Public sector workers – striking as a last resort

Andy Newman, Labour Party in Corsham High Street, Chippenham summerOn 10th July, thousands of public sector union members across Wiltshire will be on strike over pay, and as Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Chippenham I will be supporting them, and joining the rally outside County Hall at 10:30 am.

The government is facing a walkout by more than a million public sector workers, including council staff, school support workers, teachers and civil servants.

The strike is seen as a last resort by people who do vital jobs in our communities: serving school meals, cleaning streets, emptying bins, looking after the elderly, helping children in classrooms.

The unions have tried sensible discussions, they have sought to negotiate reasonably, they have said they are willing to accept Acas arbitration rather than go on strike – but to everything the unions have tried, the employers have said no.

Local authority pay has gone up only 1% since 2010 and in October even the national minimum wage will overtake local authority pay scales. These hard working, caring people are bearing the brunt of an economic crisis that they did not cause.

The trade union case is reasonable, the employers won’t listen. No wonder union members have turned to strike action as the only way of making their voices heard.

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Conservatives scale back Wiltshire street cleaning

Andy Newman, Labour Party in Corsham High Street, ChippenhamPeople often say to me that they don’t follow politics, but the fiasco of how Wiltshire Council has contracted out litter picking, grass cutting and road maintenance to Balfour Beatty Living Places (BBLP) shows how “politics” impacts on ordinary life. The only silver lining is that the grass is now so long that we can’t see the litter.

The council is responding to the failure of BBLP’s Highways Team to keep the rural roads clear of detritus during the financial year 2013/2014 by asking BBLP to scale back road sweeping in built up areas in 2014/2015. Although the Conservatives hide behind some convoluted reasoning, the blunt truth is that our town centres will be dirtier than before, and this will have an impact on high street businesses.

Wiltshire residents should not have to choose between clean towns or clean rural roads. We are entitled to expect both.

The Conservative Council contracted to BBLP seeking to make savings, but the contractor has failed to provide value for money, and has failed to meet reasonable expectations of service. As we all know, the cheapest option is not always the best. It is time for Conservative Councillors to admit that things are going wrong with this contract, and to get tough with BBLP.

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

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I support the unions at Balfour Beatty Living Places

Andy Newman, Labour Party in Corsham High Street, Chippenham summer

The recent decision by Balfour Beatty Living Places to derecognize the three trade unions, GMB, Unite and Unison, who represent their staff responsible for roads maintenance, shows yet another downside of privatization.

The company has previous form as an anti-trade union employer. The construction arm of Balfour Beatty came under the spotlight of the parliamentary Scottish Affairs Select Committee investigation into the unlawful practice of maintaining a blacklist to prevent trade unionists from gaining employment, often for no more than raising health and safety concerns on building sites.

Balfour Beatty Living Places gave verbal assurances during the process transferring staff from the employment of Wiltshire Council that collective union rights would be preserved, but have reneged on those promises.

Research shows that companies whose workforces have trade unions are more productive; and provide safer working environments and better terms and conditions. Even though Balfour Beatty Living Places has only had the contract for a few months, intervention by the unions has already prevented job losses, which would have impacted upon road maintenance.

The unions are doing a good job for their members at Balfour Beatty Living Places, and I fully support them

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A letter to Duncan Hames MP

Andy Newman, Labour Party in Corsham High Street, Chippenham summer

Chippenham’s Liberal Democrat MP recently voted in favour of the controversial clause 119 – which means the Secretary of State for Health has the power to push through changes to hospitals and local services without adequate public consultation and on the grounds of finance over clinical need.

I just sent him the following letter

 

Dear Duncan Hames MP,
This week, you voted during the Commons debate on the Care Bill on clause 119, the Government’s proposed changes to the Trust Special Administrator (TSA) process.
This clause is causing huge concern amongst the public as it would allow changes to be made to services without adequate local public engagement in the process. By allowing the TSA regime to spread to a wider area it means that any hospital, including stable and successful ones, could be caught up in changes to a financially failing trust.
Patients and NHS staff in our community are already concerned by difficulties at the various NHS Trusts that operate locally, such as the Great Western Hospitals NHS Trust, the East Wiltshire Health Care NHS Trust and the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust and worry that we could potentially be among the first to be dealt with under the new process.

