Thursday, 28 February 2013

Tories don't want to be in touch

The polls have just closed in Eastleigh and the Conservative MP for Devizes, Claire Perry is on Question Time apologising for the amount of political literature that has been posted through the doors. There is a simple answer Claire - don't put any Tory literature through the door if you don't think it is important and have to apologise for it.

I make no apologies for the leaflets that I put through doors. In recent weeks I have also knocked on hundreds of doors listening to council concerns and then taking up any issues that are put to me. One of the most striking pieces of information that I have learned from this is that next to nobody knows their county councillor. It is not surprising because this councillor has little contact with the public that they represent and doesn't live in the county division. Maybe the councillor is a Tory and thinks in the same way as Claire.

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Saturday, 23 February 2013

'Nag' food producers

The horsemeat scandal continues and now Germany's development minister has asked for the products that have been affected to be distributed to the poor. There is nothing wrong with that if food producers are taking their food off the shelves and there are no health implications to eating the food. If these products are being destroyed simply because they need relabelling then we need to do a lot of 'nagging'.  It is simply not right to destroy good food. The question is whether it is good.

If I were buying a beef product and horse was given to me then something is fundamentally wrong and trust with the producer has been lost. If the label can't tell you the type of meat you are buying then can you trust the food to be fit for human consumption? If the answer is no then the matter is much more serious than has been previously suggested. If there are no health implications then how can we allow good food to be destroyed?

There are people who think that eating horsemeat is taboo even in the form of a beefburger, where you can't tell what you are eating. Allowing people to unknowingly eat horse is a scandal in its own right. I can see how this may upset some people even though there is no fundamental difference with eating lamb or any other animal. I am going to France in the next few weeks and look forward to tasting horse steak. I'll let you know what it tastes like even though it is fairly obvious that when you put some in a burger it tastes like beef. The underlying scandal is the destruction of good food.

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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Harold does have a statue

David Morris was on TV last weekend on the Sunday Politics show for the North West. Among other things with which he was in total agreement with Labour's Gerald Kaufman, he was asked whether Harold Wilson should have a statue. David's answer was that he would put party politics to one side and say yes. I may be missing something here but Harold already has a statue. You don't even need a passport to go to Huddersfield to see it.

I wasn't going to mention Huddersfield or Harold Wilson but the subject came up when I was talking to a Tory supporter on the doorstep earlier today. This supporter had seen the Sunday Politics show too and he wasn't keen on David agreeing with everything that Gerald Kaufman was saying. To me it makes sense to agree if you hold the same opinion but maybe it doesn't go down well with the Tory faithful.

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Sunday, 17 February 2013

More on Poundlandgate

I have just been watching the Andrew Marr show and Iain Duncan Smith will not 'give way' on Poundlandgate. He sees nothing wrong in the Government's position and it was simply a technicality that allowed Cait Reilly to win her court case. She was taken from her voluntary work in order to work in Poundland despite the fulfilling and relevant voluntary work that she had organised for herself.

Iain goes on to explain the Government's position. Many young people have told him that they cannot get work because they don't have experience. Now they are getting experience. I wonder if Iain sees the slight problem here. Everyone had no experience. Everyone has experience. There are only so many jobs and the number of applicants has not changed. I am not saying that work experience is bad, in fact I think it is a great thing, but it won't change the number of young people without work and that's the problem that Iain was trying to deal with. So now everyone has 'made their own luck', but we still have the same number who are unemployed.

I received some verbal feedback on my blog from the 14th February - those who use phrases like 'you make your own luck' are always successful and you won't hear the poor or unemployed using this phrase. This makes it an arrogant phrase and it is also arrogant because nobody knows what will happen to them in the future. Even people with a string of hairdressing salons, or people who network with other successful business men e.g. within the Tory Party may still find their businesses fail, their friends leave them, their health decline,  or any other number of factors that would stop them from making their own luck.

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Friday, 15 February 2013

Bandstand Grandstanding?

Knocking on doors is a really useful aspect of democracy and it doesn't cost anything. One of the issues that was brought to my attention yesterday was about moving a bandstand from a park in Lancaster to Happy Mount Park in Morecambe.  Maybe it was mentioned to me because there was a petition last year which was signed by 1700 people and it could be that I had just met one of those signatories.

