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Thursday 30th November 2006

Again Blair misses the point with his harder 'A' levels and academy legacy

Today in a speech in Birmingham Tony Blair has announced a major expansion in England of the city academies programme, which aims to improve schools in disadvantaged areas. Mr Blair said he wanted 400 academies, double the present target for the year 2010. He also outlined changes in A-level grades, and the introduction of International Baccalaureate and vocational Specialised Diplomas.

Why does this Government and this Prime Minister continue to make up education policy on the hoof ? Earlier last year Sir Mike Tomlinson report commission by the Government suggested one school diploma which would enable students to study vocational, academic subjects as well as a mix of both. It was backed by the teaching profession and developed after a detailed 2 year study into the examination system. It was dropped by the government for short term political advantage in a battle with the Conservative Party. The future of the education of the children in the this country should be a matter for serious study and debate not this Blair grandstanding and hot air of education, education, education as priority.

If education was such a priority then this government would implement the Tomlinson style diploma and improve the education achieve of generations of children to come.

Commenting on this latest Blair speech Liberal Democrat shadow Education secretary Sarah Teather said :-

"This new announcement creates a confusing three-tier system with the International Baccalaureate for some, vocational diplomas for others and the status quo of GSCEs and A-levels for the rest. On academies, there simply isn't sufficient evidence from the current 46 academies that they are effective to justify committing further billions to the scheme. This is far more to do with Tony Blair wanting to leave his mark on the domestic landscape before he steps down than it is to do with what's best for our children."

BBC report - Blair wants another 200 academies

BBC report - Why Tomlinson was turned down

Sarah Teather MP - A-level changes will create confusing three-tier system

Wednesday 29th November 2006

Shelter says Social Housing is still a problem

A report out today from the housing charity Shelter says that one in seven children is growing up homeless or in "bad" housing. Shelter says 1.6 million youngsters in Britain are living in housing judged to be temporary, overcrowded or unfit. The charity founded 40 years ago after BBC drama-documentary Cathy Come Home was screened, described the situation as a "scandal".

This is a really scandal of the making of successive Conservative and Labour governments who having giving the right to buy to many council tenants have taken up this offer. Yet they refused to give the council the right to spend the receipts from this sale to provide new social housing for those that need it.

To give children to best possible start in life a number of things are required not least of which is good quality housing. How can we expect children to work rest and play properly without the space in which to do it? It is essential to end child poverty the quality and availability of the housing stock in this country is improved.

Commenting on the Shelter report Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesperson Dan Rogerson said :-

"It is a damning indictment of the Government's housing policy that after ten years in power there is still a huge shortage of affordable housing. Far too many people are living in temporary accommodation because nearly half a million council homes have been sold off since Labour came to power and very few social homes have been built in their place. "

BBC report - Children living in 'bad' housing

Dan Rogerson MP - Social housing still a problem 40 years after Cathy Come Home

Liberal Democrat Housing Policy

Tuesday 28th November 2006

Council Tax will rise by twice the Inflation Rate

Today the BBC reports that Council taxes are expected to rise by twice the inflation rate next April for millions of homeowners and tenants in England. And what is worst the local government minister has accepted that the average increase will be up to 5%, compared with the current 2.4% rise in the consumer price index, but he has said that he will not hesitate to cap "excessive" hikes.

This tax is completely unacceptable it does not take account of what people earn or whether they can afford to pay it. To accept that an increase twice to the rate of inflation is ok is wrong and for a Labour government to be in power for almost ten years and have done nothing about this awful tax is also wrong.

Liberal democrat tax policy is all about two main principles :-

  • Make the tax and benefits systems simpler
  • Make the tax and benefits systems fairer

The only way there has been for decades to make local taxation fair whether it was the old rates or poll tax or the current council tax is to scrap the tax and replace it with a local income tax. A local income collected centrally using the current Inland Revenue system would be simpler to collect and as would be related to the person's income and their ability to pay the tax it would be fairer too.

Commenting on this BBC report Liberal Democrat Shadow minister for Local Government Tom Brake said :-

"Next year, many councils will be faced with putting up council tax or cutting services because of burdensome red tape issued from Whitehall. We need a new funding system based on fair local taxes, relocalising business rates, and addressing local needs rather than government targets."

BBC Report - Councils warned about tax rises

Tom Brake MP - Unfair council tax unchanged by latest settlement

Monday 27th November 2006

Government's Means Testing Obsession Distorting Benefits System

Today the Christian charity CARE published a report showing that more than 70 per cent of families on low and modest income would be financially better off if they did not live together. This also highlights that the Governments claim to support the family unit is mainly hot air. Whatever level of benefits are given all studies show that the best home to raise children in is one two loving parents i.e. the 'normal' family unit and this government's obsession with mean tested benefits means that they have lost sight of the purpose of the system.

