Canvassing next weekend
Join us on Saturday 26 January in Letchworth or Royston and on Sunday 27 January in Letchworth. Details are on the members-only page.
Letchworth Grange (left), with candidate Connor Brogan (second from right), and Baldock Town, with Colwyn Griffiths (extreme left)
On a cold Saturday morning, our members braved the weather to canvass for Connor Brogan in Letchworth Grange and Colwyn Griffiths in Baldock Town. Meanwhile, Jessica Finn, our Women's Officer was at a meeting of Eastern Region Women's Officers in Cambridge and Cllr Helen Oliver was at a Local Government Association training session in Coventry.
Labour East Women's Officers (Jessica Finn is fourth from right)
On Sunday afternoon, the canvassing session was in Royston Palace, where town councillor Robert Inwood is the candidate, whilst in the morning representatives of all three branches had a meeting with the new constituency Membership Secretary, Dawn Pavlitski, facilitated by the constituency Secretary, Cllr Sue Ngwala.
21 January 2019
Theresa May's Brexit deal resulted in a historic defeat for the government. Yet, having failed to get the support of her own party for her deal, she now seems to think she can just carry on and achieve in a few days what she failed to achieve in more than two years. And that she can carry on uttering warm words about caring for people struggling to make ends meet, whilst doing the opposite.
Although the vote of no confidence in the government proposed by Jeremy Corbyn narrowly failed, it is clear that we need a change of government and may still be able to get it. This is what we offer:
Click on the picture to play the video
It's time for a Labour government.
17 January 2019
First meeting of the Women's Forum
Saturday 12 January was a busy day. We were out canvassing in Letchworth South East and in Royston Palace in the morning and the first meeting of our Women's Forum took place in the afternoon.
We shall be working hard to win the seat currently held by the Tories in Letchworth South East, where we took a seat from them in 2018 - by a margin of only eight votes. The picture shows some of those who braved the cold in Letchworth South East.
It is some years since we have held a seat in Royston Palace, but two Labour councillors were elected last year to the Town Council for this area. So we shall be fighting hard here to win.
The Women's Forum met in Buntingford in the afternoon and was attended by women from all the branches in the constituency. They had a wide-ranging discussion and also elected delegates to the national Women's Conference to be held in Telford on 23 -24 February 2019, a task delegated to the Women's Forum by the constituency party.
The picture shows some of the women at the Forum, including the constituency party's Women's Officer, Jesssica Finn (front centre right) and North Herts district coluncillor Sue Ngwala (third from left).
The next meeting of the Forum will be on 9 March 2019 at 3 pm. The venue will be posted on the members' page when it has been arranged.
13 January 2019
East Herts Rural Branch Dinner
The East Herts Rural Branch dinner will be on Saturday, 9 February 2019 at 7 for 7.30 pm. Like last year, it will be at the Axe and Compasses, The Street, Braughing SG11 2QR. All members from the branch or the constituency or beyond - and their family and friends - are very welcome.
The menu and prices will be available shortly, but you can book now by emailing Clyde Millard, branch chair. Booking closes on 3 February 2019.
Hertford and Ware Branch Dinner
If you really cannot make the East Herts Rural dinner, but nevertheless want to eat for Labour, our comrades in Hertford and Ware are holding their dinner at the Salisbury Arms in Hertford on Friday, 1 February 2019. Or why not go to both dinners?
The cost is £18 for two courses or £22 for three courses and you need to book by 14 January. You need to email Catherine Henderson with your menu choices: the menu for the dinner is here. She will give you an address to which you should send your payment.
Note: the speaker at the Hertford and Ware dinner has been confirmed as Rosie Newbigging, the prospective parliamentary candidate for Welwyn-Hatfield (added 14 January 2019).
9 January 2019
In spite of the chaos caused by the introduction last summer of a new, "improved" timetable, rail fares rose at the beginning of this year. We were out at Royston and Letchworth stations this morning to tell commuters how much better the rail service would be under a Labour government.
Royston town councillor Rob Inwood, with comrades from Royston and East Herts Rural branches at Royston station
Many of the problems are caused by the fragmentation of the rail system. However, the integration of the network whilst still in private hands would create a counter-productive private monopoly. Even ardent supporters of private enterprise recognise that private monopolies are not in the public interest and we have legislation to prevent companies becoming so large that they control the market in which they operate.
