Paving Stone theft Dickens Street

I’ve been made aware of paving slabs that are being stolen from Dickens Street in the ward. This theft has been reported to the Police who are investigating. Can everyone in the area please look out for anyone suspicious who might come back to steal some more, if you see anything like this going on call the Police straight way.

I think the side of the road on which these paving slabs were removed is owned by the Council, so I have contacted the Highways department to see if they can provide some form of replacement to them. Given the departments’ terrible track record of responding to complaints under the current administration of the Council I really can’t promise that the work will be done soon though sadly.

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Why cutting student loans only benefits graduates with a starting salary of at least £35,000

By promising to cut tuition fees to £6,000 a year Ed Milliband appears to have provided a great opportunity for me to explain how the new tuition fee system is essentially a graduate tax.

That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

The reason this scheme is essentially a graduate tax is simple, the amount you have to pay back is not the same as the amount you have to borrow. You only start paying back your fees when you are earning over £21,000 an amount at which you can afford some repayments. You then repay a 9% on any income above that repayment threshold of £21,000 for 30 years. If you never earn over £21,000 you don’t have to pay anything, University for these people is free. If however you benefit financially with a better job and earnings you pay back more. Top earners will pay back significantly more than low earners. Hence it’s a progressive scheme, that provides universities with the funding they need, and ensures those with the broadest shoulders pay the most back.

If you do as Labour propose and simply cut the amount of tuition fees then it only benefits higher earners who would have paid back all they borrowed within 30 years. Don’t just take my word for it though, the independent financial expert Martin Lewis who runs the famous Money Saving Expert website has this to say:

“The only people who would gain from it are those who would clear their entire loan for tuition fees plus any loans for living costs, plus the interest, within the 30 years. To do this you’d need to be a high earner.

“To see the exact amount, go to my student finance calculator and play about with different scenarios – watching the impact of reducing tuition fees. It shows that only those with a STARTING SALARY of at least £35,000 – and then rising by above inflation each year after – would pay less if you cut tuition fees (we have assumed the student also takes out £5,555 in maintenance loans per year).

“That’s a very high amount, mainly only City law firms, accountancy firms and investment banks pay that much as starting salaries. Is that really who Labour wants to target with this plan? Worse still, by cutting tuition fees it will reduce the bursaries that universities can give to attract poor students.”

Miliband’s policy simply doesn’t work. Even if you think more should be done to help poorer students then this is a bad way of spending £2.5Bn (which could be spent on the NHS). As is so often the case Labour have gone for an attention grabbing headline rather than a credible financial policy.

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How long does it take to get an email response from Calderdale Highways

How long would you expect to wait to receive an email back from an organisation? 24 hours? Two days? Maybe three or four days? Well Calderdale Council’s Highways Department has been set a whooping 10 day response time for dealing with non-urgent inquiries. This week I’ve reported several bits of casework, and i’m greeted with an email telling me it will be 10 days until the department responds. It takes two weeks just to get a response and then it takes many many more before anything seems to get done! If Liberal Democrats were running the Council i’d set about making it a priority to get this department and Calderdale’s roads sorted. It simply isn’t good enough to keep folk waiting this long, if it were a private company doing this it would go bust.

Friends of the Earth welcome our Green Budget Measures

Calderdale Friends of the Earth has welcomed the budget measures that have arisen from the amendment I made to this week’s budget Council meeting. In a statement issued to the local paper Anthony Rae for Calderdale Friends of the Earth said:

‘We welcome the decision by the Council to set an ambitious energy reduction target, which we have long called for, as part of their budget, and to spend £1.4m on protecting vulnerable people in fuel poverty by better insulating their homes. These are good contributions to Calderdale’s Energy Future strategy, which is pushing for a 40% reduction in our carbon emissions by 2020’

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Budget Council report – We have secured an investment into affordable warmth

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A Liberal Democrat amendment to the Council’s budget meeting that occurred on Monday 23rd February has secure a £1.4m investment into affordable warmth. The cost of this insulation scheme will be repaid through additional savings made through the smarter use of technology by the Council in its working practices.