When a benefits system starts to hand out bills for hundreds or thousands of pounds to make up for miscalculations of the system then the whole system is wrong. When the system actively penalises couples on modest and low living together looking after own children then the whole system is wrong.

The tax and benefits system is long over due for complete reform to make it simpler and more able to help those in most need. Yet for ten years this government has done nothing but make the system more complex and less helpful to those at the bottom of the pile.

Commenting on the report Liberal Democrat shadow secretary for Work and Pensions David Laws said :-

"The huge increase in means testing under Labour has created one of the most invasive benefits systems in the world. It is not the role of the Government to dictate lifestyles to those on modest and low incomes. It seems particularly perverse that the current benefits and tax credit system not only fails to recognise the financial needs of two-parent families, but actively penalises them."

CARE - New research shows tax credits leave couples worse off living together

David Laws MP - Means testing obsession distorting benefits system

Saturday 25th November 2006

Saints win again

At last Southampton FC are on a win streak 2-1 against Luton followed 3-0 at Leeds, draws at Hull and Sunderland after a win Wolves make a good month for Saints.

Come on you Saints !!

Saints results

Friday 24th November 2006

Chancellor Prepares to Increase Taxes on Cars and Air Travellers

Today the Financial Times is reporting that air travellers and owners of gas-guzzling cars face a substantial increase in taxes as part of Gordon Brown's pre-Budget report. It reports that the Chancellor is preparing to increase the top rate of vehicle excise duty for the most polluting new cars and a rise in air passenger duty is also expected to be announced. This comes in the wake of the Stern report on climate change, which called for urgent action to tackle global warming.

The problem is the Chancellor does no know the difference between a Green tax and a Brown one :-

  • A green tax is one that gives a person or a company a choice to opt for a greener alternative, so the car duty based on car emissions is a Green Tax and it would actually work to change behaviour if the differential between the lowest rate and the highest rate was great enough.
  • A Brown tax is a tax increase by the Chancellor and called a green tax, yet it gives no greener alternative. For example air passenger duty paid at a constant rate whether or not the aircraft full or empty and whether or not the aircraft has relatively low emissions or high ones. Another example is petrol tax increased to encourage a switch to public transport but then not providing the better public transport.

Commenting on Gordon Browns reported proposals Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary Chris Huhne said :-

"Green taxes have fallen to their lowest level since Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister and the Government is cutting climate change related budgets. The Government must make a genuine switch to tax pollution, not people. However, these reports do not inspire confidence. Increasing air passenger duty, rather then switching to an emissions charge on aircraft, would merely penalise efficient full aircraft."

Financial Times report - Brown to raise duty on 4x4s and air travel

Chris Huhne MP - Brown must make green tax switch

Thursday 23rd November 2006

Consumers must Pay Duties on Alcohol Bought Online

Today the European Court of Justice stopped online shoppers from buying cheap cigarettes and alcohol from anywhere in Europe. It ruled that consumers must pay excise duties on such goods when they import them from other EU countries. Both retailers and the Government have welcomed the ruling, which fully backed the principle in the EU that taxes are a matter for national governments to set and that this should not be undermined by online shopping.

This ruling also undermines those who say all our taxes are determined in Brussels it is clear that is just another Euro myth. Taxes are and always have been a matter for national governments to set and determine. There is no need for a European taxation system and we should always resist calls for one to be introduced.

Commenting on this European Court of Justice decision Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Vince Cable MP said:-

"The decision of the European Court of Justice is a huge relief, not merely because tax revenues faced a possible catastrophic fall, but because it is essential that national governments should be free to set their own tax rates. This is particularly true in an area such as this, where the taxation of cigarettes and alcohol should be determined not simply on revenue grounds, but also on the grounds of public health, as excessive consumption leads to large costs for the wider community."

Guardian report - EU bars online duty-free sales

Vince Cable MP - Government must be free to set tax levels

Wednesday 22nd November 2006

The West Coast Mainline's Upgrade is only a Short Term Solution

Today a National Audit Office report has warned that the West Coast Main Line may not be able to sustain passenger growth within 10 years despite massive investment. The rail line between Glasgow and London is undergoing an £8.6bn upgrade, but it might not be able to cope with current levels of growth beyond 2015.

This report only serves to highlight the under investment over decades in the UK's rail infrastructure, where other European countries have had a continuous program of improving existing routes and building new high speed lines we have done almost nothing by comparison. It is time that we had a clear investment program to back rail and so shift more traffic from our congested roads onto rail, and to clear the skies with high speed rail services offering a more environmentally friendly alternative to short-haul flights.

