Thursday 27 June 2013

MK says no to privatisations

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian focuses on my opposition to the privatisation of public services. It was as follows:

The economic problems of the last few years were not caused by those ordinary people, who are now suffering the harsh consequences of damaging cuts to public services.

It remains my view that the problems were caused by an over-heating housing market, the failure of the political classes to regulate the financial sector, a credit bubble and irresponsible lending.

And it saddens me that the Coalition Government is wielding an ideological axe to turn a crisis caused by the private sector into a crisis for the public sector throughout the United Kingdom.

I am particularly fearful at the determination of the Coalition to privatise a range of public services.

Many readers of the Cornish Guardian may not be fully aware that central government has already privatised the UK’s helicopter search and rescue service. From 2017, the service will not be provided by squadrons of the RAF and the Royal Navy, but by the Bristow Group – an American private company.

I believe that is simply wrong that such vital services could be provided by private companies, whose main objective is to make profits for their shareholders.

One defence analyst has praised the RAF and Royal Navy for providing a “fantastic” service over many years. He has pointed out that most search and rescue services, around the world, remain in the hands of the state. And he has noted how “this is a big operation” and that a “lot of people’s lives are at risk,” challenging the appropriateness of introducing the “profit motive” into the service.

I also agree with the senior politician who slammed the Government for “flogging air-sea rescue” which he described as the “thin edge of the wedge.” He added, “is there nothing that [the] Coalition Government will not sell in an attempt to reverse their own economic malaise?”

But it gets worse. The Coalition still has plans to privatise the Royal Mail and the “loan book” made up of existing student loans.

The sell-off of the Royal Mail is opposed by the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, which has “serious concerns over the future of the post office network,” and even a prominent Conservative think-tank has warned MPs against the privatisation. And the potential loss of the loan book has been condemned as “short-termist” and “contemptuous of citizens.”

Once again, I would urge the Government to re-think its approach to the provision of public services.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Mebyon Kernow condemns Coalition spending plans

Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall has condemned today’s Spending Review announcement from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition.

Deputy Leader and Economy spokesman Cllr Andrew Long has described George Osborne’s plan to implement a further £11.5 billion in cuts in 2015-2016 as “disastrous.”

Cllr Long said: “Mebyon Kernow opposes the austerity cuts of the Coalition. The economic policies of this government have failed and it is ordinary people – who did not cause the economic problems – who are suffering the consequences of the failure of the Westminster political class to properly regulate the financial markets and the irresponsible lending of the banks.

“The savage cuts of the Coalition are having a devastating impact on local communities and public services.

“This country needs investment in public services to kick-start the economy and create much-needed jobs – not more damaging cuts.”

Cllr Long, who represents Callington on Cornwall Council, has also branded further cuts to local government as “mindlessly destructive.”

“Central government has already cut funding to local government by a third. This means that the spending power of Cornwall Council will have fallen by a massive £546 million by 2015.

“George Osborne’s plan to slash a further 10% from the budget of Cornwall Council in 2015-2016 is ‘mindlessly destructive’ and will undermine the ability of the local authority to provide basic services.”

Sunday 16 June 2013

We all need to be worried by next Comprehensive Spending Review

In this coming week’s Cornish Guardian, my column will focus on the Comprehensive Spending Review of the Coalition. It is as follows:

On the 26th June, the Coalition Government will announce its spending plans for the year 2015/16. More cuts are anticipated and certain sectors, such as local government, are extremely fearful.

The previous Comprehensive Spending Review, which covered the period 2011 to 2015, reduced spending across numerous government departments, made truly disproportionate cuts to local government funding, and harshly slashed the welfare bill.

The spending power of Cornwall Council will have fallen by a massive £546 million by 2015, and further cuts could be disastrous. An influential committee of MPs has already reported that ministers do not understand the impact of their austerity measures on local councils, some of which have been described as “close to collapse,”  while the Local Government Association recently stated that the ongoing cuts could bring local government “to its needs.”

I am frustrated that there is a dominant political discourse at the present time, promoted by the Government, which claims that there is no option other than to make savage cuts.

And I am disappointed that the Labour Party has given succour to this perspective by stating that they will stick to the Coalition’s spending plans for 2015/2016 if they are elected at the next General Election.

But there are alternatives, and we should be applauding the efforts of those people who are challenging the approach of the Westminster parties.

Two of these individuals are Barry and Saville Kushner, who have written a book entitled: “Who needs the cuts? Myths of the economic crisis.” It is an insightful read, though, in this column, I only have the space to focus on two of the myths.

First, the narrative promoted by central government states “our national debt is higher than it has ever been.” But the Kushners demonstrate that government debt was higher in 200 out of the last 250 years. 