Therefore, it is clear that railways are unsuitable for private operation and nationalisation is the only way to run a railway for the benefit of passengers and of the economy.
District councillors Daniel Allen (left) and Helen Oliver (second from right) with Letchworth and Baldock branch comrades at Letchworth station
2 January 2019 (added to on 3 January 2019)
You will need to be logged into your Facebook account to see the video.
1 January 2019
The first meeting of the constituency party's Women's Forum will take place on the afternoon of Saturday, 12 January 2019 from 2 to 4 pm.
The constituency party's Women's Officer, Jessica Finn (pictured with Jeremy Corbyn), says: "I would like to invite all self-identified women members to join me. You are welcome to bring children with you. This will be a space to talk about politics, women's involvement and we will also be voting on delegates to the first standalone Women's Conference (taking place in Telford, 23-24 February 2019)."
For full details, log in to the Members Only page and scroll down to Constituency Party meetings.
31 December 2018
Rachel Garnham is a newly elected member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party, one of nine members representing the constituency Labour Parties (CLPs). On 28 November 2018 she spoke at an all-member meeting in North East Herts about the work of the NEC. She also continues to be the constituency party secretary of nearby Mid-Bedfordshire – a constituency with many similarities to our own.
She was fresh from an NEC away-day. Although she ranged over the many issues that had been discussed, there were two main themes: the strategic direction being developed to ensure that we have a healthy party and the policy issues faced in rebuilding Britain.
A healthy party
The NEC is building on the outcomes of the Party’s Democracy Review, with further reforms planned to increase opportunities for member involvement. Rachel acknowledged that there was some confusion about rule changes and how CLPs should implement them, but said that in future there would be clear advice to CLP secretaries as the NEC took decisions based on the results of the Review. She talked about upholding the Party’s rules and also about quickly implementing a fairer and speedier disciplinary process.
It is comforting for us to know that at least one voice on the NEC as they discuss constitutional matters will be that of an experienced constituency officer who knows what is practical in the day to day running of local parties.
One development that she singled out was the Women’s Conference in February, which led her on to talking from her own experience of CLPs co-operating to set up an all-Bedfordshire women’s forum.
On policy issues, the starting point was the need for Rebuilding Britain after the Tories’ failed policy of austerity, which had not even succeeded in its own terms in eliminating the deficit and reducing debt. She spoke of the shame induced by the report of the UN rapporteur on the growth of poverty in the UK.
The other major aspect of Tory failure was Brexit. However, she refused to be drawn on specific plans for obtaining a better outcome than “Mrs May’s deal”, saying that Jeremy Corbyn and Sir Keir Starmer were well able to act in Parliament and in Europe to get an outcome better than the one on offer from the government.
More generally, she talked about social policies and observed that many of our economic policies, such as regional investment banks, chimed with what industry wanted. She told us about the new strategy for community organising, with a new team appointed to build campaigns and work with local communities also working with parliamentary candidates and activists in the top marginal constituencies, so that we are ready for an election, whether it is a snap election – next May was mentioned by one member of her audience – or the Tories hang on until 2022.
Finally, she talked about the importance of ethical fund-raising, which for the Labour Party meant raising small amounts from many people, unlike the big donations from wealthy donors who fund the Tories.
The aim was a healthy, democratic and inclusive party, campaigning and talking about the issues that matter to the people of Britain.
30 November 2018
Another Bit of a Do in Letchworth
There is another Another Bit of a Do on Friday 30 November 2018 at 7 pm, with Live Music, Buffet, a Quiz and Discussion. Bring a Bottle. Howard Gardens Social Centre, Norton Way South, Letchworth Garden City SG6 1SU.
Tickets are £5 (£2.50 unwaged). Book tickets by emailing email@example.com.
Royston Curry night
The Royston Branch Christmas Curry Night is on Tuesday, 4 December 2018 at Ashiana Spice Restaurant, 7 Baldock Street, Royston SG8 5AY. Two course meal, with vegetarian option: poppadoms and pickle, followed by main course, with rice and side dishes. Cash bar. Raffle. Tickets are £25 a head and must be bought in advance from Vaughan West.