In Calderdale in 2013 there were 93 excess winter deaths attributed to cold homes. Improving the insulation in homes, particularly those of vulnerable people, will help reduce the number of people suffering in cold homes. It will mean fewer people living in fuel poverty, fewer fossil fuels burnt to heat homes, and more money in residents’ pockets to be spent in our local economy.

The National Institute of Environmental Health and the Building Research Establishment have suggested that targeting the borough’s worst housing with a £1.4m investment programme could save an estimated £4.65m in associated health care costs. At a time when health services are under pressure this is a sensible and pragmatic measure the Council could take to help save lives in Calderdale.

Personally I’m delighted this affordable warmth scheme I have proposed was passed. Around 93 people a year in Calderdale die prematurely as a result of living in cold homes. These people are all someone’s grandparents, friends and relatives.  Lives will be saved from this measure, and many more will have their quality of life improved from being lifted out of fuel poverty. It will also reduce the burden of costs placed upon the NHS as prevention is cheaper for the taxpayer than cure.

This simply wouldn’t have happened without all of the support of Calderdale residents who vote Liberal Democrat in local elections. It is a crying shame that Labour failed to back this measure, simply because we proposed it and they did not want to be seen backing a Liberal Democrat amendment. I can’t understand that kind of party political petty mindedness.

Further features that the amended budget passed by Council and supported by the Liberal Democrats will deliver for Calderdale include

  • A Council tax freeze.
  • A 20% saving in the Council’s energy bills to be achieved through an investment in LED lighting in Council buildings and solar panels.
  • All future savings the Council has to make in 2017/18 to be determined by a major public consultation this summer.

In Contrast Labour’s amendment would have meant

  • No public Consultation
  • Council tax rises in two out of the three next years.
  • Money taken out of the road maintenance budget for other Labour priorities
  • An £800,000 cut in Children Services in 2017/18

The would have used the money raised from these cuts and Council tax rises on a risky venture of building 150 Council houses, a Town Square in Sowerby Bridge and a waterside park in Mytholmroyd.

 

My Question to Council on the state of Calderdale’s roads

COUNCIL MEETING ON: 18th FEBRUARY 2015

QUESTION FROM: COUNCILLOR BAKER

TO: COUNCILLOR CAFFREY, CABINET MEMBER FOR ECONOMY

Why is the state of repair on so many of Calderdale’s roads so bad when there appears to be money spare in the Highways department and a predicted underspend.

Answer

I do not accept that Calderdale’s roads are ‘so bad’ as Cllr Baker suggests – indeed, they are in at least as good a condition as those of our neighbouring authorities. It is also important to note that their condition is often at its worst at this time of the year due to the impact of the winter weather and need for gritting to keep them safe from ice and snow.

I would first of all like to clarify that the third Revenue Monitor reported to Scrutiny Panel on 29 January 2015 highlighted a budget pressure of £1M within the overall directorate (CAFM and non – CAFM budgets) and this contained a Highway works projected underspend of £430k. It was commented, however, in the report that this budget would be required in the financial year 2015/16 in order to finance additional Street Lighting capital works.

The report also referred to the potential for the overall budget for Highway works, which includes patching, footways, walling, signal maintenance, structures, street lighting and the winter service, to underspend by significantly more than this amount. If the overall budget for Highways works does underspend by significantly more than the £430k then it is worth noting that any underspend may be required in the first instance to finance other budget pressures within the directorate.

In assessing the successful delivery of the programme of works in relation to the Council’s network, which is essentially what the question relates to, there are a number of issues that need to be considered.  Within the Highways works budget for the current year, the overall budget for patching and associated works is in the region of £1.126M. Earlier in the year it became clear that it was unlikely that a programme of spend could be delivered to this level and the sum of £300k was diverted to fund additional street lighting works.