Commenting on this report Liberal Democrat Transport Secretary Alistair Carmichael said :-

"The upgrade of the West Coast Mainline was long overdue and passengers are at last beginning to feel the benefits of the investment. Unfortunately, this upgrade is only a short term solution to the capacity problems that will arise in the next decade, as passenger numbers are predicted to triple by 2030. If we are to offer a viable alternative to flights within the UK we are going to have to start planning to meet extra demand by putting forward proposals for new high speed lines. "

BBC report - West coast rail upgrade warning

National Audit Office report

Tuesday 21st November 2006

Fusion Deal Points a way to a Climate Change Solution

Today an international consortium signed a formal agreement to build an experimental nuclear fusion reactor. The multi-billion-euro project will aim to produce energy from nuclear reactions like those that fuel the Sun. If successful, it could provide energy that is both clean and limitless. In long term this could offer real hope for the future. However nuclear fusion remains a technology of tomorrow and not of today.

Today the only real alternative to fossil fuelled power stations are the various forms of renewable energy - tidal, wave, marine current, hydro, geo-thermal, solar and of course the much talked about wind. This is in addition the carbon neutral bio-mass and bio-ethanol, as well as the more efficient combined heat and power (CHP) schemes. These are the forms that the government should be pressing full steam ahead with instead they commission one report after another in the hope that will be mistaken for action by the general public.

Commenting on this Fusion deal the Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary for Trade and Industry Ed Davey said:-

"Fusion is completely different to existing nuclear power - it is cleaner and greener, so this deal is to be welcomed. But Britain and Europe have so much potential in the 'forgotten' renewables - marine, tidal and geo-thermal. Fusion and renewables offer the best hope for an effective long-term solution to climate change."

BBC report - States sign nuclear energy pact

Ed Davey MP - Fusion deal points way to climate change solution

Monday 20th November 2006

Billions Squandered On Iraq 'Disaster'

Today a report in the Telegraph really highlights the main problem in Iraq in that not effort has been put in the reconstruction work as more attention has been paid to the security. Now at first this may seem a strange thing to say, however after a three years of 'helping' the Iraqi government provide security the situation is still not any better and still the lights can't be switch on whenever required. The second problem has a real effect on the first one. The lack of progress on the infrastructure only builds dissatisfaction with the occupation and aids in the recruitment of people to the insurgency.

After invading Iraq without the full support of the international community it made the job of rebuilding the country hard, not having a properly thought through plan to rebuild made the task harder, civic structures in Iraq without having new ones ready to replace them made the task harder still and overstaying the initial welcome and not handing the security more to the UN has made the task almost impossible.

The British account stands at £5 billion spent on the Iraq war so far, £1 billion spent to date on peace keeping/making in Afghanistan, yet only £844 million spent on aid to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It looks like under the under investment in reconstruction in Iraq is being repeated in Afghanistan. Yet these new funding announcements come just days after Mr Blair admitted in an interview with al-Jazeera that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a "disaster". No 10 officials have since dismissed the response as an acknowledgement of the question rather than an agreement. But yesterday Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state, said he believed military victory in Iraq was no longer possible.

Commenting on this report Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ming Campbell said :-

"It tells you all you want to know about this Government that Number 10 has to indulge in semantics to explain away the Prime Minister's admission. 'Disaster' is precisely how the vast majority of MPs and the British people regard the situation in Iraq. Billions of pounds that might have been spent on assisting the world's poorest countries has been squandered in illegal military action against Iraq. It is time to recognise reality and adopt a strategy that leads to a phased withdrawal."

To win the war in Iraq and Afghanistan the heart and minds of the people in those countries must be won and that can not be done through the use of the gun alone, more effort must be put into building up the infrastructure, getting the economy going so that the people can see the outside world is trying to make a positive difference in their lives and that the so called freedom fighters are their true problem.

BBC report - Brown makes first visit to Iraq

The Telegraph - Anger at £7bn cost of war

Sir Ming Campbell MP - PM's admission highlights failures in Iraq

Friday 17th November 2006

Alcohol problems lead to increased Hospital admissions for Children !!

On 'Children in Need' day the answer to a parliamentary question by Liberal Democrat Steve Webb MP, has shown that there has been a sharp increase in the number of children admitted to hospital with alcohol-related problems. The statistics now show over 3,400 children were hospitalised 2004-5 because of alcohol and the BBC panorama programme claims the number of young people admitted to hospital due to alcohol has increased by 20%.

Commenting on these figures Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary Steve Webb MP said :-

"These figures for hospital admissions are only the tip of a very big iceberg. If thousands of young teenagers have such serious an alcohol problem that they have to be admitted as hospital inpatients, then the number with developing alcohol problems must be many times larger. More must be done to clamp down on young people's access to alcohol."

The problem is that for too many young people the definition of a 'good' night out is one in which they cannot remember exactly what happened because of the level of alcohol consumed. This is nothing new you may say but the figures refer to young people between the ages of 11 and 15 years old.