There are plenty of brass bands that use Happy Mount Park. I have seen them play many times and the setting is lovely. I have only been in good weather but I understood that when it rains the performances continue in the cafe. As I understand it the bandstand is not used in Lancaster so you would think it makes sense to get it moved especially when you know that it originally came from Morecambe. What may make less sense is getting 1700 people to sign a petition when you don't know a few major details.

Do the brass bands need or even want a bandstand? Is the bandstand in Lancaster big enough for the bands that play in Morecambe? Can the bandstand be moved? Who would pay for the move?

As it happens the bandstand couldn't be moved so maybe they didn't get round to asking the other questions, but it sounds like those who signed the petition haven't been told that it was a non-starter. It makes you wonder who put the petition together.

When asked about moving the bandstand, Lancaster City Council deemed that the move was not possible. However if Morecambe wanted to go ahead with a new bandstand then 'consultation would need to take place to establish whether a permanent bandstand really was needed. The City Council has no resource currently available to undertake this consultation'.

According to The Visitor , it was Morecambe Town Council that submitted the 1,700 name petition, Well a great deal of time has already been wasted and unfortunately it is still going on...

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Thursday, 14 February 2013

She made her own luck

Morecambe MP David Morris was on a programme called Free Speech on BBC3 yesterday and he mentioned the court case that I wrote about in my last blog. A young graduate was taken from her relevant and interesting work and forced to work in Poundland by a Government scheme which highlights the importance of voluntary work. You can see how I agreed with the Appeal Court judges if you scroll down. However David takes a different view.

David tells us that the geology graduate felt she was 'enforced into slavery by working in Poundland'. Maybe she did say that but I didn't read the word slavery anywhere. The trouble for David is that the graduate won the case, and this would suggest that, according to David, the term slavery is correct. I don't think he was saying that though. He wanted to say that the Government is right in getting the unemployed into some kind of work even if they are not going to be paid. I really think he missed the point of the Appeal Court judges' decision and that now makes two Tories who don't understand why the Government lost the court case.

It may be laudable to get the unemployed into some kind of work even if they don't get paid, but not for the sake of taking them out of their chosen voluntary work. Moreover, don't employ workforce providers who don't recognise their own deficiencies (my blog on 3rd February) and don't use emotive words like slavery. I have very strong doubts that the word slavery was used by the victor as she looked calm and rational and let her lawyer speak for her.

David said 'you make your own luck', a phrase that would certainly go down well at a Tory conference. The meaning behind this phrase is that if those who are unemployed do all their preparation, have the right qualifications, experience and the right character for a particular job then this puts them in the right position to have a chance of employment. Unfortunately, with such high unemployment rates, even if you make your own luck you still need plenty of conventional luck. David happened to become a successful business man.

A rational discussion on David's unconventional use of the word luck should take levels of unemployment into account as well as Government austerity measures. More than a few people will lose out on their luck. Furthermore, David failed to take into account the fact that the geology graduate had found work which, though unpaid, was highly fulfilling for her and could well have led (and hopefully still will) to even more fulfilling paid employment. She had made her own luck, and then they took it away from her.

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Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Change The Work

A geology graduate has gone to the Appeal Court because she was taken away from her voluntary work in a museum in order to work in Poundland. The court ruled that it was illegal to force her to work without pay and she thinks it is forced labour and of course it is. The door may now be open for other claimants to bring cases against the Job Centre but the principle is fine. Get people to work because it is good for them to work and may help them get paid employment - but this person was working already.

How can it be to anybody's advantage (apart from Poundland) to take someone from their voluntary work which they find interesting and relevant and move them to a scheme which is not relevant and provided no training? The amazing thing is that the Employment Minister Mark Hoban tells us he was "disappointed and surprised at the court's decision on our regulations. There needed to be flexibility, so we could give people the right support to meet their needs and get them into a job". Well it should be fairly obvious that flexibility was not there. This person should have been able to continue at the museum whilst they concerned themselves with looking for paid employment.

This person was doing the Job Centre's job for them. They had used their initiative and then some inflexible decision was imposed to make their use of initiative irrelevant. To add insult to injury the Minister can't see it and if this sort of thing goes on then it is quite clear that the Government's programme should not continue in its current form. As for whether the Minister should go on in his current form...

