Why on earth is the People’s Commission report being kept secret?

Calderdale Council established a ‘people’s commission’ to look into changes affecting our local health services. The Commission has now completed its report and a copy has been circulated to all Councillors ahead of a special Council meeting due to occur on the 9th of February. It is at this meeting of the Council that Councillors such as myself will discuss the report, and its recommendations.

I am in receipt of a copy of this report, but in a covering letter that came attached with it I am asked to treat it as confidential. I am informed that following a decision made by the commission (after our group leader had left the meeting) it will be published after the Council has considered it on the 9th February. Personally I don’t this is a very open or democratic way of conducting business. I want the public and the press to be able to read the report before we debate it in the Council chamber. That way members of the public can let me know their views and I can represent them as their Councillor. Isn’t that how democracy is meant to work?

There are certain cases where Council reports will be marked as confidential for good reason (e.g. they contain someone’s personal details). When reports are made confidential in this fashion you do so by applying exemptions under 12A of the Local Government Act 1972. All copies of the report have the fact they are confidential clearly marked on them. I have asked the Council’s legal officer and he has confirmed the People’s Commission report is not exempt from publication under these grounds.  I have therefore asked the Chief Executive of the Council for the document to be published.

I also don’t think it’s legal to wait until after the Council meeting to publish the report as the Local Government (access to information) Act 1985 says that all reports to public meetings of the Council need to be made available to the public at least three days before the meeting. I really hope the report is published soon, it’s a good bit of cross-party work and it seems a shame that the Commission seems to be handling its publication and the final bit of the process in such a poor fashion. What good reason is there for not simply publishing the report now?

 

Allowing membership of terrorist organisations is a threat to liberty

In a recent TV interview the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett made the startling announcement that her party would allow people to join terrorist organisations like ISIS, the IRA or Al-Qaeda. Apparently under a Green government people would be allowed to help organize, recruit and support these terrorist organisations so long as they didn’t commit or encourage violence themselves.

Our local Green candidates need to come clean and say whether they support this dangerous policy of allowing people to join organisations who are committed to violent means to impose their views upon others. This is a policy which would give a green light for extremist organisations to setup shop in our local communities. These organisations would start radicalizing people into fascist ideologies that seek to destroy our free, democratic and liberal way of life.

There are many civil liberties and freedoms that I as a Liberal would fight tooth and nail to protect. I’m motivated by trying to create a free and tolerant society in which people of all religions, sexuality and belief can co-exist. Let’s be clear though the freedom to belong to a terrorist organisation hell-bent on destroying that liberal way of life is not a freedom any right minded person ought to support.

Our budget proposals will seek to protect services

The Conservative Cabinet’s proposals are that “discretionary services” should take the biggest cut if large savings have to be made in three years’ time (2017/18). Cutting “discretionary services” could mean anything from shutting libraries, stopping giving grants to voluntary organisations, to reducing gritting to a bare minimum. Any service the Council runs that it isn’t legally required to run is classed as a discretionary service, and those which it is legally required to run are called statutory services.

The Cabinet Budget proposes that £2.6m needs to be found from a review of these services, out of a total savings figure of £9.4m. There will be some savings that can be found from these services, and we are not opposed to reviewing them, but we are concerned that the sheer scale of savings in this area will impact on things like sports facilities, libraries and youth services.

We have worked with the other political parties on the Council to ensure it becomes lean and efficient as possible and, indeed, joining services up could even produce better services. We also think it’s important that the Council continues to work even more closely with local people and community groups as well as with other public sector bodies such as Police and Health.

Back in 2010 when the Liberal Democrats were running the Council we consulted local people, and they asked us to protect local services and that’s what we still want to do. So we welcome the Cabinet’s proposals to involve the public in these important decisions, but we have real concerns that the largest amount of proposed savings are targeted at “discretionary services. These services are the swimming pools we go for exercise, the youth services our children attend and the libraries we borrow books to read from.

That’s why we’ll be making some proposals about where we think more money could be found to ensure that these services stay open.

