Restore Our Rights

Most people have never heard of one of my political heroes. A civil servant, gentle and quiet, he died in retirement earlier this month. Graham Hughes, who I met in around 1985, at the Civil Service Club in Gloucester was a quiet and kind man with an office job at GCHQ, a place whose aim is to protect us from threats to our way of life, big or small. He was a man of principle though, and one day the Government offered him money to give up his right to be a member of a Trade Union. He and a number of his colleagues refused and their battle to restore those rights lead to their sacking and a ban on unions at GCHQ.

I was proud to campaign alongside Graham and the others- standing in the rain outside GCHQ, marching on the anniversary of the ban, striking to support their cause. Because their cause was mine, the right to belong to a Trade Union, to organise in the workplace and to strike – I knew that if the GCHQ ban succeeded then my workplace in the Ministry of Defence would be next.

After 18 years and the election of a Labour Government the ban was lifted and restorations made to the sacked workers although Graham was of retirement age and did not return to work. He passed away this month, a quiet hero and defender of our way of life.

Now, just over 30 years after the GCHQ ban, we see the TU Bill bought forward, an attack on the rights of all of us to organise and protect ourselves at work. Trade Unions have had a positive effect on our lives, winning the national minimum wage, improving workers’ safety, reducing the working week, gaining paid holidays and parental leave. Their opposition to the Bill is not just about strikes, which are at an all-time low, but may be needed as a last resort when employers refuse to negotiate. It is about people joining together to negotiate fairly and equally with their employers. Look at the junior doctors dispute, the refusal of Jeremy Hunt to negotiate is forcing them to threaten to strike – the Government should come to the negotiating table.

For individuals, Trade Unions are there when you need to be represented in a dispute or have been treated unfairly or bullied. They can help with fees and legal advice. They make workplaces safer – 142 people were killed at work in 2014/15.

Both staff and employers benefit from a constructive relationship between management and unions. The Government is seeking to undermine those relationships by undermining the unions ability to organise, for example, by setting thresholds for ballots which most elected politicians would fail to meet. Like so much this Government is doing it is an attack on our way of life, and on the rights of us all.

From the Tolpuddle Martyrs to the GCHQ Trade Unionists our rights to organise in the workplace have been hard won, we must continue the fight.


United States of Whatever

It has been a frustrating and difficult time at the City Council, and City Labour Councillors are deeply worried about the future of the Council. It is absolutely vital that the Leadership of the City is the best it can be to deliver the best possible services to the residents of Gloucester, especially those who are struggling with bad housing, low incomes and poor opportunities.

This proposal has to have more to it than just balancing the books it has to be right for the residents of Gloucester.

A year ago the City Labour Group pushed for a Local Government Association Peer Challenge which was published in January. Since then we have consistently called on the Tories who run the City to accept the help and advice offered by the LGA. At  Annual Council we voted against the Administration for failing to make progress in dealing with the problems in the Leadership.

Whilst we feel that it has taken too long to get to this point, with missteps like the 2 Director model and the failure to appoint to the vacant Corporate Director role, along the way, this proposal does appear to offer the City a chance to take its rightful leading position within the County.

All main Political Groups on both City and County have fully participated in the negotiations around setting up the post, however, it is vital, that the democratic accountability is there and that the City retains its identity.

The proposals for shared services are an inevitable consequence of the massive Tory-led Coalition Government  cuts to Council budgets but we have argued in the past that Unitary working can bring benefits beyond mere cost savings and will be looking to see those achieved.

The City Labour Group are meeting next week to consider the detailed proposals on their merits, we will not play politics with the future of our City.”

He’s lost control

On May 3rd Gloucester City Council went from Conservative administration to No Overall Control as Labour gained a seat in Grange from the Conservatives. On Monday Paul James will begin the precarious task of running an administration where he has to rely on the acquiescence of one of the other parties to let his programme pass. For those who only take a passing interest in the intricacies of Local Government this means that he need another party to either abstain or vote for his policies. Last time we were in this position he relied on his Coalition partners, the Lib Dems and it seems likely that he will do so again. Labour will be the only true party of opposition on the Council and we will be a serious and hard-working opposition.

