Judith supports the Mencap Campaign for Easy Read manifestos

 

FriendshipSkillsc
Judith at the local Friendships Skills group

Message from Judith…

I am delighted to support the Mencap Campaign for Easy Read manifestos for the 2017 General Election.

Over 1.4 million people in the UK have a learning disability. About 1 million of these people will have the opportunity to vote in the General Election. Research for Mencap’s Hear my Voice campaign in 2015 showed that people with a learning disability have a political appetite and want to vote.

I have met with our local Friendship Skills group for a political grilling twice, now, and the questions asked by the group are often just as tough as those from the audience at public hustings.

The support given by groups, such as the Mencap Friendship Skills group is excellent. Nonetheless, many feel excluded from the political process due to the inaccessible language and jargon used in politics. Providing Easy Read manifestos can change that.

The Liberal Democrats provided an Easy Read manifesto in 2015, alongside the standard version.

An image of the Lib Dem Easy Read manifesto from 2015
Part of the 2015 Lib Dem Easy Read manifesto

Easy Read means using simple language and pictures to make information easier to understand for people with a learning disability. By providing an Easy Read manifesto you are making sure that people with a learning disability feel included and that their vote is valued and counts.

I am delighted to report that the Liberal Democrats were one of the first parties to commit to do the same for 2017.

Links to the standard and Easy Read Manifestos will be posted here, as soon as they are available.

Please sign up below, if you would like me to forward the link to the Liberal Democrat manifestos when they are available (should be Wednesday). 

Please send me a link to the manifesto

Judith Bunting at Newbury Friendships Skills group
Judith at the local Friendships Skills group

For more information on this issue, this podcast may help.

Judith Bunting says NO to hard Brexit, NO to coalition

 

Judith Bunting meeting local residents in Northbrook Street
Judith Bunting in Northbrook Street, Newbury

In a positive mood, speaking at a street stall in Northbrook Street recently, Judith Bunting, Liberal Democrat candidate for Newbury constituency, said: “We must be clear with people about our stance in this election. We don’t rule out future coalitions – we believe in optimistic, plural politics – but we will not enter a coalition led by either May or Corbyn.”

Bunting continued: “We will work with pro-European MPs in any party to stand up to the Conservatives over hard Brexit, but Corbyn is not that. Corbyn is pro-Brexit, he wants to pull us out of the single market. He marched his MPs through the lobbies to vote for article 50 alongside Richard Benyon and the Brexit Conservatives.

Every Liberal Democrat vote and every Liberal Democrat MP elected is a challenge to Theresa May’s Brexit agenda. This election is your chance to change the direction of our country. If you want to stop a hard Brexit, if you want to keep us in the single market, if you want a real opposition, this is your chance.”

Lee Dillon, leader of the Liberal Democrats on West Berkshire Council said: “During the referendum this constituency was clear regarding Brexit. People here don’t want it. Labour should unite behind the Liberal Democrats in this election and back Judith Bunting to hold our Tory MP to account for going against the wishes of his constituents”.

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Judith Bunting in Northbrook Street

See more of Judith’s articles on Brexit here.

 

 

 

The Great Repeal Bill – The Liberal Democrat perspective

The Great Repeal Bill starts the arduous task of transposing EU law into British law, but leaves tens of thousands of pieces of critical regulation subject to the whim of this hard-Brexit Tory government.

Theresa May has chosen to pursue the hardest, most divisive form of Brexit, taking us out of the Single Market and seeking to create low regulation, low-grade Britain.

Up and down the UK, Liberal Democrats will continue to fight to maintain the high standards for the environment, health, safety, consumer protection, employment and equalities that the UK currently adheres to as an EU member.

Nobody voted to diminish their rights, make themselves poorer or to make their country less safe.  

We are the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit Government and the only party fighting for a Britain that is open, tolerant and united.