And secondly, this dominant narrative continuously claims the downturn was caused not by the banks, but by the “over-spending of the previous government.” This is so untrue. Did you know that, between 1979 and 1997, Conservative Governments borrowed on average 3.4% of “national income” whereas, between 1997 and 2007, the last Labour Government borrowed on average 1.2% of “national income.”

We need to do more to challenge the cuts agenda, so that – to quote Barry and Saville Kushner – we do not end up with “a smaller public sector, shrunken local councils, a withered local democracy, only basic social and care services, a less-than-subsistence benefits system, increased poverty and a bigger gap between the rich and the poor.”

"Waiting for Godot" at Indian Queens Pit

This week, I attended Miracle Theatre’s Waiting for Godot at Indian Queens Pit – the first of a number of events coming up this year.

If you want to support Indian Queens Pit, why not come to some future events.

On Saturday 22nd June, the Pit Association will be holding its annual fete. It was be opened at 2.30.

Also planned is a Songs of Praise event on Sunday 7th July and a concert by Johnny Cowling and Route 66 on Sunday 11th August. I will post more details nearer to the events.

Sunday 9 June 2013

Enough Food For Everyone IF

My article in this coming week’s Cornish Guardian covers the “Enough Food For Everyone IF” campaign. It will be as follows:

Over 45,000 people crowded into London’s Hyde Park last weekend to show their support for the new “Enough Food For Everyone IF” campaign.

The campaign is supported by over 150 organisations and is calling on the leaders of the world’s eight most wealthy countries, known as the G8 – who will soon be meeting at a summit in Northern Ireland – to do more to tackle global hunger.

The facts are truly frightening and the IF campaign is working hard to point out that: “Our planet could provide enough food for everyone, [but] one in eight people on this planet are living with the pain of hunger and two million children die every year because they can’t get enough to eat.”

Speakers at the London rally included film-maker Danny Boyle, who conceived the opening ceremony for the London Olympics.

He said: “Anyone who says that we can’t crack the hunger crisis is wrong. This is my dream – it’s a passionate dream – that in Olympics to come there will be no one dying of hunger in any of the countries whose wonderful flags wave in the wind. And it is a fight that will be won. We expect our government and other world leaders to fight with all the energy and cunning and determination of Chris Hoy and Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis and Bradley Wiggins – to fight and fight and fight to end hunger until they win.”

Danny Boyle and others urged the G8 to take three important steps.

1. The IF campaign wants the G8 and other countries to take their commitment to aid seriously and to honour spending commitments of 0.7% of national income. It wants the priority for the money to be the fight against hunger and malnutrition, and has challenged world leaders not to stand by “when children are dying.”

2. The IF campaign wants action taken to stop big companies “dodging … millions of pounds every day” that they owe to poor countries, and to close international tax loopholes. The campaign believes such money could do much to tackle hunger.

3. The IF campaign wants to protect land around the world from exploitation by corporate interests, so that “poor countries make sure that everyone, especially children, has enough nutritious food to eat” and that they can support poor families to grow their own food.

This is an important campaign, which I hope many people in Cornwall will wish to support.

Problems with affordable housing

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian focused on housing problems that I am encountering in my role as an elected member. It was as follows:

As a local councillor, I am getting increasingly concerned about the approach of the Coalition Government to affordable housing.

Investment in new homes has been massively reduced and the Government has stated that it expects new “affordable” rental properties, built by Councils and Housing Associations, to be at an “affordable rent.”

But the Government has defined “affordable rent” as 80% of the cost of market rents in the local area, which are already highly inflated.

In my home parish, a new estate is presently being completed and the three-bedroom “affordable” houses will each cost £140-£145 per week to rent. That compares to many existing properties of a similar size that would cost between £75 to £100 a week.

This shocking uplift in the cost of “affordable housing” means we are now in the ludicrous position of having families (in housing need) being refused “affordable” homes because their income is too low to meet the costs of such a property.

Some of the Government’s new rules on housing and changes to benefit entitlement are also having a damaging impact on many local families.

This week, I would like to give one example of how the system is simply not working.

I know of a family of six – made up of two adults plus two boys and two girls. They wished to bid for a new four-bedroom home for rent, that had specifically been designed to house six individuals.

But they were told by the Housing Association that – according to the rules of central government – the family should only be bidding for three-bedroom properties.

This is because of new rules from the Coalition relating to the “bedroom tax,” that has just introduced. In Housing Association rental properties, the Government now expects children of the same sex to share a bedroom until the age of sixteen.

In the case of this local family – the two girls that would be expected to share are a teenager and a one-year-old toddler.

And yet, if the four-bedroom property had been allocated to this family, it would have been occupied to capacity with all six bed-spaces filled.

But ridiculously, central government would have reduced benefit payments to the family because – according to their own illogical reasoning – the family only have a need for a three-bedroom six-person property and would be under-occupying the four-bedroom six-person unit!