This could mean changes to services in ours and neighbouring hospitals being pushed through against the wishes of local people and commissioners.

With local people and our hospital in mind, I would like you to explain why your support for these proposed changes to the TSA regime.

Yours sincerely,

Andy Newman
Labour PPC for Chippenham
0754 0859 227

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The withdrawal of Independent Living Fund (ILF).

Andy Newman, Labour Party in Corsham High Street, Chippenham summer

In November 2013 a successful appeal was made to the High Court to stop the government from closing down the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

The ILF allows around 18,000 disabled people with complex care and support needs the opportunity to more easily interact within the wider community.

On March 6th it was announced that following an equality impact assessment the government felt confident to justify their decision to close the scheme.

I am deeply concerned that the government is taking this route, which arguably flouts the right of independent living that is enshrined as one of the principles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Due to postcode lotteries and an ever dwindling public purse, local authorities will not be able to offer the same level of support and care afforded by the ILF.

And that as a result a shortfall in care packages will result in many thousands of disabled people facing a loss of independence which could result in:

  • unemployment;
  • economic exclusion;
  • social exclusion; and,
  • personal loneliness.

As one ILF recipient described the impact to me:

“Without this funding many thousands of disabled people will find it impossible to hold down jobs. For example, local authorities give for support for a morning care slot, but invariably the time allocated falls far short of that actually needed to properly support someone’s full care needs. The work I do, which has me meeting with the public on a daily basis, calls for a certain degree of grooming and smartness. My current local authority time slot, an hour, for a PA to assist me with getting out of bed, toileting, showering, drying and observing areas such as feet, dressing, ironing my clothing, preparing breakfast, drying and cleaning the wet room, and clearing away after my breakfast does not cover these activities. Without ILF to make up the shortfall I would find it impossible to get ready for work – remember Access to Work only covers the recipient from front door to work and back again.”

In his case, the withdrawal of ILF may cause him to be unable to work.

Yet again, the Liberal-Democrat and Conservative government has not only failed to protect vulnerable people, but has specifically targeted them. It is shameful.

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Protesting outside Wiltshire Council

OUTSIDE COUNTY HALL

Today I was joined by Labour colleagues to protest outside County Hall in Trowbridge, against the scandalous 22% rise in allowances for members of the cabinet. Wiltshire’s Conservative councillors are woefully out of touch, as hard working families struggle with austerity.

It was good to see the Labour group leader, Cllr Ricky Rogers and his colleagues; and the Labour parliamentary candidates for Devizes (Chris Watts) and Salisbury (Tom Corbin). Independent councillors Terry Chivers and Jeff Osborne also joined the protest.

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

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Government must do more to prevent flooding

Andy Newman, Labour Party As someone who has not personally been affected by flooding, beyond inconvenience on the roads, my heart goes out to those whose homes and livelihoods have been blighted by it.

Sadly, I fear that government policy on flood prevention is in chaos, as Friends of the Earth recently revealed that David Cameron and Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, have both issued misleading statements, falsely claiming that they were spending more than the last Labour government.

FoE say: “David Cameron stated last week in the House of Commons: “In this current four-year period, we are spending £2.3 billion, compared with £2.1 billion in the previous period”. His beleaguered Environment Secretary has repeated the claims on numerous occasions. But a new briefing just published quietly by Defra states that the Coalition are spending less during the current 4 years (£2.34bn between 2011 and 2015) than the last government committed under the previous 4 years (£2.37bn between 2007 and 2011).”

What is more, Owen Paterson has removed “prepare for and manage risk from flood “ from Defra’s key responsibilities and issued four alternate priorities which do not include flood prevention.

Indeed the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee criticized the Government in July 2013 for the delays in enacting the provisions on sustainable drainage from the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.

It is tempting to ask whether Owen Paterson’s famous skepticism over the issue of climate change influences his reluctance to acknowledge the existence of elevated likelihood of year on year flooding, and therefore his unwillingness to put in place adequate defences. In Parliament Owen Paterson has refused to endorse the Prime Minister’s view that climate change is contributing to the increase in abnormal weather events.

While the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats disingenuously present themselves as friends of rural communities, their unwillingness to plan or invest for flood defence, based upon an unholy mixture of climate change skepticism, incompetence and penny pinching, is undermining both the economy and infrastructure of areas prone to flood.

