Cambridge Selection

Congratulations to Daniel Zeichner for being selected as Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Cambridge.  I would also like to thank all the other candidates who took part in this very competitive and hard-fought contest.   It didn’t happen for me this time but I would like to thank everyone who voted for me and supported me in my campaign.

Olympic security chaos should stop police privatisation plans

Today’s revelations that the army has had to be called in to provide security at the Olympics because G4S, the private firm contracted to provide trained personnel is failing to do so, should seriously call into question plans by Herts, Cambs, and Beds police forces to outscource 1,100 police support jobs to the firm.

Here’s what I’ve said to Cambridge News today:

“This chaotic mess at G4S is a very serious cause for concern.  I don’t think that the three police forces have any choice now but to put these privatisation plans on hold and find an alternative otherwise we could be facing a complete debacle as we’ve now seen with Olympic security.  You can’t put something as fundamental as policing support in the hands of a company that has shown itself to be less than capable.  The government can’t escape responsibility either – it’s because of the massive cuts they’re inflicting on the police that we’ve ended up in this situation. Policing is a public service and must remain as such.”

Funding Social Care

There is huge crisis in funding social care as people get older and live longer and the burden is falling on local councils which are spending about 40% of their resources on funding it.  This is one of the biggest issues facing the country and the Government is doing not a lot about it.  In fact since the Coalition came to power over £1bn has been cut from local council’s older people social care budgets.  I see the impact of this every day at Cambridgeshire County Council which is struggling to control the overspends in this area and is shifting money from reserves, cutting other services, and increasing charges for things like blue badges which the Cabinet voted to increase yesterday.  Meanwhile care workers get paid an absolute pittance.

The Dilnot Commission provides a good framework for reform suggesting a cap of £35,000 on what people should pay towards the cost of their own care and a means-tested threshold of £100,000 before you have to pay for residential care costs.

Labour has tried very hard to secure cross party agreement on reform but the Tories and Lib Dems (the Care Minister is Lib Dem Paul Burstow) don’t seem to understand the urgency of the problem because the white paper they’re publishing today does not address the critical funding issue and specifically the cap proposed by Dilnot.   Without the cap it’s not possible for people to plan for their old age and it stops the insurance industry providing policies based on limited risk.

So again this government has failed to grasp the problem and failed to provide a solution that all parties can agree on.

 

Re-Nationalising the Railways

Those of you who are old enough might remember the old British Rail slogan ‘This is the Age of the Train’ from the 1980s.  Sadly, this never came to pass because of the complete butchery of our railways, privatised by the Conservatives but which Labour did little to put right when we were in power.

So I was delighted to read that the Labour Party was backing the excellent report Rebuilding Rail.  Supported by the rail unions, the report by Transport for Quality of Life provides a blueprint for how the railways could be gradually taken back into public ownership and why this would be a simpler, more efficient and cost-effective alternative to the current morass of private companies all leeching public money.

They’re not the only one’s saying this; the McNulty Review also criticised the fragmentation and complexity of our system although its proposals would have just led to more of the same.  This new report estimates that the cost of running the railways to the public purse has increased by two to three times since privatisation and could be costing us about £5.4bn per year whilst fares have gone up substantially at the same time.

On top of that we simply haven’t had the level of investment in rail freight that would have made an appreciable difference to congestion on the roads, not least the A14.  This week also saw the launch of ‘Once in a generation – A rail prospectus for East Anglia’ which sets out the strategic rail priorities for our region including increasing rail freight capacity, re-opening the March to Wisbech line which would help get essential investment into the more deprived parts of our region, and a direct line between Oxford and Cambridge linking through to Norwich and Ipswich.  These investments are vital to our continuing economic success and also key to spreading the wealth and prosperity of the Cambridge sub-region more widely and equally.  They also make it possible to have more sustainable locations for housing by making it easier for businesses to locate closer to new homes and by providing alternatives to the car for commuters.

