"

The number of job losses in the NHS will increase in the New Year as part of a drive to cut costs, the pressure group Health Emergency has predicted. It estimates that more than 22,000 jobs were lost in 2006 and 2,500 beds closed across the UK. They say the cuts will increase because of Government pressure to balance the books by the end of the financial year. Results of reviews by strategic health authorities will be released in the new year, which could mean the closure or downgrading of wards. A leaked Department of Health document predicted yesterday that there will be a shortage of GPs and nurses in four years' time.

This is short term planning gone mad any change in staff numbers must in the first instance reflect the long term health needs of the population. If the current level of population health creates short problems within NHS then the flexibility within the NHS system to cope with this peak should be reviewed.

If as a result of that review it is deemed the level of funding is correct to meet demand then the operating practices should be reviewed to check if best practices are been followed. This should result in the costs been reduced. If they are not reduced then the first review on the correct level of funding was incorrect !!

Capacity within the NHS system should only be reduced if demand has reduced. At present there is no evidence that demand has reduced therefore the numbers of beds, doctors and nurses should not be cut.

Commenting on these figures Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb said:

"Last year's worrying figures are dwarfed by the projected losses for this year in this week's leaked Department of Health paper. The Health Secretary has kept her job whilst thousands of doctor and nursing posts are lost. We now have the bizarre prospect of a national shortage of nurses whilst hospital trusts are making nurses redundant because of a financial crisis."

The Times report - NHS job cuts 'likely to increase in 2007'

Pressure group website - Health Emergency

Norman Lamb MP - Last year's NHS job losses dwarfed by government projections for 2007

Thursday 4th January 2007

Government is failing to look after Army

The Government has acknowledged more needs to be done to improve housing for the armed forces following criticism of conditions by a senior army officer. Adjutant-general Lt Gen Freddie Viggers condemned cramped and decaying living quarters in barracks, saying soldiers and their families deserved better. Defence Minister Derek Twigg said he accepted accommodation was "not perfect" and improvements were needed.

This is a shameful state of affairs as a country we are asking the men and women of our Armed Forces to go possibly lay down their lives in foreign parts and yet at home the accommodation at home for their loved ones is second rate.

This Labour government and past Tory ones have let the forces down not just by poorly maintaining the accommodation but by designing and building poor cheap housing. They have aimed for failure and succeeded.

Commenting on this Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ming Campbell said:

"The sad truth is that service accommodation has been badly neglected for years by both Conservative and Labour governments. It is hypocritical to hail the professionalism and commitment of our armed forces while failing to look after them properly. We have a duty to do our best by all the men and women of the armed forces when we ask them to risk their lives on our behalf."

BBC report - Forces housing 'must be improved'

Sir Ming Campbell MP - Failure to properly look after armed forces is hypocritical

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New Government Plans for personalising teaching are just buzzwords

Also today 2020 Vision, the Government-commissioned report on "personalising teaching and learning" has been published. The report, led by Christine Gilbert, head of the education inspectorate Ofsted, seeks a new focus on each child's learning style and proposes a review of the national curriculum and of exams. Ms Gilbert said personalised teaching and learning is "what every parent wants, what every child deserves and what the country needs" to meet the 21st century's global challenges.

Ms Gilbert is right personalised teaching and learning is what every parent wants, what every child deserves and what the country needs, but from this Government it is completely meaningless because their school funding means large class and with large class personalised teaching is not possible.

Commenting on this report Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary, Sarah Teather said:

"The Government has failed to create an education system capable of adapting to the needs of a changing world. More of the same with some new buzzwords thrown in is not going to bring about the change we need. Rhetoric about 'personalised learning' is only going to have an impact in the classroom if it is matched with resources allowing teachers to spend more time individually with each child. Smaller class sizes, greater focus on skills like communication, and specialist teachers are the way to make our education system fit for the twenty-first century."

BBC Report - Change on way in tests and tables

Sarah Teather MP - Government has not created an education system for the future

Wednesday 3rd January 2007

Migrationwatch are wrong migrants' contribution to the UK economy is great

Today the anti-immigration pressure group Migrationwatch UK reports that the contribution of immigrants to the UK economy is "very slight indeed" and the main benefits are to the migrants themselves. The pressure group claims the economic benefit is equal to just 4p a week for each person in Britain.

