Congratulations to Councillor Elizabeth O’Keefe

 

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Many congratulations to Elizabeth O’Keeffe and the team on her win in central Newbury. Thanks to everyone in Victoria Ward who voted to supported Elizabeth and the Liberal Democrats.

Full results as follows:

Results

 

 

 

EU promise to protect the NHS

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Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about TTIP and the NHS. I couldn’t agree more that the NHS needs to be protected and Liberal Democrats have a strong record in this area.

I have been delighted that Lib Dem ministers have successfully pushed for extra investment in the NHS. We have secured an additional £2bn funding for the NHS, beginning in this April. We have also called for the Conservatives and Labour to match our ‘£8 billion a year by 2020’ funding commitment for the NHS.

Liberal Democrat ministers have also listened to people’s concerns on the issue of TTIP and the NHS. I have personally passed particular messages from a number of local correspondents to Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, and Catherine Bearder, MEP for the South East of England. They have pushed for reassurances from the EU that TTIP will have no effect on the powers of the NHS at a local level. I am glad to report their recent success:

After determined negotiations, we now have a clear guarantee from the EU that member states’ rights to provide public services directly, are enshrined in TTIP explicitly, including the case where outsourcing had previously taken place.

A letter from EU Trade Commissioner Malmstrom received by Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable specifically mentions the case of the NHS in Britain as an example of the rights of member states that are over and above TTIP. 

The letter categorically states that under TTIP, “member states do not have to open public health services to competition from private providers, nor do they have to outsource services to private providers.” Also that “EU member state governments (at all levels, from central government to local authorities) can continue to manage their public services however they see fit.” Vince wants the Commissioner’s assurance reflected in the drafting of any TTIP treaty.

Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable has been absolutely clear at all times that we will protect the NHS as a top priority. Local GPs – who we put in charge of commissioning services – will continue to decide what is best for patients. 

On Investor protection clauses – Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) – these cannot force governments to open markets or privatise public services. TTIP is the chance to set the standard for a modern form of ISDS but Vince Cable has been very clear that we will only support ISDS if it works for Britain and if there is proper disclosure about what is being discussed. He has been calling for as many of the negotiations to take place in public as possible so there cannot be suggestions that either the EU or US has something to hide.  So, where Britain’s interests are not harmed by disclosure, then disclosure must take place. 

We want to keep a reformed ISDS on the table, but we need a package of substantial reform. It is already a big win for Britain that the EU has been consulting and has paused negotiations on ISDS to take account of the reforms people are pressing for which include for example transparent, open tribunal processes to deal with complaints about them being held “behind closed doors”; changes in the treaty text so that future loss of profits cannot be included in the calculation; and using an improved ISDS in TTIP to update earlier, less developed ISDS arrangements in other trade deals to put right the gaps in those agreements.

While I accept, like previous governments, that there may be a role for private sector provision of NHS services, I strongly believe that the NHS should always remain free and be based on patients’ needs and not on their ability to pay. 

I will always resist any attempts by other parties to privatise the NHS. For example, Liberal Democrats have stopped the Conservatives’ privatisation plans and we reversed Labour’s policy of allowing private companies to ‘cherry pick’ lucrative NHS contracts and get special favours.  The Labour Government paid private companies £250 million for operations they didn’t perform and in Government, Liberal Democrats have made sure that can never happen again.   

Like you, I depend on the NHS. Our country depends on the generally wonderful service it provides. Liberal Democrats will always protect the NHS.

Green in Government

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Under Ed Davey’s determined stewardship in the department of energy, somewhat to the consternation of conservatives such as Michael Fallon and George Osborne, there has been massive investment in renewables:

  • Electricity generation from renewable sources has doubled since 2010 and now supplies 15% of the UK’s electricity.
  • The average annual investment in renewables has more than doubled since 2010.    
  • In 2013 alone, £8bn investment in renewables.
  • Solar PV 2011 – 2013: £6.4 billion. Rather wonderfully, the cost of installation has halved since 2010.
  • Biomass and Bioenergy 2010 – 2013: £6.3bn investment.
  • carbon capture and storage research supported to the tune of £1bn – not bad for research funding.  

New manifesto plans include legal targets for clean air and water, an end to dirty coal power stations and an ambitious decarbonisation target for the electricity sector.

We will introduce Five Green Laws to protect nature and fight climate change.

If you want to read more, take a look at: 

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/331071/DECC_Energy_Investment_Report.pdf

http://www.libdems.org.uk/electricity_generated_by_renewables_has_doubled_since_2010

Tax Dodging – actions taken in government

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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 vast majority of people and businesses in the UK pay their taxes on time and in full, but there are always some who try to get away without paying their fair share. This is morally wrong and damages our economy and public finances. I have voiced my feelings on these matters on my website, here: https://judithbunting.co.uk/2015/02/13/taxation-is-payment-for-services-rendered and here: https://judithbunting.co.uk/2014/12/03/its-paying-tax-that-is-the-moral-duty/.
In government, the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, and Vince Cable in BIS have been tackling tax avoidance as a top priority. They have made progress on many of the issues you raise. Since coming into Government in 2010 he has led a crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion that is closing loopholes and making more people pay up. I remember hearing Vince Cable talking about his determination to close loop holes in 2010 and am really pleased that he’s been able to follow through on many levels. The changes made include: 
  • 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. 
Our party is determined not to let up in the fight against tax cheats. If we are in Government again our aim is to make progress on this agenda in every Budget and every Autumn Statement of the next Parliament.
We will continue to invest in HMRC, as we have done in Government, to enable them to do more to tackle tax evasion and avoidance. We will also introduce a range of other measures, including a General Anti-Avoidance Rule, which goes even further than the current anti-abuse rule. 
 
