Making Votes Matter

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This is an invitation to join the Upper Calder Valley Liberal Democrat branch meeting on 21st January at 19.00 to hear a short talk by Paul Clooney from the Make Votes Matter Team. This group of people advocates proportional representation but does not belong to a particular political party. Paul will talk for 10 – 15 minutes, followed by questions and discussion.
Proportional representation is obviously a key policy for Liberal Democrats but maybe, like me, you are unsure of the different systems used in proportional representation, or what we can do to encourage more people to support the idea. If this is the case please do join us.
The zoom details are:
https://zoom.us/j/98080186429?pwd=dTBTSTd1cjNhbXZJTHk1WHRwclh1Zz09

This meeting is not confined to members, or even Lib Dems, so if you know of anyone else you think might be interested please pass on the details.
If you would like to contact me you can do so here:

dianaharris.music1@yahoo.co.uk;
07967480874;
01706 558860

 


Governemnt nationally and locally should have listened to teachers

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As we head into another lockdown it is astonishing that teachers and parents in Calderdale had to put up with the farcical situation where schools went back just for one day. So much work, effort and stress went into trying to open schools only for one day later the Government to change its mind and close them. We have to acknowledge that the Teacher's Union (NEU) was right to say it was unsafe.

If the Government had acted sooner schools could have been working on home learning arrangements instead of trying to figure out if they would be able to open. Sadly the lateness with which we have entered into each period of lockdown has made each one less effective, costing more lives and hurting the economy more and more.

It is also a shame that locally here in Calderdale the Labour Council administration did not listen to many of the Concerns being raised by NEU members. If the Council had been more pro-active in listening to the NEU, rather than waiting to see what happened, and leaving it down to head teachers to make tough decisions then this situation could have been avoided.

We would now like to see the Council start to put more of an effort into tackling the increasing inequality and disadvantage that will arise from missed education. As a society we can't allow our children's future's to ruined by this pandemic. Particularly more effort could be made in setting up more apprenticeships for people leaving school during the pandemic, whose final years of education have faced such disruption.

 


What a load of Bollards - How the Council spent £1/2M on 'emergency active travel'

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In response to the pandemic Councils all over the Country have received funding for 'emergency active travel' (Active travel is Local Government speak for cycling and walking). This week Calderdale Council met, the lead member responsible for this funding Cllr Jane Scullion presented a report. It said:

"In response to the pandemic we’ve successfully implemented emergency active travel measures to the tune of approximately £568k. As well as social distancing, the measures have enabled 12 school streets and improved cycle facilities in a number of schools."

I was suspicious of how £568K of money was spent. It's a large chunk. It's 14 times as much as the £40K the Council provided towards ending Child Hunger. So I asked for a breakdown, and below is the list of what I was sent. 

The first thing I noticed was out of the £568K only 5K ended up to help with social distancing outside of schools. Another £13K on COVID signage. The real big ticket items were £121K on rising bollards for Halifax Town Centre and £157K on temporary barriers. I don't understand how either of these things promote cycling or walking or help combat COVID and the pandemic. I'm told as well the local authority is renting these barriers.

At a time when Local Government funds are in such short supply this represents another wasted opportunity by the Labour administration running Calderdale to both tackle the pandemic, and improve cycling and walking routes. Only a small amount of the money actually ended up being spent on improving cycling and walking routes. Most went on temporary measures to annoy and frustrate motorists.

And if anyone has any answers as to how you can spend £1,800 on a single bollard or £10,000 on a cargo bike please let us know. (update someone has kindly let us know about the £10,000 for the Cargo bike and this line was also spent on other equipment in addition to the bike itself and on some training which is good news).

 


Liberal Democrats condemn Labour's approach to cuts

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The blame for the cuts lies mainly with the Conservative Government, but the Labour Council's handling of things is making them worst.

Rather than balancing the books by cutting assets we argue more should be done to look at how we can generate an income to reduce cuts to public services.

Calderdale Council has to take urgent action to balance its books.

The fault for these cuts predominantly lie with the Conservative Government who have continued to cut funding to local Government. To make matters worst the pandemic has resulted in extra costs and a loss in officer capacity to deal with the pre-existing financial problems. Rather than helping Council's that provide vital public services the Conservatives have just announced they are not going to provide us with a clear three-year financial settlement. This makes it very difficult for any Local Council to make plans for the future when there is just so much uncertainty with funding.

Labour like to make out the blame for this lies all with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. However, in 2010 all political parties argued there needed to be some cuts. Labour politicians such as Alasdair Darling said they would cut more than Thatcher did. In 2010 there was too much fat in Local Government, but we are now cutting to the bone. 