More needs to done to alcohol related problems measures could include :-

  • Greater education on the problem in schools
  • Increased funding alcohol treatment programmes
  • Ban on discounted drinks in the evening that only serve to increase consumption i.e. 'happy' hours, beer & spirits sold by the jug full instead of individual measures, buy 1 get 1 free approach.
  • Greater enforcement of existing laws on buying alcohol for or supplying alcohol to under age young people.
  • Differential duty depending on the percentage of alcohol in the drink

This binge drink culture must be tackled it is damaging too many things and is at the root cause of much of the weekend problems for the police.

BBC report - Fears over rise in child drinking

Official Parliamentary answer in Hansard -Alcohol-related Problems

Steve Webb MP - Teenage alcohol hospital admissions tip of the iceberg

Steve Webb MP - Alcohol deaths not taken seriously enough by ministers

Thursday 16th November 2006

Poor Consumers Pay Credit Premium

Today the Treasury Select Committee in its annual report on financial exclusion correctly called for action to tackle high-cost credit and illegal money lending. The committee also said it wanted to see better data-sharing amongst lenders to curb irresponsible lending. This follows on from last week's news on lenders giving five times someone's salary as a multiple for mortgage.

Commenting on this select committee report Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Vince Cable MP said :-

"It is interesting to see the Treasury Select Committee urging legislation to encourage mutual solutions, such as credit unions. After 10 years of this Labour Government endlessly promoting financial inclusion and paying lip service to credit unions, virtually nothing has been done to help them operate on a larger and more useful scale. This is an area where rhetoric has been followed by very little substance."

In Eastleigh we Liberal Democrats are trying to encourage credit unions with the Eastleigh Credit Union which is a non-profit making, volunteer run, savings and loans co-operative which can provide low cost loans to its members. Quite simply, it is a locally based, non-discriminatory savings and loans scheme run by its members for its members.

However back in the big banking work today we also hear banks are thinking of charging for current accounts and that free banking could be under threat. This would be yet another blow for those suffering from lack of excess to good financial services. At a time of record consumer debt when the banks already make substantial profits and I believe that charging those accounts actually in the black is just plain greedy.

Guardian report - Nationwide refuses to rule out account charges

Guardian report - MPs back 'financial inclusion' for the worst off

BBC report - MPs call for loan shark crackdown

Eastleigh Credit Union

Vince Cable MP - Government failed to encourage credit unions

Wednesday 15th November 2006

Blair's 10th Queen's Speech

Today for the 10th time the Labour government laid out its legislative program for the forthcoming year however yet again the government sees the problem areas but fails to address them correctly. So as in past the headlines will be made but real action will be taken to sort counties problems. This Queen's speech is no different to the rest and it is another wasted opportunity :-

  • Excessive legislation: It is high time this frenzied law-making is brought to a halt, and unnecessary and illiberal legislation repealed to make way for measured, effective and properly justified legislation.
  • Law and Order: This is panic, push-button government at its worst. New laws are produced with the aim of chasing headlines, not pursuing the guilty, whilst the innocent will be harassed by illiberal legislation forced onto the statute book on little more than a ministerial whim.
  • Climate change: The climate change bill is right to set binding targets for carbon emissions, but there have to be annual targets so the Government's progress can be assessed. And the Government must propose solutions as well as targets.
  • Local government: The local government bills must not be wasted opportunities. The Government has so far failed to put forward anything that is radical or transfers powers back to local people.

We can only hope again that this time the government will listen to voices of reason in this country and act particularly on climate change as we can not afford to wait until the extra general election in the hope of getting a green Liberal Democrat government as this desperate situation needs action now.

BBC report - Full text of Queen's Speech

Sir Ming Campbell MP - This is a Prime Minister trying to legislate his way into history

Tuesday 14th November 2006

Patient Choice Scheme is Failing

Today an official Department of Health survey shows that the Government's patient choice scheme is only being offered to three in 10 people. The poll carried out for the department by Mori showed that the worst areas offered a choice for first appointments to just 20% of patients. Many people also did not know they had the right to a choice of hospitals.

However the worst point of the survey was it highlighted that choice is NOT what patients really want. What patients really want is a good local hospital which caters for all their needs and allows friends and family to visit them. Patient care is not just a matter of a surgical procedure but also of good surrounding where worries are reduced. An important part of this is a good local hospital near to friends and family.

Commenting on this official government survey on their failing policy Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary Steve Webb MP said :-

"This survey shows that exercising choice in healthcare depends on where you live. People do not have equal access to a 'menu' of options across the country. There is a danger of increasing health inequalities between those who have access to information and those who don't. Most patients would rather go to a good local hospital. This is one choice that the Government is failing to deliver."