I believe we present a real alternative to the lack lustre Tory rump administration and I intend to spend the next 2 years with the Labour Group putting  forward positive ideas to make Gloucester the thriving City it deserves to be.

But I am also keen to hear ideas from the people of the City, we need a genuine conversation about our future, one that everyone can feel a part of’. Let’s love Gloucester, let’s care about its people and its future.

Making Your Mind Up!


City Council Elections are on the horizon and on the doorstep there is a different mood. People across the City feel that the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition Government is punishing them on all fronts. In the face of rising prices for basics like food and fuel even a hot pasty is becoming a luxury many can’t afford. There is a shortage of housing and rents are going up but housing benefit for hard working people is being cut. Crime is increasing but basic policing is disappearing from our streets. The Tory City Council seems paralysed by the assault of cuts to its budget, they talk about regeneration but their schemes are unambitious and ignore large parts of the City. The Tory County Council is ripping libraries out of communities, charging more and more residents to park outside their own homes and has destroyed services for young people. I could go on.

Labour in Gloucester is in touch with the people who live and work here. Times are tough but this City needs leadership. We need to make the right choices to support residents and businesses. Choices like free parking after 4pm for an hour in the City’s carparks. Choices like helping people get mortgages when they can afford to buy and a choice of decent rented property if they choose not to. Choices like a living wage for Gloucester so everyone can afford to work.

So on May 3rd you make your choice at the ballot box – my advice? If you want a Labour Council, vote Labour and keep voting Labour until we get one. It’s time.

Labour Candidates

Abbey  Jean Grigg

Barton and Tredworth   Usman Bhaimia

Elmbridge   David Hitchings

Grange   Chris Chatterton

Hucclecote    Daniel King

Longlevens    Terry Haines

Matson and Robinswood   Mary Smith

Moreland   Mark Hobbs

Tuffley    Maria Griffin

There are no elections in other wards.

Councillor Usman Bhaimia

This week the Labour Group on the City Council have welcomed a new recruit – Councillor Bhaimia. From 2004 Usman represented the Lib Dems in Barton and Tredworth but since the Coalition Government formed he has appeared increasingly uncomfortable with the policies and pronouncements of his party nationally and locally.

During discussions with Usman he made it clear that his values and his desire to work hard for all in his community, those who are bearing the brunt of the cuts to services and benefits, was being prevented by the actions of his Party. He wants to be a good local Councillor for Barton and Tredworth and to speak openly and honestly about what the Tory-led Government are doing. As a Labour Councillor he will be able to do just that.

So, welcome Usman and I know that you will work hard as a Labour Councillor in Barton and Tredworth and that will benefit your ward immensely.

Labour Councillors – Your Voice in Tough Times


Councillor Bhaimia passes his Labour Party Membership form to me

The Promise

Here is a copy of the Conference report I wrote for The Citizen:

A year after electing Ed Miliband as its Leader, the Labour Party gathered in Liverpool last week to consider the kind of Britain we want to live in.

On Sunday we put our Party rules and structures on a firm footing to include our all supporters. The ‘Refounding Labour’ changes will allow us to build a strong network of all supporters. We will repair, restore and renew the Labour Party and reconnect with people as their party.

In the evening there was an opportunity to catch up with friends from all over the South West. Ed Miliband spoke about the importance of the South West and the need for Labour to challenge seats in every election.

Early on Monday morning I went to a meeting on ‘Giving young people a stake in society’ sponsored by Action for Children.  We were joined by local young people to discuss how they can get involved and feel like they matter. Andy Burnham, Shadow Education Secretary, was there to listen and speak about some of the great ideas that came out of the meeting.

Back in the Conference Hall, Ed Balls gave a successful breakdown of the current economic situation and his challenge of 5 steps the Tory-led Government could take today. They could repeat the bank bonus tax, invest in long-term projects, reverse the VAT rise, cut VAT to 5% on home improvements, and introduce a national insurance break for small firms creating jobs. That would help struggling families and businesses. Those are Labour’s priorities, not cutting income tax for those earning more than £3000 a week.