Fighting for the British people to have a say on the final deal: We will try to use this opportunity to ensure that the Great Repeal Bill is only enacted after the British people have their say on the final deal.

Fighting for the UK to maintain our rights and standards: Liberal Democrats will not support anything which weakens vital human rights and environmental and consumer protections, or that threatens freedom to travel, study and work, employment rights, research funding, or security co-operation arrangements.

Fighting to protect British business from crippling bureaucracy: Businesses were told that Brexit would protect them from red tape, but hard Brexit means dealing with thousands of new regulations, changing codes and uncertainty.

Fighting for transparency: The Leave Campaign told us Brexit would give back control to our Parliamentary democracy, but it has become a power grab by ministers and civil servants who want to use ancient Henry VIII powers to stop MPs from scrutinising the process.

 

This bill will cover fundamental rights and protections for British people, and it must not be stuffed through without due process.    

Liberal Democrats call for £4m extra for NHS and social care in Newbury & West Berkshire

 

Ahead of this week’s budget the Liberal Democrats called for a £4 billion funding boost for NHS and care services. That would have amounted to a cash injection of £4 million for local NHS services in the Newbury and District CCG and £5.9m for social care across West Berkshire. The Budget announced by the Government today will instead see the share of national income spent on the NHS fall in the coming years.

The Liberal Democrats have slammed the Government’s failure to provide enough extra cash for the NHS in the budget, warning that local services will struggle to cope with growing demand.

NHS services in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West, the area which will oversee healthcare here in the coming years, currently face a funding gap of £479m by 2020-21, analysis of local NHS plans has found. The NHS funding crisis also risks being made even worse by the Government’s hard Brexit plans, which are set to increase borrowing by £100bn in the coming years.

Liberal Democrat spokesperson Judith Bunting commented:

“The Government is refusing to stump up the extra cash that NHS services in Newbury and West Berkshire so desperately need.

“This is a woefully inadequate response to the impossible pressure our NHS and care services are under.

“Chronic underfunding of our NHS is leading to longer waiting lists, cancelled operations and loved ones being stranded in hospital.

“Only the Liberal Democrats are being upfront with people that to protect our NHS and care services, we may all need to pay a little more in tax.

“We will also stand up against Theresa May’s reckless plans to pull out of the Single Market that will blow a £100 billion hole in the public finances. It’s clear you can’t have strong NHS and care services with a hard Brexit.”

The £4 billion of extra NHS and care funding , called for ahead of the Spring Budget 2017-18, included £2bn for social care, £1.5bn to improve efficiency in the NHS and £500m dedicated funding for mental health.

~   *   ~

The photo above shows Judith Bunting with Sybil Flinn, at the Hungerford Resource Centre in 2013.

 

Report on Housing Q&A – Judith Bunting and Lee Dillon

This report gives the gist of the discussion that took place in the recent Facebook Q&A on Housing. Thank you to everyone who took part!

At the sharp end, we had Lee Dillon, Councillor for Thatcham North and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Council Group, and Judith Bunting, Parliamentary Candidate for Newbury constituency.

Discussion kicked off with social housing:

SOCIAL HOUSING

We opened proceedings, with a question from Sue Farrant asking:

“How many affordable homes do West Berks Council say they have provided in, say, the last 5 years and how many have they actually provided?”

Lee Dillon replied that 101 affordable housing units have been built in West Berkshire so far this year [latest figure]. Last year West Berks saw 158 completions. The Council has set itself a target of developing 1000 affordable homes by 2020, but has admitted that is unlikely to hit that target and looks set to fall short by at least 150.

Tony Harris joined the debate, asking about the situation with the affordable flats in Parkway. Out of 111 housing units in the development, 37 are allocated to be social housing. Sadly, 4 years since the units were all finished, the affordable unit were still not being late. Tony was looking for an update:

Do you know if the situation with the affordable flats in Parkway has been resolved yet? We learned that due to another West Berks Council legal cockup the developers realised they could keep them vacant and still keep the council’s money.” He went on to ask, “Are the flats now occupied and have WB legal accepted responsibility?”