BBC report - Only minority get hospital choice

Steve Webb MP - Good local hospitals not false choice needed

Monday 13th November 2006

Massage in schools for the finance and pupils

Today it was the Townhill Infants School Full Governors meeting and two interesting points were raised the first concerned the school finances and the second concerned a possible new programme in school which could aid teaching in the school.

On the finances things were as tight as ever the projected balance of the school accounts was only a few hundred pounds for the end of the financial year. However this compares with the balance at the end last year of about £15,000. Next year the situation is looking worse as income drops further and costs continue to rise. For those of you outside the school finance loop this may seem a bit strange and you would be right.

School funding is based on the number of pupils in the school and not the schools costs. For the uninitiated let me explain; if a school has 90 pupils in the year they get 90 pupils worth of funding which will pay for the 3 teachers and 3 classroom assistants that 90 pupils merit. However if a school has 61 pupils in the year they get 61 pupils worth of funding, but they still are required to have 3 teachers and 3 classroom assistants. So that means less funding but the same costs as before.

The school funding formulae used across the country leads in the end to redundancies for teachers, changes to teaching staff from year to year and generally is a poor way to run the service. It would be better if schools were run on a service level agreement (SLA) basis, where the agreement could say, for example, this school will have an intake of 90 therefore the education authority will cover the costs of 3 teachers plus 3 classroom assistants and vary the material funding only based on the actual number pupils. At present as a governing body we have to massage the income and teacher costs to hopefully balance the accounts at the end of each year. This is no way to run a service properly.

The possible new programme in school which could also aid teaching also involves massage. This programme idea was presented to the governing body by one of the school mums who has seen this work in other schools, become a teacher in it herself and obvious thinks it would be a good idea for schools here. The programme that has been created develops nurturing touch in a school setting. It is based on respect and involves a formal peer massage routine and related activities. The clothed, peer massage is:-

  • For children 4-12 years old
  • Given and received with the child's permission
  • Given by the children, to each other
  • On the back, head, arms and hands
  • 10-15 minutes daily

In the presentation DVD shown the London based school highlighted said it had a number of benefits and various studies and observations have shown that :-

  • Children become calmer and have improved concentration.
  • Children have more confidence and increased self esteem
  • It teaches children to respect others and leads to social inclusion
  • There is a reduction in bullying and aggression
  • Emotional health improves
  • It helps children recognise 'good' and 'bad' touch
  • Children show improved motor skills
  • It encourages visual and kinaesthetic learning
  • The teacher benefits from all these aspects
  • Massage is fun!

The teachers there thought this would be a good idea particularly to calm the kids down after the lunch break, so as a governing body we gave the teaching staff permission to explore this idea further firstly with members of staff and secondly with parents.

Massage in Schools

The Massage in Schools Association

Saturday 11th November 2006

Remembrance weekend - Lest we forget

Today despite a very poor England rugby union 18 to 25 defeat against Argentina and Southampton struggling to draw one each at Sunderland, it is as always a day to really reflect and remember why we all have the freedom to enjoy the world we do.

If amongst todays many acts of remembrance one act stood out then surely that was a wreath laying ceremony at the British Air Services Memorial in St Omer, northern France. Laying the wreath was the UK's oldest war veteran, 110-year-old Henry Allingham and if he at his great age thinks it is important enough to travel to France to remember then the rest of should also remember.

The real danger of not remembering is that a full scale World War could happen again. This will only not happen if as a country we work with others to improve the lot of people across the global and not against others in a narrow minded self-interested manner.

So on this day it is worth remembering rugby and football are only games. Real sacrifices for us were made the likes of Henry Allingham and his mates.

BBC Report - Silence honours nation's war dead

Friday 10th November 2006

The Education system must address the needs of all

Today we saw two reports of how the education system is failing those at the lower end of the academic performance scale.

Firstly Education Secretary Alan Johnson is said to be exploring ways to raise the school leaving age to 18. So that all teenagers leave formal education with some qualifications to help them in life he is now looking at ways to overcome what he called the unacceptable situation of 16-year-old to be in employment without getting help with continued schooling or training for qualifications.

Secondly young people who have often gone through the education system without gaining any useful qualification appear to be gaining ASBOs as 'badge of honour'. An official study by the Youth Justice Board says some young people who get ASBOs saw them as glamorous and that many tackling youth offending doubted their effectiveness. The year-long study in England and Wales said half of the ASBOs issued to young people were broken.

Commenting on this Youth Justice Board report Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Nick Clegg said :-

"This report makes it clear that Tony Blair's twin-track approach of demonising young people and carpeting the country with ASBOs has reached its limit. ASBOs cannot be effective if they are merely seen as a badge of honour. All the available evidence shows we need to engage, not shut out, young people who behave badly if we want to prevent them from becoming the criminals of the future."