The highlight of Tuesday was the Leader’s speech. In a packed hall Ed Miliband give a warm and funny introduction. He then got down to the serious business of fulfilling the promise of Britain. We were not perfect in Government.  We had a lot to be proud of though, and we did more good than harm. Now we want to make a new bargain.  Everyone will be asked to play their part, and our side of the bargain is to reward effort and responsibility by fulfilling the promise of Britain.

On Wednesday we discussed the proposed changes to voter registration which could leave millions without the right to vote. Each person will have to register individually. There will no longer be a duty to register. This will mean millions could find themselves unable to vote especially young people and people who move around a lot.

I managed to rush out of the Hall to go to a fringe meeting with one of the heroes of Conference, Tom Watson MP, the phone hackers’ nightmare. He was very positive about using different ways of communicating. Information should be shared and government opened up.  He said everything from tweeting in meetings to setting up an email group for your street should be considered.

In the Health debate John Healey exposed David Cameron for breaking his pre-election promises on the health service. This proves that you can’t trust the Tories with our NHS.

Yvonne Sharples, a Headteacher from Speke spoke passionately about the challenges and successes of turning around her failing school. This success is now threatened by Tory-led Government policies. Andy Burnham concluded the debate with a call for an education system that prepares all young people for the modern world.

There was a touching speech by Eskil Pederson President of Norway’s AUF (Worker’s Youth League) where a gunman shot 60 young people because they were members of the Labour Party. The commitment of the Norwegian people to democratic values was truly moving.

As part of opening up the Party and being more democratic Ed’s Leaders Q and A was a first for any political party. 2000 members of the public asked Ed whatever they wanted. ‘Make them difficult’ he said. He answered direct questions on everything from his brother David to Trident.  I think we will do that again.

The last debate on Thursday was on stronger communities. It allowed me to raise the County Council’s closure of libraries and the legal challenge to that, with a panel including Caroline Flint.

Then Harriet Harman and Hilary Benn closed Conference. We set off back to our constituencies to work in our communities fighting the coalition government.

Talks with all the choicest words

The Liver Birds will have some competition from this weekend as Labour Party Conference hits town. I’ve spent part of today planning my activities from breakfast meetings into the night. I’m looking forward to some interesting ‘debates’, meeting old friends and new and most of all learning. For me Conference is so much more than the dry debates in the Conference Hall. It is the chance to speak directly to the experts and to the leading lights of the Party. Whether it is to challenge or support or just to be better informed the experience is worthwhile.

So look out Liverpool – the Labour Party is coming to town and we are all going to have a ball!


I came in here for that special offer…

Tesco’s are planning to build a bigger store on their St Oswalds site and this has lead to a number of comments about whether the store is ‘needed’ and what the impact on the City Centre will be. I’m not going to rehearse the arguments for and against but if the store goes ahead there are opportunities that must not be missed. The store will be close to some of the most deprived streets in our City. Cross generational worklessness, poor literacy and poverty are major problems. Low aspirations, youth unemployment and disability mean that people fail to achieve their potential. Poor housing, addiction and poor mental health add to the problems that people face.

There is no quick answer but teaching people basic skills like timekeeping and interpersonal skills can go a long way. Showing them that they can help others and themselves through work is key to building a community. This is where there is an opportunity for the City Council to challenge Tesco’s to not only invest in building a store but also in the people who live nearby. They should offer jobs and training to those who live nearby. They should work with the local schools to ensure that the children can look to the future with confidence that they can gain the skills to work and support themselves in the future. They should work with older people living on limited budgets to help them to eat well and cheaply.  This is not unrealistic – they have done this kind of work with other communities. The question is will the leadership of the City Council ask them to rise to the challenge or will they allow ‘big Tesco’ to take our money without giving anything back?

Stuck in the middle

A quick post to talk about some of the issues

debated at Council last night about the Kimbrose triangle shared space:

Cllr Mark Hobbs moved and I seconded the following motion

“The recent quays linkages scheme has seen some significant improvements to lower Southgate Street and Kimbrose Triangle encouraging increased pedestrian traffic. Concerns have been raised about the ‘shared surface’ aspect of the scheme and resulting danger to pedestrians. Safety is of utmost concern to this Council and the significant lack of crossing facilities on what remains a main road through our City is an issue that must be urgently addressed.