Cabinet budget proposals

The Conservative and independent cabinet that is currently running Calderdale Council has now published its budget proposals. Calderdale Council sets the budget in advance for the next three years, so the budget for 15/16 and 16/17 was actually agreed last year. The new year these proposals will relate to is 17/18, and In 17/18 we will have to make £9.4 million in savings above and beyond the savings we have already made.

There is however a general election happening in May, and whoever is running the country may have different ideas about how much money is spent on local government. With pledges to help the NHS with extra funding from the Liberal Democrats and Labour maybe this will mean less money for local government, or perhaps the stronger economy we have helped built since 2010 might mean we there is some more funding. In truth it’s a bit like gazing into a crystal ball trying to work out how much we will have to spend!

The proposals the cabinet have announced are therefore based around themes. There is talk of saving money through more income generation and being entrepreneurial,  and also talk of saving money through different models of service delivery. These are all nice ways of describing how to make savings but at the moment there is not much actual detail on how these savings will be made.  On the one hand I can see the point that until after the general election it’s hard to plan in detail for 2017/18 but given the Conservative’s argue they have a long term economic plan nationally, I was expecting them to have a bit more of a plan locally.

As a group of  Liberal Democrats  we will be examining these proposals and looking as to how we can improve them to include some of the things we care about and value.  As a party our priorities include building a stronger local economy, working to promote health & social care, improving the local environment and creating a fair and efficient Council. Personally I am also really keen to try and get some money for Warley ward, which suffers at the moment from being the only ward in Calderdale without a library or any other Council run building where people can access local services.

You can read further details about the budget proposals and get involved in the official Council consultation here. I would also like to hear from you personally if you have any opinions on the budget, particularly ideas that would help save money as this is the major challenge the Council faces at the moment.

How the Pupil Premium has helped Ling Bob school

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The Pupil Premium is one of the many Liberal Democrats in government. It is only because people voted Liberal Democrat, and we got MPs elected that this policy is now being implemented. It has seen over £20 million of extra funding go towards schools in Calderdale since 2010. Every parent wants their child to have the best opportunity to get on in life and make something of themselves, yet we know that children living in more disadvantaged areas don’t get the same educational opportunity. This policy is helping to tackle that inequality, but it’s not giving people handouts, it’s equipping people with the skills so that they are able to go out there and make something of their lives, for themselves.

I previously wrote about how this policy is helping children at Halifax Academy, now I wanted to let you know how it is helping children at Ling Bob. The follow in an except from a report published by the school on how they are using the Pupil Premium. The full report is linked to below.

As of October 2013, 53% of children in the school met the criteria for Pupil Premium funding. For the academic year 2013-14 the amount received for each eligible child was increased to £900. Therefore, during 2013/14 the school received approximately £140,400 in Pupil Premium funding.

In the 2013-14 academic year, existing programmes of targeted support were sustained and some were extended.
Funding was also used:

  • To employ an additional member of staff in our Pastoral Team to support children and their families coming into
    our Foundation Stage with their readiness for school.
  • To fund additional maths intervention groups for children identified as needing additional support to further
    raise attainment in Numeracy, particularly in Key Stage 2.
  • To fund our new Small Steps Nurture Group provision. This is aimed at helping Key Stage 1 children who are
    experiencing problems in school due to social, emotional or behavioural difficulties. Studies show that Nurture
    Groups are extremely effective at helping children make progress and also working with parents to help them in
    supporting their children. The Small Steps Nurture Group is based in the school and is run by specially trained
    staff. Its aim is to provide a nurturing environment where the children can spend time in a small group learning,
    playing and socialising to maximise their chances of success in later life.

Further details about how the Pupil Premium has been used in Ling Bob school can be found here 

Local NHS funding allocation is above its target

Our local NHS has a Clinical Commissioning Group (CCGs) which determines which services should be commissioned to provide services for us. These groups are allocated funding based on a formula which takes into account population size as well as other factors such as life expectancy. This formula is used to calculate the health needs of an area.

