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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.

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United States of Whatever

http://www.gloucestercitizen.co.uk/New-job-created-Gloucestershire-County-Gloucester/story-24517005-detail/story.html

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!

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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

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Councillor Bhaimia passes his Labour Party Membership form to me

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.

Council Must Decide

When it comes to the big decisions facing this City it is important that the democratically elected representatives of the people take them. Time may be short but it is our clear responsibility to weigh the pros and cons of both the decision to buy the properties and how to manage them in the future. Richard Graham MP may not be ‘bothered’, maybe the sums involved seem insignificant to the former banker, but the future regeneration of large parts of the City hangs in the balance. That is something that the citizens of Gloucester are bothered about.

The fact is the City is being forced to pay the Treasury for assets that were bought for the regeneration of the City as part of the break up of the South West Regional Development Agency. Some of these ‘assets’ bring benefits and others considerable risks. That is why I, as leader of the only true Opposition, called for the meeting and that is why Labour will be taking a close look at the recommendations to ensure that they are taken it the best interests of the City.

City assets could cost taxpayer £250,000

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Profile image for The CitizenThe Citizen

VITAL assets in Gloucester’s city council will be transferred to the council – at huge cost to the taxpayer.

Property such as the Barbican car park, the historic but semi-derelict 500-year-old Fleece Hotel and land at Gloucester Docks is up for sale as the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA), which currently owns them, is being wound up.

Other assets include numbers 23-25 and 27-29 Commercial Road.

But the Government has announced it will only handed to city council bosses if they pay the full rate.

The news is a blow to the city council, which was hoping to take over the assets for a nominal fee of £1.

But the bill is believed to be in the region of £250,000.

It comes at the same time that the council is having to save £3.9 million by next March.

A crunch meeting of full council has now been called for June 20, where politicians will decide whether or not to go ahead.

Councillor Kate Haigh, leader of the city’s Labour group, who called the meeting, said: “We feel this is a very important decision for the city and the council.

“There are some big risks involved in taking on these assets, and we have a responsibility to act democratically.

Sensitivity

“Negotiations are ongoing and I understand the amount of money we are talking about is significant.”

The overall value of the assets are being kept under wraps due to commercial sensitivity.

The transfer of assets is seen as vital to the regeneration of the city, which is halfway through its 10 year plan.

Councillor Paul James, leader of the city council, said: “We have agreed to take the assets on subject to negotiations.

“We aim to get the best possible deal for the city.”

Richard Graham, Conservative MP for Gloucester, said: “The Regional Development Agency and the city council have been negotiating a final price for the transfer of assets.

“My understanding is they were close to reaching an agreement.

“The sums involved will be a nominal sum for the real value of the assets so I am not unduly bothered by this and the city council has got it under control.”

Numbers 23-29 Commercial Road are being earmarked for a restaurant and offices, and a hotel and multi-storey car park are being planned on the Barbican car park site.

Land at the Docks is set to become the new headquarters for Ecclesiastical Insurance by 2015.

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.

4 more years

I have my nomination papers  signed and handed in for the start of the City Council Local Election campaign. Whilst we knock on doors throughout the year, this marks the busiest time for us. We want to listen to what people have to say, explain things that are happening that may affect them and ask if they will support us. And in particular, this year, me.

Being a Councillor for  Matson and Robinswood ward for the last 4 years has been a great  privilege. Meeting people from all parts of the ward and listening to their concerns, helping them work to improve  areas and representing the ward at City Council has been has been hard but rewarding work. I hope that I have made a difference. However, to make more of a difference then Labour in Gloucester need to win not just in Matson and Robinswood but in wards we don’t hold.

A Labour administration at the City Council would still have faced the massive cuts imposed by the Tory Lib Dem Coalition Government but we would, for example, have been able to avoid charging for garden waste by allocating money from the New Homes fund that was granted the week before the budget was set. We have argued to protect the Voluntary Sector, Shopmobility and other services and if in control would take steps to limit the damage being caused by these cuts. We would have listened to what the people of Gloucester wanted.

So make sure your voice is heard in tough times by voting Labour on May 5th.