Category Archives: Labour Councillor

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.

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

Usman2.jpeg

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?

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  http://tinyurl.com/4y5vue4  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.

Life’s illusions

It is interesting to see local Lib Dems posturing as the ‘real’ opposition on City Council when this flies in the face of their recent behaviour. As noted previously they voted for the introduction of the  green bin charge, against our amendment to the budget that could have saved Shopmobility from moving and did a deal with the Tories to let the budget cuts pass. So their recent form is as  coalition chums locally and nationally.  What has changed?

Well we had local elections and their vote, on the whole, went down. They lost 2 seats and gained 1. Labour’s vote on the whole went up and we are poised to make real gains next year. People in Gloucester now realise that only Labour presents the only principled and credible opposition to the dreadful cuts. Nationally, they are in trouble too with Nick Clegg furiously backpedalling on policies he has nodded through in Cabinet and voted for in Parliament.

So local Lib Dems can gesture and posture but the people of Gloucester have seen that they are poseurs. The Tories don’t need their votes any more so they can jump up and down but we know they are as guilty as the  Tories of damaging our services and our communities.

City Budget

At yesterday’s budget meeting the Labour Group proposed a series of amendments which would have put more money to the voluntary sector, helped people struggling with debt, saved jobs, and not introduced charges for green waste that equate to more than 20% on Council tax. They were all defeated with the Lib Dems preferring to put money aside in case we need more strimming and the Tories wanting to put money aside for ‘organisational transformation’.

The opportunity that we had was given away in a back room deal between Paul James and Jeremy Hilton. To avoid the embarrassment of having their budget defeated the Tories turned to their ‘coalition’ partners and offered them a deal. Despite previous criticisms of the Tory administration’s financial management the Lib Dems gave up their votes and allowed the budget to pass.

It is now clear that the only voice of opposition in Gloucester is the Labour voice. Lib Dem protestations about cuts are feeble and without substance. Times are tough and people in Gloucester need a strong voice and that is Labour’s voice.

So this Big Society….


I go to a lot of meetings at the moment (well I do that all the time) but at these meetings the ‘Big Society’  is frequently mentioned.  Some of those who mention it talk about the localism agenda, the empowerment of communities, the unfettering of people who want to do things and make things happen. Great, what could be better? But I do a lot of  scrutiny so I am bound to ask Who? What? and How? Apparently they’ve been making a list and on it are the Scouts, St Johns Ambulance, the CAB, GL Communities and a whole range of other fine organisations.   They will take up the challenge and bring forward a host of volunteers.

But these organisations have been around for a long time. They are not a new idea. Along with services provided by local and national government and the people in our communities  they make up what I like to think of as, umm….Society.  A society we all should contribute to and a society  that helps us when we need it. But now responsibility is being handed to us all, whether or not we are able to take it up.

The organizations that are mentioned on the Big Society list are not necessarily replacements for public sector services. They have their own aims and many are stretched financially and in getting volunteers. The ones that provide vital services such as legal advice, play schemes, clubs for young and old, are having their grants cut. Their staff are being made redundant. When they are cutting back on these things how will they run a library or provide quality respite care?

Those who are pushing forward the ‘Big Society’ agenda resist any opposition or challenge to their ideas by saying that difficult choices must be made and that any protest is somehow an attempt to undermine it. Questions like ‘where will the money come from’ can be brushed aside. There may be money from the Big Society Bank, money may be raised somehow, people may bid to run services. But in the meantime the cuts in public services and the voluntary sector will leave a gap that is not quantified or understood. I think that it is unacceptable for those who are making the cuts to be so cavalier about the impact of those decisions.

So I sit in meetings and some people talk about the Big Society with a mixture of anger and despair. Their challenges are communities with great needs, increasing demands on their services and sources of funding drying up all around. Then they make decisions to stop services, close buildings, make their staff redundant. Or to campaign to save their public services. Or to go out on the streets and protest.

Housing benefit cuts – where Gloucester will feel the pain

There has been a lot of talk about the massive impact of housing benefit changes in London where rents are high and property expensive. But what about Gloucester where it is possible to rent a 4 bedroom house for less than the proposed cap of £400 per week?

That is where this idea of the 30% quartile will bite – taking most private rented properties out of the reach of anyone on   housing benefit.  In Gloucester a quarter of those people are working, trying to do the right thing.   Overall more people who have a job claim housing benefit than those on jobseekers allowance.    But a lack of well paid, full time work means   that they need help to have a decent home. Many may have been affected by cuts in working hours as an alternative to job losses, or mothers taking part time work so they can look after young children, or carers.

Of the rest some are pensioners, some are disabled, many will be recently unemployed and just need tiding over until     they get another job. They may have moved to increase their chances of work (something the coalition is keen on) and   will find themselves forced to live on pennies or move.

Before the election Sarah Teather, then Lib Dem spokesperson on housing berated Labour for failing to provide enough decent social housing and said:

“The Conservatives’ supposed solution to the housing crisis is to relax minimum space standards so that vulnerable families can be shoved into any old sub-standard box going spare.  This policy not only exploits those families waiting for a home, but is blindly ignorant of the scale of the housing crisis facing us.”

Yet she now sits in a Coalition Government that is introducing policies that will make things worse. It is possible that London Councils will force people out of their areas and into areas with lower rents – it is possible that Gloucester, already short of affordable housing and even shorter under the new rules will be faced with an influx of people competing for homes and work. This will put rents up and keep wages low.

Further down the line we will also see long term unemployed, seen by the Coalition as the villans of the piece rather than their friends the bankers, having their benefits reduced by 10% even if they are in cheap accomodation. Young people will not be able to afford a rented room because the single room allowance will come in at 35 (middle aged) leaving older people to support their children well into adulthood and not freeing up homes for young families.

Overcrowding, slum dwelling and Rackmanism are all terms that we thought were consigned to history but these are the choices that the Coalition are forcing on decent people who deserve decent home.