Walking and Nature – Preserving the Countryside

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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.

 

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

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.  

 

 

 

Don’t use red envelopes!

With Mel Pierson, Plant Manager at Swindon's Dorcan Sorting Office

Recently Mel Pierson, Plant Manager at Royal Mail’s Swindon sorting office, invited Judith Bunting to see how their operation is gearing up for Christmas. As parliamentary candidate for the Newbury and West Berkshire Lib Dems, Judith was keen to see where the constituency’s cards and parcels are being handled.

Hosted by Mel Pierson and Robbie Curtis, the Communications Workers’ Union leader at the plant, Judith heard first hand how the service has been coping since the privatisation of Royal Mail and the importance of preserving the Universal Service Obligation.

6 DAYS A WEEK

The Universal Service Obligation places a legal obligation on Royal Mail to deliver to every home and business in the country, as well as to collect from every post box in the country six days a week, at the same price throughout the country.

Judith said: “It is critical we preserve delivery across the UK, 6 days a week. That is the contract the Royal Mail took on when they privatised. At the same time, independent operators without that obligation are able to take advantage. We need to keep a close eye on how this situation develops. Ofcom has many tools at its disposal to protect the USO. It could impose regulatory conditions on other operators to level the playing field.”

YESTERDAY’S WORLD

As well as discussions about the future of the recently privatised service Judith was keen to see for herself the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) machines in action. These read our handwritten addresses automatically and are the back bone of the operation.

Judith recalled filming these OCR machines back in 1987 for Tomorrow’s World when they were first introduced!

“It is fascinating to see how technology has advanced and how what was extraordinary back then, is now in every day use,” explained Judith. “Today OCR machines are the mainstay of mail sorting and 80% of letters are automatically sequenced by these machines.”

DON”T USE RED ENVELOPES

Judith also picked up some invaluable advice to ensure all our Christmas cards are delivered promptly:

“The automatic machines apparently have trouble reading addresses on red paper which can cause delays to red envelopes being delivered,” said Judith. “So the advice is while they may be very pretty and seasonal try not to use red envelopes for your cards this year!”

For more photos of the Swindon operation see: https://www.facebook.com/JudithBuntingforNewbury

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