The real problem is that 14 to 19 old year education focuses too much on achieving the Governments target of 50% of school leavers to go to University and fails to fully engage with the young people who make up the other 50%. To tackle the problem a "Tomlinson style diploma" for 14 to 19 year olds needs to be introduced to replace the existing GCSE and 'A' level system. This would aim to create parity between vocational and academic courses, and to give all young people the chance to pursue the path which best suits them. This would :-

  • allow young people to choose between learning in a school, an Further Education College, or in the workplace on an apprenticeship, or a mixture of these.
  • allow young people to have both high quality and broad ranging courses
  • meet the needs of the country by producing both degree qualified professionals i.e. doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers etc and highly skilled non-degree qualified people i.e. builders, plumbers, bricklayers, mechanics, bus drivers etc

The aim would be to engage all young people with the world before some disengage and see the ASBO behaviour as a sensible way forward. However yet again the Labour Government saw the problem, commissioned the report and dropped its main proposals, because they were not prepared to drop 'A' levels despite wide support for the Tomlinson diploma idea.

When will this Government learn that tackling order and law issues requires more than order and law measures. It also requires multiple actions to tackle to causes of the crime.

BBC report - School leaving age may be raised

BBC report - Universities welcome diploma plans

BBC in depth - 14-19 learning

BBC report - ASBOs viewed as 'badge of honour'

Official report - Youth Justice Board summary of research

Nick Clegg MP - Report reveals failures of ASBO policy

Thursday 9th November 2006

Home Office sentencing policy in disarray

Today the government started to admit that their sentencing policy was a mess. However with prisons full and re-offending rates remaining high this is pretty obvious to any level headed person. So to start with Home Office has suggested judges in England and Wales could be given greater discretion to decide the sentence tariffs for potentially dangerous criminals. The Home Office has also suggested ways to make sentencing guidelines easier for the public to understand in a consultation document outlining the overhaul published today.

This is only a start the government has to admit that its sentencing policy is not working. These daft automatic sentence reductions were introduction against Liberal Democrat advice at the time and have led to the notorious case of Craig Sweeney as repeat child sex offender receiving a too lenient sentence. And commenting on this change of sentencing policy Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Clegg MP said:-

"Arbitrary and automatic sentence deductions should not have been introduced in the first place. How can John Reid be taken seriously if he is now proposing to reverse sentencing measures - opposed at the time by the Liberal Democrats - which the Government has only just introduced? He should now admit to the errors of the original legislation, restore greater discretion to judges and simplify sentences so that they are more honest. Sentences should mean what they say."

These automatic sentence deductions were introduced to overcome the problem of overcrowding in prisons and as has been proved they were only ever a short term measure. The underlying issues were never addressed and overcrowding will only be overcome in the longer term if the following measures are addressed :-

  • More prisons are built - The most obvious problem is the government is not joining up its sentencing policy with is prison building policy. However they also need to the address the quality of care it is simply not possible to lock a person up in poor conditions for years and expect that to aid the reform of that person's character.
  • Prisons should not be the punishment of first choice - they should only be used for crimes where the public need to be protected or that it is thought to be the best way to change to person's behaviour.
  • Re-offending rates are reduced - this is the single biggest area that needs to be tackled and it can only done if the prisons and probation services work more closely together. So that the question of "What does this person in prison do once they are released?" is answered.

The key way to reduce the prison population and reduced crime is to reduce re-offending rates. At the current level of 70% that means that 70% of the prison population are in the system for the second time because the first time the system failed to have the right affect. To affect this change it is essential that the prison and probation services are organised correct to tackle this problem. Yet only two days ago the Home Secretary, John Reid, launched a strong attack on the Probation Service, condemning its performance as "poor or mediocre" in many areas.

John Reid has pledged to privatise about one third of the probation services' budget within 18 months and has said he will bring forward new legislation to allow private companies and voluntary groups to carry out probation work. However yet again the government have seen the problem and are trying a quick fix when it is the criminal justice system which needs repairing. The probation officers on the ground are doing the best they can with limited resources and should not be blamed for failings in the systems as a whole. As Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Clegg MP said on this issue:-

"In launching yet more reforms to the probation service, John Reid should be careful not to blame probation officers for failings in the criminal justice system that are not their fault. Undoubtedly there is a case for looking at the role of the voluntary and private sectors, especially in non-core areas, but John Reid should not pretend that the private sector can act as a panacea for the problems of dealing with dangerous individuals. Probation officers on the whole do a good job in helping to protect the public, and it would be self-defeating if the disruption caused by government reforms weakened rather than strengthened this essential service."

The people on probation often spend months or years in prison before the probation service get to work with them and try to turn that person's life around. This time is prison is wasted and this should used constructively to help integrate the person back into society after the prison sentence is complete. If this is not the done all prison achieves is delay in causing the next victim rather than preventing another victim by changing the criminal behaviour of the prisoner.