It is now anticipated we will spend the balance of £826k in the current year and if this is the case then it will equate to 70% of the original budget of £1,126M. It is also anticipated at this point in time that the Council will deliver spend in the region £3,503M out of a total budget of £3.839M which equates to over 90% delivery of the Council’s capital programme. Additional grant of £1.2M has also been received by the Council in the current financial year in relation to pothole (£820k) and severe weather (£380k) funding. Over £700k of this has been spent to date with further work estimated to the value of £250k underway and orders raised for another £180k of work.

It is worth noting that current forecast of revenue (£826k) and capital (£3,503M) spend for the current year totalling £4,329k is still a significant sum to be spent on the Council’s network. Given the fact that the Council has had to divert staffing resources in the current year to deliver the additional capital works, deal with the additional work in relation to the Tour De France and Parking TRO issues, and also implement a restructure of the service by 31 March 2015, then the overall programme of work forecast to be delivered in the current year is fairly significant.

Clearly, there are issues in relation to the programming and delivery of work that need to be discussed and agreed with the Council’s main contractor (Amey) and also other partners, and discussing are ongoing.

As regards street lighting, the number of outstanding faults has been reduced from nearly 700 at the start of the year to 279 last week, despite the reporting of new faults. 256 repairs were undertaken last week, and we are continuing to make progress on the backlog. The over-sleeving of columns also continues to progress with 390 columns having been installed so far. With the introduction of a further team, 50 columns were installed last week, so we are on target for the 700 columns required by the end of the financial year.

Talking Politics Column for Courier

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Here is a copy of the talking politics article I wrote for this week’s Courier, it’s available from all good newsagents, and you should go out and buy a copy to support your local newspaper! 

PFI debt shows Labour can’t be trusted with NHS finances

You wouldn’t pay £9.72 for a pint of milk, £10.26 for a litre of petrol or £13.68 for a load of bread. Yet the last Labour government paid 12 times what it cost to build Calderdale Royal Hospital. Under the ludicrous PFI deal that built the hospital we, as tax payers, are forking out £773 million for a building that cost £63 million to build.

This PFI deal was supported by the then Labour MP for Halifax, Alice Mahon MP, and was signed off by the Labour health minister Frank Dobson. The cross-party People’s Commission report commissioned by Calderdale described the £10 million a year interest repayments eye-watering, and it was right: this PFI loan truly is the ‘pay day loan’ of public finances. There is now cross-party agreement this PFI debt has impacted on decision making at our hospitals and that the money spent on interest charges would have been better spent on patient care. Recommendations

Liberal Democrats campaigned against this PFI deal at the time. A campaign called Calderdale against a Smaller Hospital (CASH) led by Dr Bob Heys and the late former Councillor Stephen Pearson collected thousands of signatures from local residents. It called on Tony Blair not to go ahead with the PFI deal. Not a single Conservative or Labour Councillor signed it at the time. Stephen Pearson called the PFI deal Calderdale’s biggest scandal, and he was right.

It is therefore beyond belief that, having saddled the local hospital with “eye-watering” interest repayments, Labour have the sheer brass neck to try and blame our hospital’s financial problems on the coalition government. In leaflets being distributed across the Borough Labour are stating the coalition is to blame for the hospital’s financial problem. I don’t doubt Labour care about the NHS but so do all of those, especially those like myself who wouldn’t be here without it. As much as Labour may care about the NHS though it is clear they don’t have the economic competence to manage its finances. Their habit of borrowing has saddled our local hospital with financial problems, just as their habit of borrowing in government saddled the nation with debt.

The NHS is however in need of more resources, as our changing population is putting additional demand upon NHS resources. An aging population and increases in cases of dementia and diabetes mean the costs of providing health care are increasing. NHS bosses say the service needs an extra £8Bn over the course of the next parliament. To date it is only the Liberal Democrats who have a credible financial plan to provide this funding.

Firstly we will maintain the additional £2bn that the Liberal Democrats successfully secured in the Autumn Statement for 2015/16. 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). Then 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.

Labour may have the heart for the NHS, but they don’t have the financial brain to manage its finances. It is only the Liberal Democrats who can both deliver a Stronger Economy, and a Fairer Society.