Therefore this Council:

  1. Is deeply concerned at the lack of pedestrian safety at Kimbrose Triangle
  1. Requests that the County Council Highways conducts an urgent and immediate investigation in pedestrian safety and vehicle speeds at this junction.
  1. Demands that the County Council Highways install a temporary pedestrian crossing to remove any risk to pedestrians and traffic calming measures to reduce speeds of vehicles.”
This was amended in its entirety by a joint motion from the Tory Administration and the Lib Dems which welcomes the linkages and asks the County Council to monitor the situation. Although we supported this approach as better than nothing we are very concerned that a serious accident will happen before any effective action is taken.
I spent a short time yesterday in the shared space and several things were obvious:
a. Traffic is treating the space as a road – speeds are relatively high and there are no visual cues that this is different from an ordinary road.
b. Pedestrians are crossing at 2 main points and treating those as a road crossing, stopping on what looks like the kerb. They do not generally share the space with vehicles.
c. Traffic is coming the wrong way down the one-way part of Southgate St, usually after an illegal right turn of Kimbrose Way (which is not signposted as ‘no right turn’)
d. Illegal parking by delivery vans causing visual obstuction.
e. Traffic using Kyneburgh Tower as a roundabout.
f.  No sensory indication to the visually impaired that they are in a shared space.
The original scheme included pavement ‘cushions’ at the main crossing points – these would indicate to traffic that the space is not a normal road – we have not been told why they were not included in the final scheme. It may be that that is the solution. Until investigations are complete this scheme, which should be making Gloucester a pleasant and safe place to visit is making it difficult and dangerous.

I can see for miles

Tonight the City Council will debate the City Vision document and this is what I will say:

How do we see our City? How has it changed and how do we want it to change. That is what the City Vision should be about.

This document  provides facts and figures about Gloucester and says that priorities have been decided. It then sets them out. And you can’t say we don’t want Gloucester to be a better place to live and work, to raise a family, to retire in. Of course we do. But what this document lacks is a sense of what makes people passionate about this City. What do they love? What do they hate?  Other Cities have ‘visions’ that demonstrate that people care about the future of the place they live in. Thay say things like:

“Every child leaves school and can get a job, and is educated to the highest standard. There will be very little crime and no domestic violence. It will still be the beautiful city it is now.”

“We know how to enjoy ourselves and laugh without offending or taking offence, and with respect to our neighbourhood members.”

“People have equal life chances and lifespan expectations are far less unequal in different parts of the city.”

“It’s all very green – beautiful buildings and a great history.”

These are all things that we should be saying about our City. What makes Gloucester special? – I find little sense of that in this document. Ask around what people think of when Gloucester is mentioned – RUGBY. It is not mentioned in this document other than 2 small photos  but it is at the heart of many families lives. People are drawn to visit the City because of it.

This Council owns and operates one of the finest small venues in the country (see blurry picture p5) – world class acts appear on its stage as well as the up and coming and more established acts. Fans travel from all over the country to see them. What do we do to make them want to stay?

We want to be green, we want to be prosperous but our public transport is sparse and expensive  – for example there are no child megariders or family discounts. In the West Midlands a family(2 adults and 4 children) can travel the whole region – Wolverhampton to Coventry for a day for a cost of £7.80. In Gloucester alone that cost would be £19.20. Travel to Cheltenham increases that to £28.80. No wonder we struggle to get people to take up green transport options and visit our rich and diverse heritage.

And when we do lure them in by car firstly the main approaches to the City are unattractive and we must do something about that. Then parking is expensive for what is currently on ‘offer’ – you can park in Bristol for the same or less. The County’s expensive and restrictive street parking schemes seem designed to make the City a less desirable place to live and work.  We need a sustainable and joined up strategy.

What is more, we need to listen and to lead. Ten years is a relatively short time to make and deliver these changes – what will the City be like is 20 or 30 years? Lets not constrain this consultation with a lack of ambition. A lack of ambition which the Tory administration seems to embrace. When we established the GHURC we did not lack vision or pride. Joseph Chamberlain did not lack City pride when he drove his vision of the City of Birmingham and made it Britain’s second city. This administration seem satisfied with the manageable, the typical, the dull. We should not shrink from the task, lets show some true vision again.