MEP Life 12 – Conference, Chuka and more money for Erasmus

Greetings from Strasbourg. This week, MEPs were back at work, while the UK parliament continues to be suspended, with MPs unable to work together to solve the Brexit mess.

Last week began in Brussels, where I met with other MEPs to talk about budget proposals for the Erasmus + and Horizon 2020 programme. I am delighted to report that the Education and Culture committee (CULT), which is responsible for Erasmus, and the Industry, Research and Energy committee (ITRE), responsible for Horizon 2020, have recommended significant increases of funding to both programmes. The budget increases of €20m and €100m went to Parliament for confirmation this week, as part of the EU budget, and – spoiler alert – they were approved. The overall budget proposal now goes to the Council, where I hope our political leaders will approve the funding increases. If there are proposals for cuts or changes, at least we have ensure that negotiation with regard to these important programmes starts from a strong base.

Friday, I was back in the UK in the Reading office, with my team, preparing for the Apprentices trip to Brussels in October. Due to the success of the trip in the South East we are extending the event to some South West Apprentices, also. This is a subsidised trip to Brussels with almost all expenses paid and the deadline is Friday.

If you are an apprentice and you have not yet applied to join us on the trip, please click here and get your application in! If you know apprentices who are >18 years or employers who have apprentice in the South East, please pass on this newsletter and share THIS LINK.

Saturday saw the start of the Liberal Democrat party conference, and what a conference it was. 

Any conference rally is a ra-ra event, meant to invigorate members and supporters. But this year, with 900 first timers along for the ride, the atmosphere was extraordinary. We had a great line up of Speakers and the reception we got when we MEPs took to the stage in our Stop Brexit T shirts made me really quite tearful. Members – you are fantastic! And we appreciate your support so much.

Jo Swinson gave her first leader’s speech, which was a corker and can be seen here and right at the end, she announced that Sam Gyimah has joined the party – fantastic news. A former Tory, like the rest of our converts, Sam has always been one of the good guys.

Over the weekend, I had a chance to talk with some of the other converts, including Chuka Ummuna, who joined Caroline Voaden and me for a special Conference edition of Our MEP Life podcast. With Chuka we tackled directly the concern that our recent converts were not really Liberal Democrats – it has been great to hear from both former sides of the fence how much they are enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of a Liberal Democrat conference and feel more at home in the Lib Dems than they had for years in their former parties.

Earlier on Saturday I played hooky for a couple of hours to attend the Love EU festival at Lyndhurst, nearby in the New Forest. I spoke alongside EU Supergirl Madeleina Kay and Chris Oram from #RemainerNow – both with powerful messages to share about the importance future of a future within the EU. I spoke about the importance of our relationship with the EU as a family: “We fight, we argue, then we make up. We are still family.” Sure, the EU needs reform, but it is critical that the UK remains part of the conversation. It is extraordinary in a world where trade agreements are thrashed out with the likes of the USA and China that our government is trying to rob us of the chance to work in concert with our continental family.

At conference, I spoke at a Creative Futures event, on a panel at the UK music discussion about shared parental leave for self-employed people #SelfieLeave, and also in the debate about the importance of life-long learning.

The most fantastic news is that as a result of this debate Lib Dem education policy now introduces the new concept of PESA’s – Personal Education and Skills Allowances to be paid at 25 years old, 40 and 55 years. This is inspirational and new thinking. All credit to Layla Moran for bringing such a great idea forward.

Finally, however, I have to say that although this was a great conference – we should not have been there. With Brexit still looming and Johnson making a mess at every turn, our members of parliament – our representatives, the voice of the people – should have been in parliament, pushing probing and working together to Stop Brexit and save the UK.

Newbury and West Berkshire March for Europe

This post was first published in 2017.

West Berkshire was well represented at the March for Europe in London, with members of West Berkshire Stronger Together EU (WBSTEU) and Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats on the move.

We joined with many thousands of people to march from Marble Arch, down Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square, then along Whitehall to Parliament Square. We heard rousing speeches from Tim Farron on Park Lane, before the march began. He was in front of the crowd again at Parliament Square with the Guardian reporting (at 14:10) as follows: ‘Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron cemented his growing role as the political leader of the Remain movement with a well-received address to the Unite For Europe march in Parliament Square.’

Many speeches followed, with excellentt contributions from Alistair Campbell, Peter Tatchell and David Lammy. The big finish came with Nick Clegg, who was excellent, as ever: “Sadness has given way to a perpetual sense of anger about the choices that Theresa May and her government have taken since [the EU Referendum].”

“It was a choice to pull us out of the customs union, it was a choice to embark on that demeaning bout of transatlantic obsequiousness,” Clegg explains, as he accuses the prime minister of “threatening to turn our country into a bargain basement cowboy economy”. (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2017/mar/25/brexit-protest-thousands-march-in-london-to-unite-for-europe-live?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other)

If you would like to join your local Liberal Democrats and work with us,
please sign up online and drop me a line at judith.bunting@wbld.org.uk.