Change the work

Knocking on Doors

I am knocking on doors asking if there is anything I can do for local residents. If nobody is at home then I am leaving this card which has a reference to my blog but there was no space for my email address. So here it is...

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Monday, 11 February 2013

A Far Bigger and Bolder Response

Many people save all their life, put money into their house, partly to live in it and partly for financial security, and when they die they hope that their savings are passed on to their children. Well that's how it often works. There are others who rent rather than buy their house but even if you own your house there are many pitfalls in life which stop you working hard and passing on your savings to next of kin. One of the pitfalls is that ill health may result in the need for a place in an expensive care home, and this often happens later in life when most of the saving has been done.

There are some who would say that the rainy day has arrived and those savings should pay for that care. Others would say that those in need of care have already paid through state contributions. The reality is somewhere in between these views. At the moment there is a savings threshold of £23,250 below which the state pays for care and this will become £123,000. The other figure mentioned by the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt  is a cap of £75,000 which will limit the amount that has to be paid for care.

The more important figure for me is the £123,000 which is a huge increase and will benefit many by allowing savings to go where they were intended to go. The £75k may be irrelevant to those who live in large areas of Morecambe. Even if they own their own home it may not be worth more than £75,000. On the other hand there are some very rich people around for whom the cap is insignificant. 

There is a huge incentive to avoid putting savings into a home. We are told that 'at present, up to 40,000 people every year are forced into selling their homes because they face unlimited care bills'. Well it's not quite unlimited because of the £23,250 threshold. This is an important step in helping those who are less well off to avoid selling their homes. This sort of story is common now and was common under the Labour government.

And the reason for this blog? Labour's response was that the country needed "a far bigger and bolder response". It sounds like it is easy to be in opposition. Just say the government is not doing its job regardless of how well it is acting. It's just a pity Labour do not appreciate the improvement that has been made, or if they do then they don't show it.

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Sunday, 10 February 2013

You may prefer local democracy

I have been watching the Sunday Politics and learning that Cheshire East is freezing its council tax. That may or may not be a good thing but I suppose it depends on the amount of service already being delivered, the quality and efficiency of the service and the opinions of the local residents. Eric Pickles doesn't want a rise in the council tax but I'm not quite sure how he knows all these things about every local authority.

I have been helping my son with some DIY in Cheshire East so now I can compare the service given to residents at recycling centres there and the service close to me in Morecambe and I am pleased to report that my local recycling centre is excellent. You can leave residents to fend for themselves in recycling centres (as well as in a general sense) and it may well be that they manage, but that doesn't make a system efficient and it doesn't give residents a service that they want.

Peter Thornton, leader of the South Lakeland council was on the Sunday Politics programme and he was quite right when he said that Eric Pickles is wrong to tell everyone how much they should be paying to their council. Localism means that local people are able to make political judgements. If you prefer central government telling you what you should be doing then you can always support Eric Pickles but you may prefer to vote for local politicians. You may prefer local democracy.

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Thursday, 7 February 2013

A&E closures are possible

This evening I was speaking to someone who had moved to Morecambe from Leigh. She told me that before she retired and moved here five years ago the A&E in Leigh had been closed, and guess what, nobody who lived in Leigh wanted it to be closed. They fought to keep it open but she felt that those who were making the decisions had not listened to the popular view.

I have heard of many local hospitals closing as they were obviously deemed as inefficient. I am also fairly sure that local people appreciated them and did not want them to close.  I have not heard of many A&Es closing but the mailonline mentions closures at Burnley, Rochdale and Chorley. Maybe Leigh was too long ago.

It should not be a surprise to anyone that A&E closures are possible.

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Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Lancaster A&E Still Open - It's Official

The advice from the NHS Confederation is that some A&Es should close in order to make those that remain more efficient. Your life may be saved if you go to a casualty that has all the right resources. As you may have read in previous blogs, my preference is for local casualties that can treat most things but it may well be the case that local A&Es will close. If they don't then at least your local trust should be considering this option, if only to be seen to be following the Confederation's advice.

According to my local paper the Lancaster Guardian, 'University Hospitals Morecambe Bay Trust (UHMBT) has launched a review of services with details expected in March, followed by a public consultation'. I really don't agree with this particular closure but the review is the sort of action that UHMBT had to take.

