Last week saw parliamentary candidates in our constituency taking part in the Hungerford Question Time, always an important staging post in election campaigning.
The usual suspects were on the panel, with Paul from the Green Party replacing UKIP Katherine who was indisposed. Proceedings were well chaired by Greg Furr.
Questions ranged from rail electrification (supported by all parties) , to business rates (Lib Dems launched wide ranging review last week), to plans for the NHS (lots of vague promises, Lib Dems only party with a costed plan to provide £8bn a year extra funding for NHS by 2020).
There will be further opportunities to quiz your representatives on:
- Sun 19th April – 19:00 Streatley Hustings
The Morrell Room, Church Lane, RG8 9HT
- Weds 22nd April – 17:45 Newbury Political Debate, hosted by Buzz Magazine
St Bart’s School, Andover Rd, RG14 6JP
- Thurs 23rd April – 07:45 Economy, Taxation & Business hosted by Grant Thornton
I will be debating with Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, at a Thames Valley hustings in Reading
Madejski Stadium, Junction 11, M4, Reading RG2 0FL
If you are able to come along to any of these debates, I look forward to meeting you. Do come and say hello at the end of the event.
Walking is a great way of exploring nature and the outdoors and has clear benefits to health and the environment. If more people walk, rather than take the car, we can cut air pollution, have fewer problems with asthma and bronchitis, tackle obesity and reduce heart problems. As many of my correspondents have pointed out, recently, walking also has the potential to decrease feelings of social isolation and can have important economic benefits.
The Liberal Democrats are the only party that puts the environment at the heart of our thinking and we’ve done much in our time in Government to support walkers and walking.
We are taking steps to encourage people to walk and leave the car at home. We know that the vast majority of car journeys are over distances that could be easily walked, so Liberal Democrats in the Department of Health have secured £1m of funding this year for walking initiatives to help cut down on short car journeys.
The recent Infrastructure Act has created a new requirement for the Government to produce a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. The Strategy will set out the Government’s objectives on walking and cycling, and what financial resources will be made available to achieve these goals. It is a welcome step forward.
There are a series of other measures that Liberal Democrats want to introduce if we form part of the next Government that will be of benefit to walkers. As part of the Coalition, we introduced the Local Sustainable Transport Fund in 2011. As well as supporting buses, railways, cycling and other green infrastructure projects, it has also helped fund walking initiatives. We want to see that continue and we are committed to continuing this fund in future years if we are returned to office.
We also want to introduce five new green laws, including: a Green Transport Act and a Nature Act. The Green Transport Act would establish a full network of charging points for electric cars and incentivise green travel choices. Most important of all it will update planning laws to ensure that the needs and requirements of walkers, cyclists and public transport are taken into account when new developments are designed.
Our proposed Nature Act will help us to protect our natural habitat and deliver a massive increase in accessible green space for everyone to enjoy. As well as completing the coastal path, we want to introduce a general right of access to the countryside in England, as has already been put in place by the Liberal Democrats in Scotland.
I hope everyone in West Berkshire will support these initiatives.
Lobbying for the WBRRC, JB with (L-r): Lord Newby,
Tim Farron MP and WBRRC’s Andrew Sharp; JB accosting Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, last October.
Fingers and toes were crossed earlier this week for news in the Budget for one of West Berks local charities. I am glad to report success for West Berkshire Rapid Response Cars. Their campaign has reaped a reward in this year’s budget.
Back in 2012, Andrew Sharp, the Chair of Trustees for The West Berkshire Rapid Response Cars got in touch to ask if I could help with their long running campaign to get VAT relief on the purchase of new rapid response cars.
Each car costs about £20,000 and VAT relief would provide the charity with the £4,000 it takes to equip a standard vehicle as a car appropriately decked and equipped for emergency paramedic use.
All money for the cars comes from fundraising in and around West Berkshire on charity collecting days, crafts fairs, and the wonderful Greenham Common Trust.
Cars are operated by South Central Ambulance Service and driven by SCAS paramedics, like Jerry,on a volunteer basis during off duty hours. They are based in rural corners of West Berkshire, such as Yattendon and Kintbury, where it takes ambulances far too long to reach. The Service should not need additional help from the WBRRC to cover the more remote parts of West Berkshire, but they do, and as long as emergency cover is not reaching our residents fast enough, I am delighted to have been able to work with the charity to achieve this reform.
The WBRRC drivers attend crises across West Berkshire, giving emergency help, sometimes standing ambulances down, sometimes ferrying the walking wounded to hospital in Reading, Swindon.
After three years of letter writing and lobbying and watching Air Ambulance and Rapid response boats – both charities we heartily support – get tax breaks in two budgets, at the end of last year I finally got the ear of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, our Danny.
The budget announced this Tuesday includes the following phrase:
2.112 Rapid response vehicles – The government will provide a grant to support charities providing rapid response vehicles for medical purposes.