Mending the Safety Net – speech to conference

At the 2016 Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference, Judith Bunting, Parliamentary Candidate for Newbury, spoke up in the debate about the radical reform of welfare and benefits proposed in the social security policy paper, Mending the Safety Ne

Her speech can be heard, below:

 

#LDConf #LibDemFightback 

Age Ready Britain in Rural Communities

This article is based on the speech I gave at the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference, 7th October 2014

I would be glad to hear any comments or suggestions people have to make, after reading.

Age Ready Britain - Speech 7th October 2014
Judith Bunting, Parliamentary Candidate
Age Ready Britain in Rural Communities
7th October 2014

AGE READY BRITAIN in RURAL COMMUNITIES

Wherever they live, across the UK, older people should have the opportunity to live in resilient, thriving and sustainable communities and to emphasise the importance of the joined up thinking and collaboration between government departments if we really want to make that happen.

The policy motion passed at Conference, in Glasgow, recently, calls for us to be ready to create an Age Ready Britain. It states: “Liberal Democrats take an optimistic video of of ageing and the opportunities it presents.” I love this line. Retirement should be a time of discovery, of engagement and opportunity. Everyone should be able to feel optimistic about their old age, wherever they live.

My mother is an optimistic pensioner and an inspiration. She lives in Hertfordshire, just close enough to London to enjoy good public transport and Mum is a wizard on the buses. Buses allow her to be independent, go shopping, to the doctors, to the library, to the church, to the choir, to see friends, to go to groups, talks, U3A – you get the picture. All possible, because regular bus services are available. Mum is 84 years old.

In contrast, if you read my blog, you will have read about my meeting with Ivy in Ashmore Green, West Berks, a year or so ago. The day we met, Ivy had learned that her eyesight had deteriorated so much, she was not allowed to drive any more. She had been looking into the bus services and told me, “I can get to Tescos in Thatcham on the bus, alright. The only problem is, I have to spend the night there”. The only return bus left half an hour after she could be dropped off and, Ivy said, at 84 years old, she just can’t shop that fast.

I sat in on a Health and Wellbeing Board meeting in Lambourn, recently, and heard about how resources for older people were likely to be closed down and moved to Hungerford. Six months before, during the Hungerford by-election, I’d spent time speaking with residents on the Fairfields estate. All the residents who were over 65 were about to be moved to a shiny new facility on the edge of the town. So resources are being moved into town, while old people are being moved out. You couldn’t make it up.

The number of older people living in our area is increasing fast. West Berkshire is home to more than 23,500 people who are over 65 – a figure that increased by 23% between 2001 and 2011 – double the average increase across Britain. Of this group, 3,300 people are over 90 years old – a figure that went up by 34% in the same period. We need to keep facilities where people live, to house people where the facilities are, or to provide regular, reliable transport so that people who are too old to drive can continue to live full and active lives for as long as possible.

To create thriving and sustainable communities that work for older people there needs to be some manner of better public transport. Regular, reliable, affordable. But how can we possibly afford such a service?

Each year the government awards a local government settlement to local authorities across the country. Not every authority receives the same amount and, on average, urban areas receive £153.47 more per person than rural areas. This constituency has a population of about 98,000 people. Multiply that by £153.47 and you get just over £15 million. A useful chunk of change, as they say.

I have no doubt that calculations behind the local government settlement have sound bases. There are issues with deprivation in some cities that need special consideration. I would like to ask, however, whether the new, ageing demographic of the UK is being fully considered, as well, when these calculations are made. I don’t want a fancy rural grant for this or a specially negotiated subsidy for that. ‘m not asking for special favours for countryside communities. All I want is fair’s fair for everyone, wherever they happen to live.

When people stay active, they stay healthier – and happier – for longer. An active, older, society offers a group of individuals who are often happy to engage, to volunteer, to help each other. So long as they can get about. When you are trapped in a block of flats a couple of miles or more from any active community, how are we honestly expecting people to cope?

The Policy passed at conference calls for the creation of a Minister for Ageing. When they are created, I call on them to engage with the Department of Local Government, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Transport and DEFRA, with its responsibility for rural communities.

If I’m elected to Westminster I will work for and campaign for joined up thinking between government departments, joined up public services, joined up action – which is the only way to enable the resilient, thriving and sustainable communities we all want, for older people.

Speech: 3% for Science

Brief summary of Judith Bunting’s speech to conference, September 2012

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I am here to support Julian Huppert’s campaign to ring fence the science budget and for a 3% above inflation increase for the next 15 years.

That this proposed increase seems large, goes to show how low research funding in the UK is right now. It will take 15 years of 3% annual increases for research funding in the UK to get even close to Germany’s funding for science, as a percentage of GDP.

According to a Wellcome Trust report published back in 2006, every pound invested in medical research generates a of 30p per year – and that’s ongoing, so 30p this year, and next, and so on for a very long time.  (Wellcome Trust, MRC and Academy of Medical Sciences).

If we want a healthy economy, we need a healthy scientific research base to underpin invention and development in the UK.

Britain is today a world leader in science and technology. Scientific research underpins UK innovation, industry and employment. It also plays a huge role in our exports and the investment we attract to these shores.  Maintaining this leadership requires investment and I call on the government to ring fence the science budget and commit to a 3% above inflation increase for the next 15 years.