Judith Bunting answered with the latest news that, “The 37 affordable units have now been allocated to the social housing provider, One Housing Group. I understand, however, that only one flat is occupied. After all, it is just four years since Parkway was completed!” She went on to say, “West Berkshire Council accepted legal responsibility for this crazy situation some time ago, now. Sadly that did not speed up their quest to find in a housing provider.”

“This is a disgraceful situation”, commented Ian Hall. And so say all of us, Ian!

Lucie Thompson then asked: “How much social housing has been replenished, and why do we see less and less being built. The housing list bidding system, how many families are living in cramped conditions because there is a shortage of 3 and 4 bed houses.”

Judith Bunting picked up this question saying, Lucie, Afraid I cannot find precise information about the number of bedrooms. The latest figures from the National House Building Council show that in 2015 the UK built:

  • Detached Houses:         42,173                     27% of which was social housing
  • Semi Detached:              35,423                     23% social housing
  • Terraced:                          26,531                      17% social housing
  • Flats:                                 49,529                      31% social housing
  • Bungalows:                     2,484                          2% social housing.

Judith Bunting continued, “The problem is that not enough dwellings are being built altogether. The country needs a major programme of house building, increasing the rate of construction until we reach at least 300,000 houses a year and giving more freedom to social landlords, local authorities and local communities. Funnily enough, when we were in coalition, the Tories nixed the idea of any major investment in housing, although Nick Clegg’s proposals for a new garden city at Ebbsfleet, seem to be going ahead.”

  • Semi Detached: 35,423 – 23% social housing
  • Terraced: 26,531 – 17% social housing
  • Flats: 49,529 – 31% social housing
  • Bungalows: 2,484 – 2% social housing.

I’m afraid I cannot find precise information about the number of bedrooms. The problem, not enough dwellings are being built altogether!

Lucie Thompson“My point is that so many houses from the social sector were sold to families during the last 40 years that they are not replenishing those homes. This in turn leaves a huge gap for families living in a two bed flat, waiting for a house, then you have this crazy bidding for the house to even get it! Some families wait years!”

Rowena Lewis agreed: “I agree Lucie, it is a nightmare for any family on a single salary or person trying to restart after a change in personal circumstances.”

Lucie Thompson finished, saying, “I personally think there is a bigger need for social housing than affordable housing, currently, and that is nationally”.

COUNCIL HOUSING
Building on Lucie’s comments, Judith Bunting drew our attention to the graph below from the Local Government Association (LGA), posted by Judith, shows how the type of new homes being built has changed over the years:

Graph 1 - new homes, private and social sectors

“In 1981, you can clearly see the effect of Margaret Thatcher’s policies, in the dramatic drop off of council built homes [yellow line, Local Authority Housing]. Interestingly, the increase in social housing (grey line) comes in 1990, while John Major was PM. This is when social housing overtakes council housing for the first time. During the Blair years, 1997 – 2007, the rate of building of social housing drops off again. Gordon Brown oversaw a rise in the building of social housing, which then remained pretty steady during the coalition years. “

A presubmitted question asked specifically about Council Housing in West Berkshire:

“Other Councils still have Council Houses, why is it not the same in West Berkshire?”ow

Lee Dillon had no doubt about his answer: “West Berkshire Council could build Council Houses it if wanted to.”

Judith Bunting was also very clear: “There is no good reason why we do not have Council Houses in West Berkshire. The Conservative government of 1979 transferred the public housing stock to the private sector and created the right to buy. Today, though, it is a Council’s choice whether to build Council Housing again. Our Council has chosen not to do so, and shows no sign of changing their minds. It is worth noting,” she said, “that Reading Borough Council still builds Council Houses.”