This is yet another attempt by Migrationwatch to undermine the hard working efforts of migrants to this country and to stir up anti-migrant feeling. In the past economic up turns have struggled due to lack of skilled workers to keep the momentum going. The result is a boom was followed by a bust. In the past ten years we have not had this boom bust cycle and this is partly due to the flow of workers into the country from the new European Union countries.

The biggest misconception is that migrants come here just to claim benefits and live a life off the normal UK population. The only problem is for the first two years here migrants are not entitled to benefits. The upshot is they only come here to work and are willing to work hard.

Migrationwatch are not out to watch out for the best interests of this country as they might claim they are only out to promotion their own narrow mind idea of who should live here and what sort of country we should be. They don't believe in an open welcoming free trading country who is at peace with her neighbours and place in the world.

Responding to this report, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Clegg MP said:

"Another day, another spurious statistic from Migrationwatch. London's health and transport systems alone would collapse without the services of migrant workers. This so-called study doesn't even attempt to calculate how many pennies that is worth to each and every one of us."

BBC Report - Migrants 'benefit economy little'

Nick Clegg MP - Public services depend on migrant workers

Tuesday 2nd January 2007

Rail fare rises a bitter pill to swallow

People returning to work in the New Year had to pay up to 4.3% more for many mainline train journeys, while Tube and bus fares have also gone up. The rises, which came into effect on Monday, have been described as "exorbitant" by passenger groups. On many main lines it is the fourth successive year in which ticket prices have risen by more than inflation.

I thought the Government policy was to increase public transport use. And I would have thought that such a policy in action for rail would involve more track, more trains, more frequently and for a lower price. I therefore find the current policy action of higher rail prices as a rather strange one to say the least.

Yet again this Government's words are fine but its policy action is poor.

Commenting on the increased rail fares Liberal Democrat Shadow Transport Secretary, Alistair Carmichael said:-

"At a time when some train operators are removing seating in order to cram on more passengers, these price rises are a bitter pill to swallow. The Government should be encouraging people out of their cars and onto public transport. Allowing fares to keep on rising is not the way to do it."

BBC report - Passengers face increased fares

Alistair Carmichael MP - Fare rises a bitter pill to swallow

Liberal Democrat Policy - Make the railways work again

Monday 1st January 2007

Liberal Democrats New Year message is - "We Can Cut Crime"

The New Year message from Liberal Democrat Sir Ming Campbell is that the party can cut crime and that local success in cutting crime can be transferred to the national stage. The New Year will follow last year's "Green Tax Switch" campaign with a "We Can Cut Crime" campaign.

The general area of Law and Order is one where the other two main parties like to talk tough and like portray the Liberal Democrats as soft on crime. The truth is a long way from that the other parties talk tough but take no real practical action to reduce the level of crime.

The serious problem of reoffending rates will be tackled by longer jail terms and more offences as per the Government's current policy. However it can be tackled by effectively using drug rehabilitation programs, education and skills training and good resettlement programs. So that the offenders are given the best possible change to have a life outside crime once they return to the real world from prison.

The Labour and Conservative Parties brand this approach to criminals as soft, yet these policies would if implemented :-

  • Turn the criminal back to normal member of society
  • Reduce the reoffending rate
  • Reduce the number of victims of crime

This is not being soft of crime this is being effective on crime. This is underlined in the Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ming Campbell's New Year message when he said :-

"Labour has presided over the wholesale degeneration of our criminal justice system: overcrowded prisons; one of the highest reoffending rates in the western world; falling conviction rates for serious violent crimes like rape; high levels of public fear of crime and antisocial behaviour; a demoralised probation service; and constant attacks by the Government on judges. I am determined to show that the Liberal Democrats are the only party that can tackle crime both honestly and effectively. We can and should be seen as the party that will cut crime."

Guardian Report - Crime tops Lib Dems' 2007 agenda

Sir Ming Campbell MP - New Year message: "I'm listening"

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