How the coalition has failed our natural environment

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During the course of the election campaign, a number of constituents have approached me with their concerns about preserving the natural environment.

In 2010 the Prime Minister stated that “I want us to be the greenest government ever”. It is worth saying that the government has made some progress in developing policy since then, in publishing a Natural Environment White Paper in 2011, and establishing the Natural Capital committee.

However, while fine in words, in actual deeds thing have been less successful. The cross party parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee has given the coalition government a RED card, for air pollution, biodiversity and flood and coastal protection.

Indeed the government’s own data shows the first decline in the standard of protected areas (Natura 2000 sites) since records began. The State of Nature Report and Wildlife Link’s 2013 Nature Check report shows the decline of our natural environment is getting worse.

The government promised to put England on target to get 50% of protected areas up to a favourable condition by 2020. Based upon the average annual change since then, the gap between target and achievement will be 97,479 hectares for woodland alone.

Labour is committed to a 25 year plan for the recovery of nature, with clear 5 year milestones. This will reverse the decline in our natural environment.

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What the general election means for education

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I recently attended the AGM of Wiltshire branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at the Angel Hotel in Chippenham, which was an opportunity for a constructive dialogue about the Labour Party’s education policy.

The basic facts behind Labour’s commitment to education are impressive. Between 1997 and 2010 there were 36000 more teachers, 172000 more teaching assistants, and 1100 new schools built. Results improved, with 12% more pupils achieving five good GCSE grades, and 20% more 11 year old achieving expected standards in English and maths. The further education sector saw £4.2 billion investment, and Education Maintenance Allowances (EMA) of up to £30 per week allowed tens of thousands of young people from poorer families to stay in education until 18.

Outside of schools, the last Labour government invested £50 million into the Union Learning Fund, supporting 490 projects in 3000 workplaces, helping 100000 workers improve their skills, and therefore benefiting both themselves and their employers. In addition, over 3000 new Childrens’ Centres were established, to support parents, on the understanding that early years’ intervention has a lasting benefit, particularly for children from disadvantaged families.

Under Labour, the education budget soared, rising 60% between 1998 and 2008. Total annual spending was £30 billion in 1997, and £64 billion in 2005, on top of which capital investment jumped from £680 million in 1997 to an estimated £5 billion in 2005.

These are powerful arguments in favour of a Labour vote in the coming general election.

In contrast, the Lib-Dem / Conservative coalition government has attacked the pensions and pay of teachers and school support staff. In 2010 they cut 700 planned “Schools for the Future” projects, and current school building programmes are at only 5% of the level under the last Labour government. They cut the EMA and have reduced standards in FE colleges, where lecturers no longer need teaching qualifications. In schools the government has allowed permanent contracts for unqualified teachers, this has led to a 16% rise in unqualified teachers in all schools and a 49% rise of unqualified teachers in Free Schools. The Free Schools themselves are often opened where there is no requirement for them, and a third have been judged inadequate, or in need of improvement.

During the course of the Labour government, funding per pupil rose 50%, the schools were better funded and staffing levels and pay improved. In 1997 a third of pupils left primary schools without basic English and maths skills, by 2005 that had fallen to a quarter, and the improvement in deprived areas was better than the national average. A range of measures in pre-school education, such as Sure Start centres, made a real difference. So the record in social exclusion was one of good progress.

There is no doubt that the commitments from Labour for the next parliament will improve the lives of millions. The next Labour government will extend free childcare for parents with 3 and 4 year olds from 15 to 25 hours, and guarantee “wraparound” childcare for primary school children, allowing access to childcare from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, to help working parent. Labour will also reinvigorate Sure Start.

Labour will guarantee that all teachers in state schools are qualified, and ensure that schools are locally accountable. Labour will also increase the number and quality of apprenticeships.

It must be a priority for the party to place itself at the centre of a coalition of consensus about education policy, with meaningful engagement with the teaching and education unions. This requires addressing staffing problems, such as excessive workload. We need a renewed commitment towards the comprehensive principle and the objective towards greater equality of educational outcomes.

Published and promoted by Chippenham Labour Party on behalf of Andy Newman, both of 5 Elm Hayes, Corsham, SN13 9JW

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We need a Labour government to save the NHS

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With the general election just weeks away, it is worth considering what the stakes are for the NHS.

When Labour came to power in 1997, the Conservatives had run NHS spending down to breaking point: health spending was at around 5% of GDP, and the conditions had been created by the Tories for an expansion of insurance based private sector.

Labour saved the NHS by increasing NHS spending by 6% each and every year. Labour built 149 new hospitals, and recruited 80000 more nurses, 38000 more doctors, and 4500 more NHS dentists. Health spending rose to be around 10% of GDP by 2010. Indeed, the expansion of the NHS when Tony Blair was prime minister was the most effective and sustained period of growth in the NHS since the 1940s. The spirit of ’45 indeed.

Under Labour, virtually no-one waited 13 weeks for treatment, Specialist appointments were guaranteed within 2 weeks of referral, and a doctor’s appointment was guaranteed in 2 days. When the full scale of the Conservative’s poisoned legacy in the health service became appreciated. Labour prioritised patient care.

What is more, Labour helped local councils provide decent services for social care, with a 43% real terms increase since 1997.

In contrast, since 2010, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have yet again created an almost existential crisis for the health service. Despite promising “no top down reorganisation of the NHS”, the government has spent £3 billion breaking up the NHS, and outsourcing to private health companies.