Time to get a grip on the Highways Budget

The budget for the Council’s highway’s department was given a boost last year. With so many roads across the borough in need of repair and improvement you might have expected all the money allocated to this budget would be quickly spent on improving our roads. We are not yet at the end of the financial year but current revenue reports are showing that it’s unlikely all the budget will be spent. Whoever is running the Council after the elections in May needs to get a grip of this budget and ensure officers are delivering on the Highways improvements the roads across our Borough so desperately need.

Air pollution kills ten times more than traffic accidents

I’m currently chairing a detailed scrutiny review on the Council on the relationship between our local environment and public health. The panel recently heard evidence that states ten times more people are dying prematurely due to diseases caused by air pollution than are killed in traffic accidents across the Borough. Air pollution may not be as visible as it once was but the smaller particles expelled especially by diesel engines are more dangerous than we realize. If we are to tackle this problem we need better investment in public transport and cycling infrastructure, and to start looking at measures that restrict the levels of the most polluting diesel vehicles on our roads.

Be Online Fortnight – At the Pellon Network Centre

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Do you want to learn to use a computer or tablet but lack the confidence? Want to use the Internet but don’t know how? Being online can help you stay healthy, find work and keep in touch – with loved ones and the whole world – and our friendly volunteers can help you overcome those fears and get started. In association with UK Online Centres, The Addy Community are running an informal Be Online Campaign across two weeks commencing 23rd February until 6th March, 2015 – just drop in any time during the following fortnight listed below at:

Pellon Network Centre 53-55 Rye Lane, Pellon, Halifax, HX2 0QB

Open First Week: Monday, 23rd February to Friday, 27th February between 10:00am to 4:00pm

Open Second Week: Monday & Tuesday, 2nd & 3rd March between 10:00am to 4:00pm Wednesday 4th March to Friday 6th March between 10:00am to 7:00pm

Contact: Paul Tait (Chair), The Addy Community – Mobile: 07707-597353 for further information.

10 times more people in Calderdale are dying from air pollution than traffic accidents

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More than 10 times as many people in Calderdale are dying prematurely from air pollution than as a result of traffic accidents. This is the shocking statistic that Councillors were informed of in a meeting of the Scrutiny review group I established to work on the environmental effects on public health.

A Public Health England in a report earlier this year stated that some 93 deaths were attributed in Calderdale per year to air particulate pollution these were across our area and not limited to the air quality management areas AQMA. So this isn’t just a problem in some of the worst hot spots.

If that wasn’t reason enough alone to tackle this problem, we are also at serious risk of being fined for failing to meet our international obligations to reduce air pollution. The government had already given itself powers within the Localism Act to cascade any fines in might incur from the EU to Local Authorities. So Calderdale Council could well be fined unless we start to tackle this problem.

The meeting listened to expert evidence on the topic and we came up with the following draft recommendations to the cabinet of the Council. These recommendations will have to be approved by the full scrutiny panel before they can be included in the full report the group is working.

  • a recommendation to Cabinet seeking its agreement and support to the early revision of the Calderdale Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP), which was written in 2009 and is in need of updating.
  • a recommendation to Cabinet supporting the promotion of undertaking a targeted campaign of awareness of the WYLES work from a public health perspective, delivered through low cost platforms such as social media ( Facebook, Twitter etc.)
  • a recommendation to Cabinet that they endorse/support more direct enforcement work being undertaken by external partners of the Council, such as the police, with legally enforceable powers to tackle unroadworthy vehicles with high emissions.
  • A recommendation to Cabinet that they look into the possibility of undertaking a feasibility study into the possibility of introducing designated Low Emission Zones (LEZs) in Calderdale.

You can read the full minutes of the meeting in the link below. In the meantime one thing we learnt in the meeting is that diesel engines are generally a lot more polluting than petrol engines. Something you might want to consider when replacing your next car.

I’ll certainly be pushing for the Council to do all it can to help reduce air pollution, as it will help save lives.

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