Message to voters in Newbury and West Berkshire

#YourVoiceMatters

This General Election is the Best Thing for Britain.
It Gives us a Chance for Change.

The Conservatives are hell bent on a ‘hard Brexit’. We now understand the future of our country is at stake. The national press suggests that the number of Leave voters who still want to exit from Europe is shrinking:

  • ‘Leave’ voters who did not realise Brexit could lead to the break up of the UK.
  • People who chose not to vote who now regret that decision.
  • ‘Leave’ voters who feel they were lied to during the Referendum Campaign.
  • 17 year olds who have had a birthday since last June and now want a say in their own future.

Add these to the 48% who feel the narrow margin of victory last June is being casually disregarded. Yes, this general election is the best thing that could happen to the UK right now.

If you want to stop a hard Brexit, you need an MP who will fight for you.

  • If you are a Remain Tory voter, please lend me your vote for this election.
  • If you are a Labour voter who does not want to leave the single market, please support us.
  • If you are angry at the potential break up of the UK, vote for us.
  • If you want to live in a country which is open, tolerant and united, vote with us.

#YourVoiceMatters

If you would like to join our local campaign team to work to stop this hard #Brexit in its tracks, please write to us at westberkslibdems@yahoo.com.

If you would like to join the Liberal Democrats – it only takes two minutes: http://www.libdems.org.uk/fightback 

 

The Great Liberal Democrat Brexit Debate – Rural Affairs and Racing

On Tuesday 11th April, Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats hosted a panel discussion at East Garston Village Hall to explore the effect that Brexit is likely to have on rural affairs, including the racing industry.

Thank you to everyone who came along to join us – and to our speakers for the event who are all top notch in their field.

We were delighted to be joined by entrepreneur Ivan Massow, who made national headlines last year, when he defected from the Conservative Party to the Liberal Democrats. Tim Clement Jones, a former resident of East Garston, who now speaks for the Liberal Democrats on the Digital Economy in the Lords, also joined us, to sit alongside Cotswold businesswoman, Liz Leffman, who as the Liberal Democrat candidate in the recent Witney by-election slashed the Conservative majority from 25,155 to 5,702.

The audience included locals from East Garston village and Hungerford, as well as Remain and Leave supporters from Newbury, Thatcham and Pangbourne. I enjoyed the fact that the room was not all one sided, especially when debate is informed and good natured as it was here.

As a Liberal Democrat, of course, I believe Britain would be better off staying in Europe, but the more advice and information we can give West Berkshire businesses, the better they will be able to plan for the uncertainty ahead.

Discussion covered threats to University education and research, as well as the opportunities and issues Brexit brings for farmers and the agricultural industry. Tim Clement Jones spoke on worries raised by the racing industry, which is already suffering because of the fall in sterling and faces the likely loss of European Horse Passports as well as potentially significant increases in tariffs if the UK drops out of the single market without a deal.

The next Great Liberal Democrat Brexit Debate on Brexit and the Creative Industries is at 3pm on Saturday 13th May at Johannes von Stumm’s sculpture studio at Wellhill House, South Fawley. Discussion will be led by Baroness Jane Bonham Carter.

Please join us – whichever side of the debate you sit!

Thatcham Quarry – do you have questions?

I will be sending questions to Grundon Sand and Gravel and the owners of Waterside Farm. Any residents who would like me to submit questions on their behalf are welcome to contact me at: judith.bunting@wbld.org.uk.

Last week, I visited Grundon Sand and Gravel Ltd in Colthrop to lobby estates director, Andrew Short, on behalf of local residents who are opposed to the proposed quarry at Waterside Farm in South Thatcham. Judith is the parliamentary candidate for Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats.

dscf4205

The real problem, is that plans for the quarry are proceeding without Waterside Farm even being recognised as a preferred site for development by West Berkshire Council. The Council’s plans for Minerals and Waste Sites are so many years behind that Grundon feels the need to proceed before they are completed.

The result is that plans for development in our area are being driven by the needs of industry, rather than the needs of residents. Once again Richard Benyon and his Conservatives on West Berkshire Council are dropping the ball.

Waterside Farm is a lovely area, which is well used by walkers, riders and schools for recreation and keeping fit. The quarry will not block any paths or bridleways, but will obviously destroy the attractive environment. It will also disrupt the local wildlife, although Grundon have said they are willing take the nesting times of ground-nesting lapwings into account.

Residents who live near the Waterside Farm area are of course worried by the prospect of the noise, dust and environmental upset that can come with having a quarry at the end of the garden and they have started a campaign to stop the development.

At the meeting, Andrew Short told me that Grundon is open to listening to residents’ concerns and will do everything they can to make the development acceptable, but the company is keen to press ahead. This is not what residents want.

I have also approached the owners of Waterside Farm, St John’s College, Oxford. The St John’s team has offered to answer any questions residents may have after the public open day, which was held at Thatcham Football Club this week.

I will be sending questions to Grundon Sand and Gravel and the owners of Waterside Farm. Any residents who would like me to submit questions on their behalf are welcome to contact me at: judith.bunting@wbld.org.uk.

Tory attitude to housing is a scandal.

Taceham House in Thatcham, empty for ~6 years. With Owen Jeffery, Dep Leader, Thatcham Town Council, and David Rendel, Cllr for Thatcham Central.
Taceham House in Thatcham, empty for ~6 years.

Today the Conservative party announced plans to extend the right to buy to Housing Association properties. This proposal will lead to longer waiting lists for homes and fewer social houses.

In February 2015, 1,092 qualifying households were on the Common Housing Register for West Berkshire. 1,569 non-qualifying households were also on the list. I know, I checked with WBC.

That’s 2661 people/families waiting for suitable accommodation in West Berkshire, while the infamous 37 affordable flats in Parkway and social housing sites such as Taceham House, lie closed and unused. Taceham House has stood empty for 6 years.

According to Government figures, only 220 affordable homes were built in the  West Berks district between 2010 and 2012. That puts the council 48th out of 55 unitary councils in England. The lack of care shown by this administration in West Berkshire is a scandal.

Now the Tory administration supported by our own MP is proposing to extend the right to buy to Housing Association properties. This proposal will lead to longer waiting lists for homes and fewer social houses. It should not be allowed.

Local housing is controlled by the Council, but I believe the MP has an important role in standing up for residents’ needs. If I’m elected to Westminster I will not turn my back on local matters. I want to make sure young people in our area all get the best start in life. Over the past five years, our MP has been sleeping on the job.
..
On 7 May we decide who should take care of West Berkshire in parliament and on our local Council.
 

Should we elect a Liberal Democrat MP who will fight for fairness or send a Conservative MP back to Westminster for more of the same?

 

DECENT HOMES FOR ALL: For more information about Lib Dem Housing Policies, please see the full report, below, Decent Homes for All:

http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/2012/attachments/original/1390841965/104_-_Decent_Homes_for_All.pdf?1390841965

Walking and Nature – Preserving the Countryside

Combe_Gibbet_views_-_east - useage allowed

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

key_health

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.

Budget today – Success for West Berkshire charity campaign

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 09.37.04

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.

IMG_2627 - Version 2Cars 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.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 09.49.32

Green in Government

key_greenwindfarm

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

JB with VC 241112

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

IMG_0801

 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.