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 must back our local pubs

Andy Newman, Labour Party in Corsham High Street, ChippenhamI was sad to see that Chippenham’s Lib Dem MP, Duncan Hames,  voted in parliament on 21st January against a proposal from the Labour Party that a statutory code should be introduced to ensure pub landlords are no longer exploited in their relationship with pub companies.

Labour is asking that the Government introduces legislation in this year’s Queen’s Speech to support local pubs. An estimated 26 pubs are closing each week in Britain and the large chains of pub companies (PubCos) have been accused of giving landlords a raw deal, with many paying over the odds for their alcoholic products.

Two years ago the House of commons passed a motion calling for such a code, and a year later in January 2013 ministers committed to introducing one – but 12 months later have still failed to do so; this latest vote suggests they have no intention of legislating to protect local pubs.

Pub campaigners are asking that a legally enforceable code should include a free-of-tie option, open market rent reviews and an independent pubs adjudicator. This would give every landlord the choice to go free-of-tie, allowing licencees to operate in a more competitive market.

I believe that pubs are vital hubs for communities and are valued strongly by local people. Pub closures costs jobs, especially for young people, and hits the local economy by an average of £80,000 each time a pub shuts. In small towns and villages it also takes away an important focus for community life.

We need to back our local pubs. That’s why, it’s time for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to take real action to support small landlords otherwise Wiltshire risks losing more pubs, and more jobs.

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

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Police costs of badger cull reveal flaws in government policy

Andy Newman, Labour Party in Corsham High Street, Chippenham #According to the BBC, the total cost of policing the badger cull pilot has been confirmed as nearly £2.5m – or about £1,311 per badger. In Gloucestershire, police and crime commissioner (PCC) Martin Surl tweeted the cost as “around £1.7m”, while Avon and Somerset chief constable Nick Gargan said its costs were £738,985.

The failed recent cull has cost more than it will have saved. The taxpayer-funded policing costs have been £2.5m for just the two existing cull areas. If the cull is rolled out to 10 new zones each year, these costs will balloon.

Bovine TB is a terrible disease and has to be brought under control. In 2011, 26,000 cattle were slaughtered, costing us £90m in testing and compensation. This puts an enormous financial and emotional burden on farmers. It is of particular concern in rural areas like Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset.

Labour has always been committed to a science based approach to eradicating TB, and the last Labour government actually commissioned a £50 million prorgamme of badger cull trials, to establish the evidence base. The conclusion of the trials was that “The reductions in cattle TB incidence achieved by repeated badger culling were not sustained in the long term after culling ended, and did not offset the financial costs of culling. These results … suggest that badger culling is unlikely to contribute effectively to the control of cattle TB in Britain.”

I fear the result will be to spread bovine TB in the short-term as badgers are disrupted by the shooting. Infected survivors can now colonize areas that were previously defended by healthy badgers.

The problem with the current government’s approach is that it is based upon assumptions and prejudice, not on science. The admission that free shooting of badgers in Somerset and Gloucester has failed to reach its 70% kill target leaves the policy in disarray.

To bring this disease under control, we need stricter management of cattle movements and to prioritise badger and cattle vaccination. The biggest obstacle to a vaccine is EU opposition: we should be building alliances in the EU to get restrictions on vaccinating cattle lifted.

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Labour in Chippenham campaigns over the Cost of Cameron

On Saturday, Labour Party members joined me at a street stall in Chippenham, highlighting the high cost of energy prices, and how the next Labour government will intervene in the energy market in the interest of domestic consumers, and businesses.

Labour Party in Chippenham

High energy costs are a particular problem in rural areas. A recent report by NEA and Calor has revealed that the fuel poverty gap in rural areas stands at an average of £558, whereas the average gap for urban households is £361.

A significant issue is that the off-grid energy sector is currently unregulated, and while there has been understandable media concern about the average £300 increase in household energy bills for on-grid gas and electricity, there has been less attention to the average rise of £450 of LPG prices over the same period.

I am pleased that the Labour Party has recognized these problems, and has pledged to introduce regulation after the next general election, but has also promised that the next Labour government will make earlier Winter Fuel payments to LPG users, making payments in July, so that fuel can be purchased earlier to avoid price spikes as winter approaches.

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

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