We understand that the grant is a sum of money set aside to go towards compensating rapid response car charities for the VAT they pay on cars and equipment and look forward to discussing the size of the grant with treasury officers as soon as possible. (Just can’t wait!)
Huge congratulations go out to Andrew, Deborah and everyone who has supported the charity and the campaign over the last few years.
I’ve had a lot of correspondence about Tax Dodging and thought it might be helpful to share my response more widely.
Letter to constituents:
- the introduction of a General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR), which goes much further than the current anti-abuse rule and is well on the way to being the kind of Tax Dodging Bill you are after;
- strengthening the Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Schemes (DOTAS) regime;
- introducing a tougher monitoring regime and penalties for high-risk promoters of tax avoidance schemes;
- investing almost £1bn in HMRC to tackle tax avoidance and giving them the power to collect disputed tax bills up front (thus removing the incentive for tax avoiders to delay and frustrate HMRC’s efforts to settle disputes)
- recruiting 2,500 extra members of staff to work on tackling tax avoidance
- opening a new Large Business Directorate last year to deal specifically with the tax affairs of the 2,100 largest firms in the UK.
- There is clearly much more to do at home and abroad, but I am proud of the work that Liberal Democrats have done in Government to close loopholes and force tax cheats to pay more of their fair share. Thanks to the steps we have taken, the tax yield for this year, alone, will be around £9bn more than when we came into Government in 2010.
The inequality we are seeing now began, in our country, in the eighties with Big Bang. The Greed is Good and the Loadsamoney mentality permeated the Thatcher years. The same attitude continued in certain circles through the Banker Worship of the Blair era and lies behind the crippling costs of social welfare in our country at the moment. I never got with that programme.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to penalise those who do well. The Liberal Democrats are the party of success and achievement. When the richest one percent of Britons own the same amount of wealth as 54 percent of the population, however, something has to change.(1)
Economist, Thomas Piketty, warns that if inequality in the West continues to grow at the current rate, society as we know it will collapse. At present, the state is being required to make up in benefits for the poor salaries some companies pay to their lowest paid employees. We cannot afford to continue to do this. (2) .
Let me offer you an example: Over the two years between 2011 and 2013 the CEO of SSE a received a 79% pay rise. His actual remuneration increased from £1.45m to £2.6m. Meanwhile, average wages did not rise at all and 10.6 million individuals in the UK were living in absolute poverty. (3) Funnily enough, trickle-down does not seem to be working.
Of course, many smaller companies have simply not been able to increases wages over the past five years. Understand that. Other larger companies, though, the kind who have been increasing shareholder dividends and executive pay, seem to have forgotten that if you increase the wages of your lowest earners, you will be rewarded with more loyalty and better work. Paying a decent wage takes away your staff’s need to worry on your time about when/whether they will receive their housing benefit, problems they may have with heating their homes, paying food bills or how they are to afford the school uniform. It’s that basic. Take those worries away and you get more focus, better attention to detail and a more efficient and effective job done. The political Philosopher Elder Shafir talks movingly on how just a little extra security helps increase people’s ‘mental bandwidth‘, which makes for a better life, better work and a better society.
From the point of view of the UK, as a whole, paying people a living wage releases low paid individuals from the bonds of in-work benefits, which releases pressure on the welfare system and so releases funds to pay for the schools, NHS, police, roads, army etc etc, essential services, shared by us all – including the people who run successful large businesses in the UK.
In government, the Liberal Democrats have smuggled through some of the most socially democratic policies for a generation and softened the blow of austerity a little, but there is still far more do to.
Picture: Judith Bunting with Nicola Padfield, Master of Fitzwilliam College.
In 1869, Fitzwilliam opened its doors as a rooming society for students who could not afford Cambridge College fees. There after it continued to encourage students from modest backgrounds and support them through a Cambridge education. In the seventies, the College became one of the first in Cambridge to offer A level entry to students of state schools. In 1979 they opened their doors to women (including Judith Bunting). In 2014 the College welcomed its first female master, Prof Nicola Padfield. Equality Matters – Shout about it!
3 Absolutely poverty is defined as earning 60% or less than median income ie: £13,728 pa at that time.
Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson Judith Bunting, today welcomed the government’s upcoming changes to health and social care funding and their tightening of the rules as to how this funding must be used. Norman Lamb’s changes mean people in Newbury and West Berkshire with ‘substantial’ social needs should now get a better deal from West Berkshire Council.
Judith requested an urgent meeting at the Department of Health to discuss the imminent crisis in care in West Berkshire caused by the mismanagement of local health funding by Richard Benyon’s Conservative Council. For the past ten years the Council has provided social care only for those in ‘critical’ need.
Judith said: “The number of older people living in West Berks has gone up by more than 30% in the past ten years. During this time, West Berkshire Council has resolutely refused to respond to this change in population and cover the care of people in ‘substantial’ need. ”
At the meeting on Monday, Minister for Health, Norman Lamb, told Judith Bunting and the Liberal Democrat Council Group Leader, Jeff Brooks: “There is no way we could possibly justify giving additional funding to West Berkshire and the two other Tory councils who now have to adjust their care levels to ‘substantial’ from ‘critical’ only. All other Councils in England already fund care for people with substantial needs. To provide additional funding now would be to penalise every other Council in England for taking good care of their residents.”