Lee Dillon picked up with a comment on the cost of housing in West Berkshire, “One clear reason why we are in desperate need of affordable housing, from social rent, through to shared ownership is this …

Graph 2 - av house prices in WB
The average price of a home in West Berkshire has risen to a whopping £336k. Assuming a 10% deposit (£36k) you would still need a mortgage of £300k which requires a joint income of over £75k per year.”

Lucie Thompson joined in with the comment that“Sadly this also means the average earner and below will always be trapped in rented properties. It’s not just the North/South divide, it’s the rich poor divide and many middle class are being squeezed into poverty.”

Lee Dillon: “Spot on, Lucie.”

This brought Mel Macro of Hungerford into the debate. Mel made the point that the staggering size of the mortgage required to buy a house in West Berkshire had pushed her and her partner go with SO [Shared Ownership].

“I bought a shared ownership house as for us it was the only option to buy. Whilst happy that it enabled us to buy, to buy the rest of it we are limited – we are only allowed to buy up to 25 % at a time, which means 3 more lots of fees, solicitor charges etc. This effectively stops it being sensible/affordable to buy your own home outright. I don’t know if there is any talk so that all shared ownership homes have the same ‘rules ‘ or that they make it as easy to buy your SO home as they do your own council house.”

Mel Macro went on, “We bought the first one we were offered after losing out umpteen times, so there wasn’t a choice. With that and the fact that solicitor costs are almost double for shared ownership and you can only get a mortgage from a few banks it just seems like everything is against you!”

Lee Dillon: “Hi Melanie Macro, some Shared Ownership agreements allow people to staircase up in 5% blocks.”

Melanie Macro: “It doesn’t make any sense to buy 5% in my opinion, because it costs thousands in fees. You’re better off saving and waiting to buy a larger chunk, it’s the upper limits that upset me for that reason.”

Lee Dillon: “I think there should be a standard agreement that allows stair-casing without new legal fees at each point.”

Which sounds like a very good idea to us!

HOUSING WHITE PAPER

Judith Bunting drew our attention to the Government’s Housing White Paper, currently making its way through Parliament:

The full white paper can be read here, Fixing our broken housing market.

Judith Bunting said that although the paper shows that the Government recognises the scale of the housing problem, sadly, it still misses the main point. The paper omits any plans for new, genuinely affordable homes to rent.

Judith also drew our attention to the Joseph Rowntree Trust’s review of the paper, which makes the point that: “For many families in the UK, high rental costs make the difference between just about managing and not being able to manage at all: poverty in the private rented sector has doubled in the last decade, leaving millions trapped in insecure, expensive housing.”

A question from Sue Farrant highlighted the worst of the current problems.

Sue Farrant asked, “How many households are living in temporary accommodation at the moment? What’s the average length of stay?”

Lee Dillon answered, “Hi again Sue. Sorry I don’t have those figures to hand but what an absolutely on topic question – especially here in West Berks where have seen recently local companies stepping up to help out.

Only last week the Executive at WB considered the future of the Homelessness service going forward. They decided to cut the budget by £349k which will see a reduction in the amount of places where people can sleep from 108 units to 73 units.

So sadly those living in temporary accommodation with decrease but not because more is being done to get them into permanent homes but because there will be less provision or them going forwards.”

As in any discussion of housing in West Berkshire, the topic finally moved on to Sandleford:

Presubmitted Question: “It looks like the 500 house development in Sandleford is not going ahead. What does that mean for housing developments elsewhere in West Berkshire?”

Lee Dillon took this question: “Sandleford is expected to provide 2000 homes in the not too distance future, but a poorly chosen site has led to delay upon delay with the latest decision not now expected until the Autumn when we should have had a decision around about now.