The Rebuilding Rail report makes the point that most Europeans are gobsmacked when they see how we’ve managed to make a total mess of our rail infrastructure and passenger services.  On the continent it’s quite normal for the railways to be state-owned and run and this does not contravene EU law.  It shows how over £1bn of taxpayers money could be saved annually through public ownership and how it would become possible to plan strategically to achieve national goals for cheaper, greener, and more efficient sustainable transport.

This long overdue prescription for a more rational and sane organisation of our railways should be grabbed enthusiastically by Labour and we should be talking about it with the public and making it a key feature of our next manifesto.  Then perhaps we really will reach ‘the age of the train’.

Blue Badge reform

Cambridgeshire County Council plans to increase charges for blue badge parking concessions for people with severe mobility problems from £2 to £9.  The Council might not think that that is a big increase but for some severely disabled people it will make a difference so I don’t think they can get away with not doing a community impact assessment as they’re planning to. They should make sure that certain groups will not be disadvantaged by the change.  I would also like see much more information about how they intend to prevent fraud and abuse of the blue badges and I have questions about how the County Council will handle the medical assessments, responsibility for which is being transferred to them from PCTs.

I fear that if the new independent medical assessment of mobility is going to be carried out by private companies like ATOS it might mean some people being unfairly denied badges. As we’ve seen with Disability Living Allowance, these assessments can be deeply flawed and unfair with many decisions being overturned on appeal.  If that is the case then it seems to be me to be another attempt by this government to make it harder for people to claim support that they are entitled to rather than genuinely preventing abuse.  They have form on this – cutting the benefit bill by hitting the most vulnerable.

Bleak future for graduates under Lib Dems

Talking to students recently and reading the Guardian’s latest data on prospects for graduates is a sobering experience.  Under this Coalition government, the graduates of 2012 will typically leave with debts of over £16,000, a rise of 6% on last year’s cohort, and will face a one-in-five chance of long-term unemployment.

From my own conversations with Cambridge University students I know that even the brightest are struggling to find decent jobs and many will have to settle for lower skilled roles.  This is the legacy of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. Not only did the Lib Dems triple tuition fees, one of the most blatant broken promises in recent political history, they have also condemned many young people to an uncertain future.

This is the record of Nick Clegg and Julian Huppert’s failure that Labour must expose and this is why Labour must defeat the Lib Dems in Cambridge.  As someone who has worked with academics, students and recent graduates in Cambridge, I am deeply committed to making sure that they do not get away with it and why I want to be Labour’s parliamentary candidate so I can take the fight to the Lib Dems.

Station Area Parking

One of the big issues facing Coleridge and Cambridge in general is how our streets can cope with the projected growth of the city.  This is reflected in the problem of parking in residential streets near Addenbrookes and around the Railway Station.  As both expand and we have new research facilities and office blocks springing up we can expect more demand from cars.  Of course a lot of people will use public transport and the new railway station at Chesterton will help but the very real problems faced by local residents are likely to remain partly because the multi-storey car park promised for CB1 is now not going to happen.

Yesterday, I gave an interview to BBC Look East about the problems on Rustat Road and explained how the County Council had made promises to come forward with proposals and ideas for residents to consider but had delayed and delayed, not meeting their own timetables. I will be meeting the Cabinet member responsible, senior officers and other local councillors next week to demand that they stick to their promises and show residents that they are not being ignored.   The interview should go out on BBC Breakfast on Monday or later if it’s a full news day!

Life expectancy in Cambridge

I was shocked to read in the latest Health Profiles 2012 for Cambridge City that life expectancy is 8.7 years lower for men and 10.5 years lower for women in the most deprived areas of Cambridge than in the least deprived areas.  We also have 2,800 children living in poverty.  I don’t think this is something we should just accept in 21st Century Britain so tackling poverty and inequality should be key priorities for Labour Party policy and I will campaign to make sure it is.

Welcome!

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Welcome to my new website which I will be using to comment on various aspects of my work as a County Councillor, on wider political issues and my campaign to become Labour’s Parliamentary candidate in Cambridge.  My aim is to have a simple, easy to read, and easy to navigate website and I would welcome your views on any of the issues I post here.