Commenting, Judith Bunting said: “That the money provided by government for this has been spent elsewhere, is the Council’s choice. I have long been concerned that our resources for vulnerable people in West Berkshire are under-used, while those in ‘substantial’ need have been going without assistance. In 2013 I met Sybil Flinn at the Resource Centre in Hungerford (see above). The care offered by the team there was outstanding and with the right funding they could easily have catered for more clients.”
Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, also refused Richard Benyon and his Council’s plea for more money to make up the claimed ‘shortfall’ in funding.
Judith Bunting is calling on the retail sector to do the right thing – by marketing toys for all children, rather than for boys and girls separately.
Many girls still believe that some science subjects are not for them – almost half of all state-schools had no girls taking A-level physics in recent years. Campaigners have suggested that this is in part because the future aspirations of girls and boys are set at a very early age.
Judith Bunting said:
“Parents know that boys and girls love all kinds of toys. With children developing very clear ideas at a young age about what jobs boys and girls can do, we can all help to send a clear signal that nothing is off limits. It is great that fewer retailers are defining toys as ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’, which shows they are responding to their customers’ demands for more choice.
“But there is still more to do. I hope this Christmas companies will be conscious of how they are marketing their products and make sure they aren’t accidentally limiting customers’ and children’s choices.”
Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister, Jo Swinson, is the power behind the Your Life campaign – which is encourages young people, especially girls, to consider science, technology, engineering and maths careers – and pledge to take action to increase the numbers of women working in the sector.
Because of an enquiry from a constituent, I have gone back, this morning, to coverage maps for the Superfast Berkshire project, which detail which areas will receive fibre optic services by the end of the project in 2016.
They are truly extraordinary – and not in a good way. I showed them to our MP on the DCMS Select Committee (John Leech) and even he was astonished to see the appalling provision that’s been negotiated on behalf of West Berks, compared to the coverage for the East.
And remember, the Lead Authority for the Superfast Berkshire project was the loveable Tory team on West Berkshire Council. Richard Benyon was along side them, sticking up for the needs of his rural residents.
EXTRAORDINARY EXAMPLE: If you look at the map close-up, below, you’ll see, under the green and the red shading, that Yattendon is well covered. Good for Yattendon, no problem with that at all, in itself. But while Yattendon village is covered twice and the greenfields around are promised superfast coverage by December of this year, Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys are not expected to receive fibre optic superfast coverage by the end of 2014, the end of 2015 or the end of 2016. Perhaps not even, at all.
Large numbers of people live and work in Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys. Lots of children need to do homework online. What did they ever do to offend West Berkshire Council? What were their Councillors – those people elected to represent their interests – doing while this so-called negotiation was going on?
Looking at the project completion map (the purple one, below), even once the additional funding of the Rural Communities Broadband fund, so proudly trumpeted and the ‘planned’ infill satellite and wifi coverage, only 25-50% of households in Hermitage will receive coverage >2Mb.
I could go on further about East Ilsley, East Garston and Compton, with a population of ~2,000, where 0-25% superfast coverage is the best that is promised by the end of the project. Scandalous.
Looking at these maps, one would assume that Reading was leading the Superfast Berkshire negotiations, that Windsor and Maidenhead must have held the floor, that Slough drove proceedings, but no – no, West Berkshire Council was the lead authority on the Superfast Berkshire Project. Richard Benyon proclaimed more than once, how wonderfully the negotiations were going.
If this is the best result our MP can get from good negotiations, lord preserve us from his bad ones. There are times, in life and in politics, when being nice is simply not enough.
For more information about the Superfast Broadband project, see their own site: http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34509&p=0
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See what I’m up to on Facebook, here: www.facebook.com/JudithBuntingforNewbury
This weekend Judith Bunting and the Liberal Democrat team were in Northbrook Street in Newbury to promote the Education for a Fairer Future campaign.
This campaign comes against the backdrop falling GCSE results throughout West Berkshire and average achievement levels at GCSE, last year, which were below the national average.
Newbury and West Berks educational attainment has been in decline for some years – last year GCSE English results fell by 10% in West Berks. At the same time, the Council has cut funding for school support officers, year on year. Each time they make these cuts, Lib Dem Councillors point out the dangers in what they are doing and make a stand. Each time, the Council Leaders do not listen.
The decline of local schools in such an affluent area is a stain on the conscience of West Berkshire Council and a symptom of conservative complacency. Let’s ensure West Berks Council does more to support the futures of young, striving students in Newbury.
Judith Bunting is also putting pressure on the council to increase Education provision for the 4,000 new house due to be built in Newbury.
Join the campaign today by signing our petition at:
Education for a Fairer Future: change.org/petitions/increase-education-provision-in-west-berkshire.