“The impact of Sandleford not being built will be massive for communities across the District as it is designed to provide such a large percentage of our housing and what the Council have to provide in terms of a thing called 5 year land supply.
(which is where the Council have to show the government how it can always provide homes over a rolling 5 year period) the district as it is designed to provide such a large percentage of our housing, and what the Council has to provide in terms of a thing called 5 year land supply (which is where the council have to show the government how it will provide homes over a 5 year rolling period). The major riss is that the Council puts all their eggs in one basket with Sandleford. Now it is in trouble, we could see many more planning appeals ahead.

“This means developers will be free to put new sites up for approval and will have a higher chance of winning them [whether we like it or not] at Appeal as the Council wont be able to demonstrate to the inspector that we have a good supply of housing coming forward.”

Judith Bunting picked up: “Part of the problem is that Councils need to start insisting that developers to buy into the community focussed district plan. I understand that developers need to make a commercial profit, but we need to challenge ‘requirements’ for super-profitability. Developing large sites such as Sandleford and the London Road/Faraday Road trading estate is a privilege. Where such huge sites are concerned, developers should expect and be expected to accept community needs.

“In West Berkshire, the Conservative Council should have started planning to develop London Road/Faraday Road years ago, when they first took power. By now we could have a shiny new headquarters for Bayer at the Robin Hood Roundabout, as well as many flats across the site, mixed in with light industry. At a meeting of the businesses on the site in 2015, almost all agreed that the area needs to be developed. Most people said would be happy to move temporarily while building work went on. 2 years later, though, no development has started. Largely because the Council is insisting that a single develop takes control of the whole site AND that they expect the plans to be as profitable as possible. Here, there is no doubt that money is being put ahead of community needs.

“The Council should be also working with Newbury Football Club to make the most of the ground on Faraday Road. With cooperation, the Council could help the club create a modern site with artificial pitch, which the main team could share with women and the 350 youngsters that play with AFC Newbury each week. If development has started soon enough, the Council could have incorporated the recent Travelodge development as well.”

And finally, here is a graph that shows how the number of private renters, across the population, is increasing (palest blue). It’s not something people asked about, but it is a distinct trend and a dead good graph.

For comparison, below it we have posted a pie chart showing home ownership vs rental housing in Germany.

Graph 3 - Share of private renters is getting biggerGraph 4 - pie chart, Germany cf UK private renters

What is your opinion? Do you think it is healthier for society if more people rent their homes, or should be encouraging everyone to buy their own?

 

You can’t have a Hard Brexit and strong public services

Brexit squeeze

Philip Hammond’s Budget this week does nothing to address the Brexit squeeze. This is caused by a falling pound and rising inflation, meaning people have less money to spend.

With the pound dropping in value by 17%, the cost of imports has gone up, which is starting to push up prices in the shops.

Meanwhile, people see an underfunded health and social care system and cuts to public services – and that before Brexit really starts to bite.

While living standards are being hit by the Brexit squeeze, public services are being cut as the Chancellor builds up a £60bn Brexit war chest to pay for the devastating cost of a hard Brexit.

You can’t have a Hard Brexit and strong public services.

Why I will not just accept the EU Referendum result and move on.

 

A number of people have written to ask why I continue to campaign against Brexit, given the decision has been made. Why, they ask, waste my time pointing out the damage that a hard Brexit will do to the UK and to our area?

My concern begins with the fact that many people (not all, I know) many people voted to Leave the EU because of a campaign that even the Daily Telegraph now accepts was mired by scaremongering and the misuse of statistics. The Remain campaign was not perfect, but driving a double decker bus around the country plastered with that NHS lie took campaigning to a whole new low.

Then, there is no escaping the fat our exit from the EU is going to speed globalisation and its influence on the UK such that, although people rich enough to deal in dollars may benefit, the man on the Turnpike omnibus, including many Leave voters, will be hurt badly.

Meanwhile Theresa May and the Conservatives are pushing us not just towards Brexit, but towards the hardest of hard Brexits – not something that was on the ballot paper.