I understand the Government has also taken specific action to get back money lost in Swiss bank accounts. HMRC is working systematically worked through all the HSBC data that it has received and has so far brought in more than £135m in tax, interest and penalties from tax evaders who hid assets in Swiss HSBC accounts. 
It’s not enough, though. We need a shift in society to see taxes as payment for services rendered, rather than some kind of penalty. Do please pass that message on to your friends and neighbours. 

 

Britain is a Better Place

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 Sharing a drink with Albert Tillen, at The Red House in Newbury 

 

This seems like the ideal time to share my favourite list – Liberal Democrat policies included in our 2010 Manifesto, which have been delivered by our team in Government.

The list includes some of the most socially democratic policies this country has seen for a generation – achievements which, for all the obvious reasons, do not get the press they deserve.

Please share this list with your family and friends. Let them know that while the Tories and Labour have been bickering away in PMQs, our team has been calmly getting on with the job. Britain is a better place for having Lib Dems in government:

  • Investing nearly £1 billion to crack down on tax avoidance, raising an extra £9 billion per year by 2015
  • Providing £400 million to give respite breaks to carers who work over 50 hours a week
  • Delivered on the key Lib Dem pledge of a £2.5bn Pupil Premium to bring extra funding to disadvantaged students. Its rate has now been increased further and is £1,300 per eligible pupil in primary schools and £935 per eligible pupil in secondary schools in 2014-15
  • Increase Capital Gains Tax to 28% for higher rate taxpayers whilst keeping it at 18% for basic rate taxpayers
  • Delivering an £800 tax cut to 25.4 million people by raising the income tax threshold to £10,500 in 2015, with 3.2 million low paid people being taken out of having to pay income tax at all
  • Creating a new, simple single state pension – a Citizen’s Pension – set above the basic means test level
  • Restored the link between pensions and earnings, which had been scrapped by Margaret Thatcher
  • Reinvigorating Britain’s Apprenticeship programme
  • Phased out the compulsory retirement age
  • Investing around £400 million to make psychological therapies available for those who need them, including for the first time children and adolescents (England)
  • Increased funding for dementia research by 150%, reaching £66.3 million by 2014-15 (England & Wales)
  • Ensured the Government maintained the commitment to end child poverty by 2020
  • Banned private sector wheel-clamping to put an end to rogue clampers (England & Wales)
  • Scrapped the expensive and impractical ID cards programme
  • Mapped out the Government’s path to renewable energy to 2050, including massive investment in low carbon electricity
  • Banned new coal-fired power stations that don’t have Carbon Capture and Storage technology
  • Ensured the overseas aid budget was protected from cuts – and hit the international 0.7% of GDP target from 2013
  • Planted 1 million trees in England, the first government tree planting programme since the 1970s
  • Doubled Britain’s production of renewable energy
  • Created a Green Investment Bank, triggering an extra £15 billion of investment in green infrastructure by 2014-15
  • Introduced the Green Deal, letting people pay for energy efficient home improvements with the savings on their energy bills
  • Scrapped burdensome Home Information Packs and improved energy performance certificates to make them more user-friendly (England & Wales)
  • Improved our libel laws, including making it harder for companies to silence their critics and improving freedom for academics to publish their research (England & Wales)
  • Strengthened freedom of speech by removing the offence for using ‘insulting’ language from Section 5 of the Public Order Act
  • Secured a judicial inquiry into Britain’s role in torture and rendition
  • End the routine detention of children for immigration purposes
  • Removed innocent people’s DNA from the police database (England & Wales)
  • Vetoed the Snooper’s Charter plans to monitor everyone’s online activity
  • Ensured there is no replacement of the costly Trident nuclear weapons system this Parliament
  • Ended the rule forcing people to buy a pension annuity at 75
  • Taking 3.2 million low earners out of income tax altogether through the key Lib Dem policy of raising the basic income tax threshold
  • Established the Equitable Life Payment Scheme and begun payments to people who lost their money, ending years of stalling under Labour
  • Agreed to the Vickers Report recommendation to separate retail and investment banking
  • Introduced a banking levy so the banks pay a their fair share of tax

 

If you would like to join my campaign to represent Newbury and West Berkshire, please do contact me on judith.bunting@wbld.org.uk.  

 

 

 

West Berkshire Broadband

At a recent event in the centre of Newbury, I heard yet more stories from people living and working outside of Newbury and Thatcham about the poor broadband speeds. Two rural business leaders reported broadband speeds below 2Mb. Particularly worrying, as they are based in Elcot and Winterbourne, villages that are not included in the current Superfast Broadband plans, at all.

This is shocking. If I am elected to Westminster, for the sake of all businesses and residents across West Berks, I will campaign vigorously for better broadband services in and across our district.

People should be able to run businesses from home, whether you’re a publisher sending multiple picture files to a printer on the far side of the world or a hotel that would like to offer its guests more than 2Mb.

In West Berks we have many sophisticated businesses in our villages: From hi-tech science in East Garston, to Engineering Consultancy in Hampstead Norreys, to PR and marketing in East Ilsely. They all need broadband that’s as fast and reliable as we have in our towns.

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Faster broadband is important for everyone in our communities – whether it’s children doing homework, day to day banking, or grannies keen to stay in touch with their families.

Earlier this year, I visited John Leech, our MP representative on the DCMS select committee. He was astounded at the bad deal Gordon Lundie and Richard Benyon had negotiated for West Berkshire from the Superfast Berkshire consortium. Leaving rural areas so far behind nearby towns in terms of the service the receive and when they are likely to receive it, is very shortsighted.

You can read the speech I gave to Conference about the importance of broadband infrastructure for all our communities, here: http://westberkslibdems.org.uk/en/article/2014/853249/judith-bunting-s-speech-to-conference-on-the-critical-importance-of-broadband-services-to-rural-areas