To really affect prisoner behaviour upon release the following should done :-

  • Action Plan - Upon entering prison an action plan should be devised for each prisoner to determine what needs to be done to turn that person's life around. Actions could include a drug rehabilitation course, basic education, job skills training, physical fitness, life skills training, social responsibility awareness and so on. These actions should all be aimed a preparing the prisoner for the day they are released back into society, so that they are less likely to re-offend.
  • Improve leaving procedures - before each prisoner leaves prison the basics should be sorted out i.e. accommodation determined, any benefit entitlements arranged and if possible a job organised.
  • Increased probation service - to give each prisoner the support they need to stay on the straight a narrow. This is an area where voluntary groups can be of great help in integrating people into a normal way of life.

To some this level of support may seem excessive or even a reward for bad behaviour but a re-offending ex-prisoner would be far worse because that would mean :-

  • the thousands spent on the prison was wasted,
  • the investigation by the Police officers to jail the person was wasted,
  • and the first victim suffering did not prevent a second victim.

We need a better system and we need a better government that really is prepared to tackle crime and the causes of crime.

BBC report - Move to overhaul sentencing rules

Guardian report - Reid in attack on Probation Service

Nick Clegg MP - Government cannot be taken seriously over sentencing

Nick Clegg MP - Private sector no panacea for probation service's problems

Wednesday 8th November 2006

At last the great American people wakeup to Bush's Foreign Policy

Yesterday in America whilst we slept the American people woke up to the dangers of their President and his short sighted foreign policy, as they used the mid-term elections to deliver a verdict on his actions on the war on terror. The blow they gave is the strongest message they could, the stay the course policy of Bush is the wrong policy and the wrong course to take. The Democratic Party has clearly won control of the House of Representatives and probably the Senate too as the American people pull the rug from under Bush's feet.

It has taken at least 6 years, a hurricane and an increasing muddle in Iraq, however at last the American people have started to see through the worst American President in a long time. The situation in Iraq cannot improve whilst the invading forces are seen as occupying forces and not forces to help the Iraq. As soon as practicable the task of assisting the democratically elected Iraqi government should be handled over to a UN led force made up of mainly forces Muslim countries and from none the countries involved in the invasion.

On hearing the result Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ming Campbell said :-

"The American people have reached a clear verdict on President Bush's foreign policy in Iraq. The British Prime Minister must now change course. We need a British strategy based on British priorities. That strategy should be phased withdrawal - sooner rather than later."

BBC report - Democrats seize control of House

Sir Ming Campbell MP - US elections highlight need for phased withdrawal of Iraq troops

Tuesday 7th November 2006

At last the right action to tackle terror

After a few years of the tackling terrorists through unproductive means of Guantánamo Bay prison and detention without trail today we saw the correct way to handle the terrorist threat as an al-Qaeda plotter who planned to kill thousands of people in the UK and US has been sentenced to life and told he must serve at least 40 years in jail.

The only way the tackle the threat is to find the plotters, get the evidence whether written as in this case, personal statements or by communication intercept and then jail them. The schemes of these people must be exposed and shown for what they are schemes of mass murder of innocence people. They do not help any group overseas or further a religious cause they just aim to kill and maim people in an attempt to spread intolerance and hatred. So the more these schemes are shown in court and the people sent to jail the better.

BBC report - Al-Qaeda plotter jailed for life

Monday 6th November 2006

Can do better survey on school dinners

Today a BBC News survey suggests moves to improve the quality of meals in English secondary schools have resulted in fewer pupils taking them this term. This report highlights that improving the nutritional standard of the nation requires more than a menu change at school. It will also require a change in the nutritional education and in most cases introduction of cooking lessons in schools, plus improved quality of prepared food in supermarkets and a partnership between government, voluntary groups and parents.

Changing the nations eating habits is a big job and it must be done to reduce the levels of associated illness and improve the quality of life for the British people in the long term. Commentating on this Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary Sarah Teather MP said :-

"Getting children eating healthy food will only work if schools and parents work together."

BBC report - 'Fewer pupils' take school meals

Sarah Teather MP - Healthy school meals not helped by cheap jokes

Friday 3rd November 2006

Personal Bankruptcies Soar Due to Higher Interest Rates and Irresponsible Lending

On Wednesday we saw one bank the Abbey increasing its level of lending and today official figures show that a record number of people in England and Wales went insolvent between July and September. The Government's Insolvency Service said 27,644 people went bankrupt or entered into Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs) to manage debts.

The problem of personal debt need to be tackled and this Government needs to take this problem seriously. It should take steps to tackle house price inflation that is the driving force behind the debt problem. The old method of bank base rate interest to increasing becoming a blunt weapon with the increase in fix rate and discount rate mortgages and so more targeted measures like those I outlined on Wednesday are required.