The full scale of the threat to the NHS has yet to become apparent to most people, as the Conservative’s reforms have not yet fully worked themselves through, but already the impact on patient care has been dramatic, and now 1 in 4 patients wait a week or more to see their GP. Over a million people have waited longer than 4 hours in A&E over the last year. Over half a million people are on waiting lists for treatment.

What is more,  coalition has made massive cuts of £3,5 billion to social care budgets. Almost 250000 fewer older people are receiving services than in 2010.

The Labour Party has made clear commitments, that will be implemented when Ed Miliband is prime minister.

Labour will recruit 20000 more nurses, and 8000 more GPs, funded by a tax on houses worth more than £2 million.

Labour will guarantee a GP appointment within 48 hours, and on the same day if medically needed

Labour will repeal the Lib-Dem & Conservative Health and Social Care Act, to stop further privatisation of the NHS. The NHS will be the preferred service provider.

Labour will give Mental Health greater priority.

Labour will gurantee that patients will wait no more than one week for vital cancer tests by 2020.

There will undoubtedly continue to be problems. The legacy of PFI debt needs to be addressed, the cost of which is unsustainable. There is certainly a case to be made that given the scale of the NHS crisis in 1997, and in the context of a robustly successful economy, the decision to turn to complex instruments for private finance was within the proportionate and reasonable range of policy options for a centre-left government, bringing as it did some perceived advantages of not requiring controversial rises in public sector borrowing. There is a distinct difference between Labour introducing PFI in the context of using private borrowing to expand and improve public services, with the Tory policy of privatising to disrupt and curtail public services.

Margaret Thatcher made great political capital out of her adopted persona as a housewife seeking to balance the household budget. Similarly, many voters today are familiar with the idea of seeking to restructure household debt, consolidating loans and, seeking to remortgage at a lower interest rate. By analogy, the unsustainable cost of PFI debt does require bold action,to restructure, and reduce overly high interest payments that are not in the public interest.

Published and promoted by Chippenham Labour Party on behalf of Andy Newman, both of 5 Elm Hayes, Corsham, SN13 9JW

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Hustings in Bradford on Avon – 20th March

Organised by Bradford on Avon Area seniors forum

20th March, 7 pm to 9 pm.

St Margaret’s Hall, Bradford on Avon

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Why I am concerned about TTIP

Sandy-newman-labour-party-in-corsham-high-street-chippenham-summereveral voters in the Chippenham constituency have contacted me with their concerns about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations between the European Union (EU) and the United States, the eighth round of which are being held from  2nd to 6th February in Brussels.

According to the European Commission, the aim of the agreement is to create growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic by removing trade barriers. However, there are already only minimal tariffs between the EU and the US, so this is a smokescreen for other agendas, such as opening up European public services to rapacious corporate investors. This could pave the way for US medicare companies buying up parts of our NHS.

Indeed, the treaty, which is being negotiated in secret, will allow private corporations to sue democratic governments over policy decisions that impact upon their profits.
There are also concerns that Britain would lose its ability to block the import of US Frankenstein foods, such as genetically modified meat and plants.

Stronger trade between the US and the EU, including Britain would be a good thing, but only if we can defend the NHS by opting our health service out of any agreement, and if we can preserve our democratic sovereignty, so that we the people, and our elected governments can decide the limits of what corporations can do, and not the other way around, where big business dictates to the people.

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Why I oppose Trident replacement

Andy Newman, Labour Party in Corsham High Street, Chippenham #
I am totally convinced that Trident replacement is contrary to the UK’s national interest. The expected cost of £130 bn is simply unaffordable, and these nuclear weapons are useless in addressing the changed national security landscape of the 21st century.

There is no other state that represents a credible strategic nuclear threat to the UK, and therefore the role of these weapons as deterence is obsolete. Britain should show moral leadership in embracing disarmament.

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Why Chippenham should welcome the Range distribution centre

Labour Party in ChippenhamI have been asked by several people what my position is relating to the proposed Distribution Centre for the Range, as the Labour parliamentary candidate for Chippenham.

I have subsequently spoken to the Range’s national head of distribution to confirm exactly what is proposed. While rumours are flying about the possible impact to the town, it is possible to have a good idea based upon evidence, as there is an identical Distribution Centre for the Range already operational in Doncaster.

Chippenham’s economy needs jobs, and the proposed Distribution Centre will take advantage of Chippenham’s natural transport advantage, being on the M4, and centrally positioned for the whole of Southern England and Wales. The ongoing upgrade to the A350 will provide capacity for the additional traffic to the M4.

I understand that there will be around 750 permanent jobs, employed by DHL, who would run the site on behalf of the range. At peak times, this would be supplemented by up to 350 temporary agency workers. I am encouraged by the Range’s commitment to providing permanent jobs, and their willingness to support a salary progression rather than employees being stuck on minimum wage. This would be a major employment opportunity, particularly for young people trapped in unemployment.

I also believe that the location of the Range’s training academy at the Chippenham site will benefit the local economy. The Range is due to open 20 new stores during 2015, and their retail staff will be trained in Chippenham.

There are obviously concerns about the visual impact, but proper landscaping and planting can be made a condition of planning consent, and the proposed design includes a mix of materials, which will make the appearance less monolithic.

Bringing around 1000 jobs to Chippenham will be a major achievement for the town, and I am convinced that it is in all our best interest to welcome this commercial development.

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