Locally Labour have argued that they handled the initial cuts well. In 2019 Cllr Tim Swift  the Leader of the Council said "”I am proud that in Calderdale, so far we have been able to protect vital services such as children’s centres; improve children’s services; and give a sense of hope with vital investment for the future. But unless national policy changes, continued cuts in funding could put vital local services at risk." We agree that the Liberal Democrat & Labour Coalition that ran Calderdale from 2010 onwards, and then the minority Labour administration that we helped to keep in check didn't do too badly at managing cuts.

We also agree 100% with Cllr Tim Swift that the Conservatives cuts are now putting services at risk.

However rather than protecting us from the cuts the Labour administration's handling of the current financial crisis is making them worst.

Lacking Transparency, Failing to work with others and Keeping Cuts Hidden from Voters

In their 2020/21 budget for Calderdale Labour stated there would need to be over '£2M worth of cuts to be identified’. They failed to name what would be cuts as they knew they would be an election liability. Now they are trying to rush through cuts via Cabinet decisions and avoid the scrutiny of Full Council. In this sense they are acting in the same way as Boris Johnson and his Government who avoid Parliamentary scrutiny of their Coronavirus regulations. Identifying savings sooner would have resulted in better financial planning.

Opposition groups have offered to work with the administration, but they have declined to work with us. Most of the 51 Councillors you elect are excluded from any decision-making with a tiny handful of Labour Councillors that form the cabinet making all the cuts. This is leading to poor decision-making. Many Liberal Democrats in our Council group have experience of running successful businesses. All our knowledge and expertise is being wasted.

The Leader of the Council is meant to publish a forward plan of all decisions. However, cuts have either been omitted from any forward plans or they have been obscured by burying them in Cabinet Papers with names such as the ‘Future Council Delivery Plan’. In November 2020 the Council published a blank key decision list for the next three months - https://www.calderdale.gov.uk/council/councillors/democracy/key-decisions/index.jsp. Is Councillor Tim Swift seriously suggesting that in the next three months his administration will make no key decisions?

Staff at the Mixenden Activity Centre have found out the centre is going too close and that their jobs are at risk via the press. This is a disgusting way for any employer to announce redundancies to staff. We need advance notice of what is proposed to be cut, so we can properly research the areas and explore all the alternative ways to save money or generate more income.

Failing to do Equalities Impact Assessments Before Decesions are made

The Council has a public sector equalities duty to carry out equalities impact assessments on financial decisions. Guidance from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission states 'The general equality duty requires public authorities to have due regard to the aims of the general equality duty when making decisions and setting policies'. Yet the cabinet of the Council is saying it will do equalities impact assessments AFTER the cabinet paper and its reccomendations are agreed. It is impossible that they have considered their public sector equality duty of they have not consisdered the equalities impacts BEFORE decesions are made.

In the Guidance issued to public sector financial decesion makers the Commision states: 'Assessments of the impact on equality must be carried out at a formative stage so that the assessment is an integral part of the development of a proposed policy, not a later justification of a policy that has already been adopted'

 

Labour Running Budget Deficits and Lacking business sense

Labour’s budgets over recent years have all run a deficit. This has meant that the Council’s reserves have been run down. Although we accept the point you would not want vast reserves going unused whilst services were being cut, you also shouldn't delay making difficult decisions. The longer you delay the worst the financial position becomes. The Chartered Institute of public finance & Accountancy produces a Financial Resilience Index of all local authorities. They identify the current levels of reserves and changes in reserves for the local authority as high risk areas.

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Running Budget Deficits and running down reserves builds up larger problems for the future. Take your own household income. If you were eating into your savings every month then the sooner you took action to reduce costs or increase income the better. The Council is no different.

As you can see the Council has a relatively low debt burden. This does suggest there is scope to borrow to help fund changes that would be required to implement a commercialization agenda on the Council.

When it comes to running things efficiently it is clear no one in the current administration has any business sense. To give you an example they have managed to rack up losses of £63K a year from running car boot sales. They own the land, and they just need to collect money from people coming in, rent out some space for some food stalls and provide a few staff to manage it. Instead, they had staff working on overtime rates and breaking EU working time directives. Is it any wonder illegally overworked staff on overtime pay are raking up losses? When the markets service was looked at from the internal audit it got a 'weak' rating. There were poor financial controls in place for the collection of money. Only an incompetent Labour administration could lose £60K a year of taxpayers money on running car boot sales.