Responding to this report Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Vince Cable MP said:-

"Hard working families are facing a three pronged attack from rising interest rates, rising unemployment and record levels of personal debt. With interest rates almost certain to rise next week, families are likely to feel a further pinch on their budgets leading to more increases in individual insolvencies. There is currently a considerable degree of irresponsible lending and aggressive marketing. Banks and building societies need to ensure people who take out mortgages are aware of the risks."

BBC report - Insolvencies reach record levels

Vince Cable MP - Government and banks must act to tackle personal debt

Thursday 2nd November 2006

Which? Says NHS has Dirty Kitchens and Hungry Patients

Today the Consumer magazine Which? found evidence of cockroaches, mice and mouldy cooking equipment in their review of hygiene inspection reports for 50 hospitals in Britain. The magazine also polled over 800 people who had been in hospital over the past year and found only 18 per cent of NHS patients were very satisfied with the overall quality of the food provided. The survey found 29% of NHS patients still felt hungry after their meals.

This is yet more evidence of the funding pressures on the NHS. The government have been forced by the high profile campaign by Jamie Oliver to improve food standards in schools in now appears that a similar campaign is required to improve the quality in hospitals. This is ironic because you would have thought that the one place that would put high quality nutritional and tasty food at the top of personal care would be hospitals.

Clearly the same problems that affects the ward areas of the hospitals with MRSA inflections due to cost cutting in hospital cleaning also affects the more hidden areas of the hospital kitchens. The cost cutting exercise in hospital cleaning followed the contracting out on cleaning services. This was based on the mistake belief by the Conservative Government in the 1980's that the cleaning staff are not part of the core health care and therefore can be replaced by subcontract staff who are not under the control of the nursing staff.

The hungry patients are only a result of the food quality and quantity but also the fact that nursing staff too frequently do not have time to assist patients with eating. The pressures on nurses often prevent staff given real old fashioned one-to-one nursing care and too often they rush around acting more like air-hostesses than nurses. The service clearly needs more nursing staff yet as reported last month newly qualified nurses either can't find a job or are finding it very difficult to find a job.

Commenting on this report Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary Steve Webb MP said :-

"Quality nutrition is vital for speedy patient recovery; many frail and elderly patients already come into hospital in an under-nourished state. There are huge pressures on hospital staff, meaning time spent ensuring patients have eaten and hospital kitchens are clean can be seen as lower priority. Rather than taking action, the Government has recently ended the Better Hospital Food programme which ring-fenced extra money for hospitals to improve nutrition for patients."

Which? report - Shocking secrets of dirty hospital kitchens

Steve Webb MP - Government must act to end bad hospital food hygiene

Wednesday 1st November 2006

Irresponsible lending fuels housing market and is bad for first buyers

Today the Abbey, Britain's second-largest home loans provider, has raised the standard amount it will lend to house buyers to five times single or joint salary for those with an annual income on £50,000 or more. They say this is help first time buyers, it may do in the short term but in the long term it will only fuel house price inflation, which really only helps the estate agents who charge a percentage of the house price and not the house buyers or sellers. They are only really interested in the difference between the house they are buying and the one they are selling.

Higher lending rates in the longer term will only cause the higher house prices and the poor first time buyer will again have problems even with a lending rate of five times salary. The only real answer is for the government to change the housing market is such a way as to reduce house price inflation.

There are a number of measures that could be taken other than the single weapon of increasing interest rates which is a blunt instrument that may affect the housing market but also adverse effects on industry. Such measures could be one of or several of the following :-

  • A special mortgage only base rate - to try a sharpen up the blunt one size fits all interest rate
  • Limits on the bank lending multiples - to prevent excessive loan amounts
  • Tighter controls on self-certified mortgages - to prevent excessive loan amounts
  • Repossession Tax - to tax lenders on either having high rates of repossession or on each repossession they have to make, so that the lender has a real incentive not to make poor loans. At present on good loans lenders get money repaid with interest and on bad loans they get the house this is almost a win-win situation for the lender.
  • Limits on the amount that estate agents can charge for each house sale - to restrict estate agents self-interest in pushing up the housing market

In the longer term measures on house price inflation should reduce percentage of people's income they spend on simply putting a roof over their head and give them more disposable income to spend on other items which should be good for the economy overall. This unless they actually are give greater incentives to save money but that opens up a whole new area for discussion so I won't start there.

Commenting on this announcement by Abbey the Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Vince Cable MP said :-

"This announcement is very alarming. The risk is that more and more people will become overstretched. With interest rates, unemployment and council tax all rising it is likely that these irresponsible lending practices will lead to financial disaster for many people. A more active role is required for the Bank of England in asset markets, and serious thought must be given to including house prices in the official measure of inflation. "

The Guardian - Abbey ratchets up mortgage multiplier

Vince Cable MP - Irresponsible lending fuelling housing market

Liberal Democrat Action Plan on Personal Debt

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