Despite overall funding for the NHS increasing, the Independent has reported that many of the CCGs are getting less money then has been allocated to them using this formula. The following tables details how much actual funding has been allocated (based on a per person basis) to each CCG. Thankfully Calderdale has actually received an extra 10% above and beyond what this formula calculates we should need so we get £1,213 per person which +£114/+10.4%. above the allocation.

Funding appeal for my re-election campaign

Hey everyone,

I’m up for re-election this year and every penny spent on campaigning will come from the donations to the local party. We don’t have big backers from big businesses or trade unions like other parties do. I have setup a webpage where people can make donations to my election campaign online. Thanks so much to everyone who has already, i’m trying to reach £1,000 to help ensure I can continue to campaign and represent people in Warley ward.

You can donate online here – http://www.gofundme.com/CllrJamesBaker

How we would give the NHS the funding it needs

Team of surgeon in uniform perform operation on a patient at car

The Liberal Democrats have now set out how we will safeguard the NHS for the future. Under Liberal Democrat spending plans, NHS funding will be at least £8bn higher per year in real terms by 2020.

The Liberal Democrats are the only political party to set out a credible road map for how we will safeguard the NHS over the next parliament.

This is in response to the Five Year Forward View published by the Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens. In his report, Stevens called for a real term funding boost of £8bn per year by 2020/21 – on top of efficiency savings and further reforms to the NHS.

To achieve this increase in funding by 2020/21, we will do three things:

1. We will maintain the additional £2bn that the Liberal Democrats successfully secured in the Autumn Statement for 2015/16.

2. In addition to this funding, as we set out at our Autumn Conference, we will invest a further £1bn in real terms in 2016/17 which we will then also maintain in future budgets. This will be paid for by capping pensions tax relief for the very wealthiest (saving £500m); aligning dividend tax with income tax for those earning over £150,000 (saving £400m); and scrapping the Conservative shares for rights scheme (saving £100m).

3. Once we have finished the job of tackling the deficit in 2017/18, we will increase health spending in line with growth in the economy.

But, as the Stevens Report makes clear, additional funding in the NHS alone is not enough. That is why on top of injecting more funding in the NHS, we will also commission a non-partisan fundamental review of NHS and social care finances in 2015, before the next Spending Review, in order to assess the pressures on NHS budgets and the scope for efficiencies. This will allow us to set multi-year budgets that will be sufficient to maintain and improve the current standard of NHS services, including keeping waiting times down.
We will focus additional funding on two key priorities that will help reduce cost pressures in other areas to help NHS funding remain sustainable:

1. Mental Health. We want to end the discrimination against mental health which has existed for too long in the NHS and we have pledged £500m extra a year (from the £1bn mentioned above) to support this from 2015/16 onwards.

2. Prevention. Keeping people healthier for longer and supporting people (especially the growing number of people living with long term conditions like diabetes) to stay as healthy as possible, getting care closer to home.

By contrast, Labour have pledged £2.5bn only to be fully introduced by the third year of the next parliament and have not committed to additional real terms increases beyond that. The Conservatives have made no specific real terms funding commitments.

Neither Labour or the Tories have a credible response to the funding challenges that the NHS faces.

Winter Gritting

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Some of the cold and icy weather we have had over the past week or so has raised the issue of gritting within the ward. Calderdale Council does comparatively more gritting than some of its neighbors such as Kirklees and Bradford Council. However there are still a number of roads across the ward that local residents want putting on the gritting list. Notably these include Westborough Drive and Paddock Lane. I think we need more gritting, but the Council needs to makes savings and one of those might be to reduce the gritting further. If the Council were to increase parking charges in a year or two’s time some of those savings requirements might be mitigated.

I’d be interested in hearing from you as to whether you agree, would you rather pay a bit more where you already have to pay to park, or have a reduced gritting service? If you have other ideas about how the Council could save money please do let me know. The cabinet announces its own budget proposals in a couple of week’s time and there will be opportunities for the Liberal Democrats group to try and make amendments and changes.