Liberal Democrat proposals for a green, efficient, and commercially minded Council would improve the authority’s income and mean fewer cuts to public services.

The Local Government Association has produced a best practice map of commercialisation. Commercialisation is the practice of looking at the Council’s assets and services and exploring ways in which an income can be generated from them. This income is then available for the authority to spend on delivering public services that we all rely on.

We know that Local Government has had large amounts of funding cut by Government. We can protest about the cuts, and we can blame the Government but this is unlikely to change anything. What we can do as a Local Authority is focus on improving our own approach to commercialisation. Here are some ideas of what it might mean in practice:

Improving income from our buildings.

  • Manor Heath Jungle experience costs just £1 to get in. We believe with a capital investment in the experience this could easily be turned into a tourist attraction that generated an income for the Council. The same is true of Shibden Hall and some of our Museums.
  • The Council could modernise and market its wedding services. We have fantastic historic buildings such as the Town Hall, Registry Office and Clay House for wedding venues.
  • Renting out Council space. =- The Town Hall makes for an impressive meeting venue we should look to commercialise the opportunities to rent out space rather than letting it sit empty. We also often have office space that sits empty.

Providing Support Services to Schools, Businesses and Charities

  • The Council already provides commercial services to Schools. This service should be improved and marketed.
  • We should look to expand the services we offer in areas such as HR support, Training, ICT, compliance advice and consultancy to the NGO and Charitable Sectors and to business start-ups.
  • Pest Control & waste services – The Council should look to commercialise and promote its pest control services and expand things like garden waste services and bulky waste services as commercial enterprises.

Empowering people to contribute directly

  • We would introduce a community lottery scheme with revenue raised locally going towards small grants. This would remove the requirement to fund small grants directly from Council Tax Income
  • Introduce a system of voluntary additional Council Tax Payments. In practice this would work by offering people the opportunity to donate to different funds. For example, you could pay an extra £1 a month to contribute to a tree planting scheme or £5 a month to help fund our work with homeless people. Both Labour and Conservative Councils elsewhere in the Country have introduced these schemes.
  • Introduce a Council Crowdfunding site where community projects can be directly funded by residents.

Reviewing existing fees

The Council currently charges fees for a range of services. We would review these to ensure that prices reflected the market value of the services being provided.

We do not have a monopoly on ideas for the Local Authority to generate more of an income and therefore cut fewer services. There are plenty of people in Calderdale with business expertise. We call on the Labour administration to make use of this business expertise to reduce cuts to public services.


Remembering Lord Shutt of Greetland OBE, 1942–2020

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There is a golden thread that passed through the life of David Shutt who passed away on Friday 30 October 2020, aged 78, following a short illness. Golden because that was the colour in which he fought his many elections as a Liberal and then a Liberal Democrat and golden because of the bright and lasting effect he has had on the people and communities he served during his life of exceptional public service.

David was born in Farsley and attended Pudsey Grammar Scholl before joining a firm of accountants in Leeds. After qualification as a chartered accountant he moved to the firm of Bousfield Waite in Halifax eventually becoming senior partner. He joined the Liberal Party whilst still in his teens and was active in Pudsey Young Liberals where he met his wife to be Margaret Pemberton who he married in 1965.

 

Read more

Labour slam paper for publishing MPs expenses

Labour's local election candidate for Ovenden has slammed the local paper for publishing the expenses of Halifax's MP.

These comments were then liked by the Labour Mayor of Calderdale, also an employee of the MP.

In online comments posted on Facebook Ms Durrans complained the newspaper story about Holly Lynch's expenses claim was "sensationalist". She went on to say the Halifax Courier should be ashamed for printing it as a story.

"Sean Bamforth Liberal Democrat candidate for Ovenden said: "Before MPs expenses were published there was widespread abuse of the system. We all remember the expenses scandal. It is right and proper that the local paper publishes these expenses. They should not be subject to political pressure from the Labour party for doing so.”

Councillor James Baker Leader of Calderdale Liberal Democrats said: "What's so strange is that there is nothing in Holly Lynch's expenses that we would object to. Her claims are legitimate costs involved in running an MPs office and employing staff.”
“However, we do feel strongly that the local paper shouldn’t be criticised for publishing them. It is worrying that Labour are attacking the press for doing this.”

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Save Clay House

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Lib Dem Councillors Paul Bellenger, Marilyn Greenwood and Sue Holdsworth are fighting to save Clay House after the Labour-run Council mothballed the Jacobian building.

Clay House is a popular wedding venue and is the local War Memorial. Not just the plaques inside the House but the house itself, where Remembrance Day services have been held for many years.