As Andrew Rawnsley said recently in the Observer By narrowly voting to leave the EU, the country answered one question, but in doing so it raised a host of other questions about the precise shape that Brexit should take. This was up for grabs. The hard Brexiters understood that instantly. They didn’t stop campaigning when the referendum result came in. They continued agitating and with a burning ferocity that was amplified by the Brexit press at its most megaphonic. They did so to ensure that they could impose their interpretation of what the referendum meant.

With all this in mind, I will not stop campaigning, until the opportunity for a positive, constructive influence is gone, dead and passed. I will point out the damage that leaving the EU will do across the UK, including in our area; that the referendum result was not any sort of landslide; that there is a better way and could be a softer Brexit.

I respect the vote, but the devil is in the detail. The UK voted for a journey, not a destination. The government should hold a referendum on the detail of the actual final Brexit deal. How can it be reasonable to say that the people should have a vote on a theoretical notion, but should not have a choice on the actual, final exit-deal negotiated with the EU?

If Theresa May and her Tory Brexit government are proud of what they are doing, they will be happy put their exit deal to the British people before it is pinned down. The very least the people of Britain deserve is for their representative members parliament to have a meaningful vote on the EU deal.

Meanwhile, my job to protect the people I seek to represent and their children and their future until the final moment – and I hear no fat lady singing just yet.

“I think it is almost lemming like …”

lemming-cartoon

What could be done to minimise the potential impact of Brexit on your business?

Here is a selection of comments from the local business people who completed the Liberal Democrats’ West Berkshire Business Brexit Survey. Businesses are not named, as many prefer to to keep their worries anonymous:

(Thanks to Arranology for use of the cartoon, above.)

What could be done to minimise the potential impact of Brexit on your business?

  • Stay in the EU.  Brexit will destroy our business.
  • Don’t do it! Seriously I think a raft of guarantees have to be forthcoming IMMEDIATELY from the government.
  • Not leave the EU.
  • Clarity is needed on the long term support for farming and conservation in the UK. Investment in farm infrastructure is costly and needs the ability to plan for the long term. Uncertainty and the lack of planning is a real risk to our charity and to many local farm businesses.
  • Remaining in the EU, keeping single market and freedom of movement.
  • Stay in single market and allow free movement of people across Europe.
  • Stay in the EU! Full membership of Single Market and Customs Union essential if this is not possible.
  • Remain within the free market and avoid putting limits on EU workers.
  • Gov’t to stop imposing austerity measures and new initiatives that mask the impact of change – personally I think it is almost lemming like and we look set to leaping off the White Cliffs of Dover before the dangers are realised – which will be an extreme disappointment!
  • Get on and pull us out as soon as possible.
  • Leave eu as soon as possible.
  • Less project fear from remoaners.
  • Nothing, lets just look forward to a brighter and independent future trading with the world.
  • Negotiate in good faith and show goodwill.
  • Sourcing UK products. We can do little else. We are reliant on consumers having enough weekly spend to continue to purchase our products and use our services.
  • No Visas, no clamping down on immigration, a lot of people I employ and work with are from the EU and it would be difficult to replace them. People looking down on Britain for the decision and our standing in the world.
  • Beyond the effect of the falling pound.  We have products to EU trading standards – our producers will not want to get involved in UK standards as well and we have not got the resource for expensive lab testing.
  • Staying in customs union is critical to us. Also, v important to keep access to EU science & engineering funding/research programmes such as Horizon 2020.
  • Change as little as possible from status quo – stability is key. EU Workers a key source of Workers, there is already a shortage of labour with the right skills from this country and even the EU.
  • Tax reduction.
  • Not go ahead with it! Brexit is a business nightmare and to push ahead when only a quarter of the population choose it, (and a mainly elderly quarter at that, whose working lives are over) is utter folly. Not quite sure where they think their pensions are going to be coming from, or how we will fund the NHS to keep looking after them when the get ill and face end of life. Business is this country’s lifeblood and Brexit threatens to chop it off at the roots.
  • Stay in the single market.