The fight to save Lancaster's A&E was taken up by the Morecambe MP who asked the Secretary of State for Health if closure was on the cards What was the answer? It must be embarrassing for the MP to discover that the answer was a matter for 'the local national health service'. He doesn't seem too bothered, though, as he wrote a tweet about it. Once he was pointed in the right direction he then asked UHMBT's chief executive, Jackie Daniel to allay fears of closure. Part of the reply was 'whilst it would be wrong of me to second guess the future, I personally find it hard to imagine Lancaster not having emergency services'. I would agree with that but that's what they said in Burnley before their casualty closed.

Jackie goes on, 'Let me be clear, we do not have any plans to shut the Accident and Emergency department in Lancaster. We are deeply concerned that these continual rumours are undermining confidence and frightening the public'. The trouble is that this trust has a duty to look at the option of A&E closure because of the specialised resources that are needed (or at least that's how Burnley's closure was explained). East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust did not get this message across very well to the public and Morecambe should, at least, be setting out an explanation for possible closure  as one option even if it doesn't involve Lancaster.

The Morecambe MP claims "from start to finish this has been a scare story with no factual basis. At the debate tomorrow (which is now today), I will be asking John Woodcock MP why his party (Labour) have chosen to make up lies about the A&E provision that are completely unfounded ... I do not approve of anyone playing party politics with the health of my constituents ..." Personally I am not keen on an MP who asks questions to the wrong person, when he gets the right person settles for an inadequate answer, and then makes accusations based on that answer.

The original Lancaster Guardian story makes it clear that it was the University Hospitals Morecambe Bay Trust (UHMBT) itself which launched a review of services, not the government. Maybe the government does have some say in the matter, and maybe the Secretary of State's answer was incorrect in some way, but then shouldn't the Morecambe MP have been more challenging in his questioning? He wasn't, though. I hope my MP can clarify what he means by " his party have chosen to make up lies" and "playing party politics".

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Sunday, 3 February 2013

Workforce Providers Must Work on Excuses

I was listening to a programme on Radio 5 this morning called 5 Live Investigates, and they were looking at unemployment figures. In particular they had evidence that welfare to work advisers had been telling people who were unemployed to become self-employed. There is nothing wrong with that, provided that the client is suitable for the proposed employment, and they are enthusiastic enough about self-employment to at least have a chance of making a go of it. It is much better for the individual to have employment, as it brings responsibility and self-esteem. It also helps the unemployment figures and gives the welfare to work companies their big bonus.

My attention turned to writing a blog when I heard Kirsty McHugh, a representative of work force providers because she was surprised by the possibility that advice could be given which allowed jobless people to become self-employed even if they could not earn a living.  I did not know this, but Kirsty should, that it is possible to receive more benefits through working tax credits than it is through unemployment benefit. I do understand how people try to turn any system to their advantage. I do understand how those who benefit would keep quiet and mostly I  understand how the work force providers could give this advice because they get paid a considerable sum - and Kirsty would definitely know this. I also understand how tax payers can be cheated.

Kirsty seemed to think that it was only possible for the self-employed to be successful (stay self-employed for over six months and give the bonus to the provider) if they were hard working. How could it be otherwise? Kirsty was challenged again but did not answer the question as to whether people were being given an incentive to sign off and become self-employed even though they were not doing enough work to earn a living. She did highlight the benefits of self-employment and told us that we don't give enough advice to help the unemployed to work for themselves. She did say that it was wrong to give bad advice and there could be a 'training need'. I think this is newspeak for more companies earning more bonuses.

Kirsty doesn't believe that there are people who become inappropriately self-employed for six months on these programmes. Well it makes sense to me so why can't she see it? On further questioning Kirsty said that these huge bonuses aren't that big. Well they must amount to something. Kirsty also said that fraud was wrong. She hadn't heard the start of the programme and she couldn't comment on the possibility of fraud except to deny it happening. However if there is any evidence at all then those individuals should go back to their provider and tell them that they have been given inappropriate advice. Yes, that should work if the plan is to conceal any fraud.

There is a problem if a loophole is being systematically exploited, and advisers are told to give bad advice as a matter of policy. That would need strong and decisive action against the service providers. Do the workforce providers need another spokesperson?

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