Paul said: “Clay House is an iconic building that should be used to benefit of local people not flogged off to the highest bidder.”

Now that Greetland Library has closed down, the Lib Dems believe that a Library could be placed in Clay House, so that local people don’t lose local services.

Paul added: “Clay House could be so profitable with some additional business nous: A Central Ward Library, Local History and Visitor Centre housed in the left wing.  The Bar and Reception can be secured from the Main Hall and could operate separately daily as a ‌Tea and Coffee Shop - there are many opportunities! It’s wrong that local people could lose BOTH Clay House and Greetland Library, so I hope local people will back our campaign by signing the petition.”

 


Council Should Act on Free School Meals

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Calderdale Liberal Democrats are pressing the Council to provide free school meals during the upcoming school holidays for those entitled to them.

Cllr Ashley Evans (Liberal Democrat, Warley) told us: “The government won’t take action on this matter, so it is even more important that the Council does. We have all seen the campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford on this issue and we need to show our support not just in words, but by taking action.”

“Those children who are entitled to free school meals get them only during term time and what happens during school holidays a real concern. Many parents will be facing reduced income and redundancy, so anything the Council can do to help will be of real benefit to those most in need.”

“Liverpool and Doncaster councils have already taken action on this matter, and I expect them to be joined by other councils in the near future” said Cllr Evans.

“I know the Council’s finances are tight, but the Council should take action on this matter. If it can’t do it all itself, the Council could work with local schools and businesses to provide some help to those who need it. The half-term holiday is almost upon us, but no one knows how long the current situation will last. Christmas is not that far away, then another half term and Easter”

“I will be contacting the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, and the Director of Children and Young People’s Services urging them to take action on this pressing issue” said Cllr Evans.


Labour Cuts the Services You Value – And There’s More to Come!

Calderdale Council’s Labour Cabinet has published the first of its lists of services to cut and it doesn’t make for pleasant reading. Among the cuts are:

  • Libraries – six community libraries face the chop
  • Public Halls – three public halls will remain closed and the buildings sold unless the local community takes them on
  • Household Waste Sites – closures and reduced opening hours are being considered
  • Rubbish Collection – your bins might be emptied only every three weeks and all Landrover collections to rural properties stopped.
  • Recycling – might be collected only every fortnight
  • School Bus Fares – up by over £3 per week

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on the Council, Cllr James Baker, says: “Labour are taking an axe to many services that are valued by local residents and which improve the quality of life for people in Calderdale. And this is only the start – more cuts will be brought forward later in the year, and then there’s next year’s budget to consider.”

“If these proposals were included in the normal budget process, then the public would be consulted on them. As it stands, there are no plans to ask local residents what they think about these cuts. Furthermore, the paper containing these cuts has never been published on the Council's key decision list. This breaks the rules around executive procedures for the Local Authority and will make any decision at risk of a legal challenge."

“The financial situation facing the Council is indeed dire. This is mainly due to the actions the Council has taken in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but that is not the only problem. Back in March, the Conservative government urged councils to do what was necessary to tackle coronavirus and promised to provide the necessary funding. That promise has not yet been kept, so we urge the government to match its words with actions that will allow this council – and all other councils – to keep on providing the local services that people value so highly.”

You can sign a petition against the proposed changes to the household waste and recycling services here


No School Crossing Supervisors for start of school year

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Concerns about the future of school crossing patrols were raised at a meeting of Calderdale Council (2nd September) by Cllr Sue Holdsworth (Liberal Democrat, Greetland and Stainland).

Cllr Holdsworth told the meeting that she had been contacted by concerned parents who had heard that the service might be withdrawn and one ‘lollipop lady’ who was unsure if and when she would be back at work.

“There was confusion at the meeting about which cabinet member is responsible for this service and who pays for this service. It seems that it depends on whether the school is an Academy or is maintained by the Council”.

“Either way, I would urge all concerned to ensure that this vital service is maintained. Parents and children will already have safety concerns about the return to school and don’t need any extra worries.”

“I understand that there will be additional complications at the moment, especially if schools are having staggered starts that mean crossing patrols need to be in place for longer at each end of the school day. However, I think these problems can be overcome.”

“Pupils need to be safe at school and to get there safely. The Council is encouraging people to walk to school and not be reliant on parents’ cars, but this will only happen if parents and children are reassured about safety.”

“I hope everyone involved in discussions about the future of crossing patrols can work out a solution that keeps this vital service in place”, said Cllr Holdsworth.