12 November 2018
Labour can combat austerity with good local government
“The Prime Minister announced that austerity is over. The Chancellor declared he was delivering a Budget for hard working families and looking confidently to the future. But for many of us, the warm words don’t fit the cold reality", says Cllr Ian Albert, the Labour and Co-operative shadow portfolio holder for finance on North Herts District Council (left).
He continues: "We have the evidence of our own eyes, our local council continues to slash services; playgrounds are ripped out, bins regularly aren’t collected, garden waste is charged for… Local Council budgets are at BreakingPoint - with still more cuts to come.
"The recent Strategy proposed by the Conservative leadership of North Herts District Council set out at least a further £600,000 cuts in the next two years. Even then over £2 million of Council reserves will have to be used, raiding the savings just to barely make ends meet. And that’s the trouble with austerity, it’s a false economy – the big pot-hole fund wouldn’t be needed, if councils hadn’t been forced to neglect our roads in the first place!
"The Chancellor's claim of an extra £650m for adult social care rings just as hollow - they're making a £1.3bn cut to council budgets next year, so overall, we're still £650m worse off.
"Schools don’t, as the Chancellor says, need "little extras"! Headteachers are begging parents for donations to buy textbooks, stationery and toilet rolls. Their budgets have been cut by over £2bn since 2015 – the promise of less than a fifth back won’t meet our children’s needs. Local parents, Teachers and Councillors wrote to our MPs, we wrote to the Education Secretary. We told them our schools are breaking. Our words fell on deaf ears.
"We can all see the evidence around us in our local community; closed playgrounds, rundown schools, crumbling roads, blocked drains the threatened loss of our health shuttle. Does it feel like austerity is over to you? No. Me neither.
"We need an innovative, hands-on response. Your Labour District Councillors will be honest about the funding crisis, so that we can be realistic in taking care of our area, because we can only combat austerity with good local government.
"For example, the Chancellor’s reduction in business rates for small businesses is most welcome – but to ensure this really helps our own High Streets, we’ll need to listen to those business owners, tradespeople and community groups who have the ideas to bring our towns back to life. It can’t happen without good local government – more of the same won’t cut it in these tough times.
"Your local Council doesn’t have to preside over the gradual run down of NHDC services in the face of Government cuts. The local Labour team will work to increase income, make our Council part of our community to improve the way that vital services are run.”
More on the budget in the next item.
1 November 2018
Tax cuts, but mainly for the rich
The Chancellor found that he had £11.9bn more than had been expected this year, because tax receipts were higher than expected and growth, though still very low, was slightly better. He has chosen to spend most of it.
The Prime Minister had already committed him to spending money on the NHS and this "windfall" gain made it easier for him than expected. The bulk of his spending, about 90%, goes on health, but it still only provides 3.4% increases each year. This is less than the annual increase received by the NHS historically and does nothing to deal with the deterioration suffered since 2010, when spending flat-lined in real terms.
Some goes on defence and some on foreign aid. The Chancellor is to be congratulated on keeping the aid budget linked to GDP and not succumbing to the "small town" Tories who have no empathy with the suffering of people in other countries. Other departments will receive what the Chancellor describes as "flat real" budgets, i.e. 0% increases (in spite of an increase in population). No end to austerity here!
Education, for example, gets a derisory one-off payment of £400m for "little extras", when schools are having to cut the number of teachers and reduce the number of options open to pupils.
What was unexpected was that he brought forward by a year proposed cuts in personal taxation, at a cost of £2.8bn, but 84% of this goes to the top half of the income distribution, rising to 89% by the end of this parliament. Within that, the richest 10% of households get 37%.
This is only partially offset by the increased funding for universal credit. He is putting back only about 75% of the amount that George Osborne took out. On average, next year the poorest tenth of households will be a mere £30 better off, but the richest tenth will be £410 better off.
This improvement at the lower end of the income distribution is confusing, because universal credit has not yet been fully rolled out, and those not on this benefit do not get any increase at all. If everyone eligible had the increase, the poorest tenth of households would gain £80 on average.
Even so, working age benefits will remain frozen next year, meaning that there will be a real terms decrease of £120 for this group, so that, even if all those eligible has the increase, the poorest tenth would be worse off, to the tune of £40. Of course, those who are not receiving universal credit get no increase and suffer the full cut of £120.
Theresa May said this was the end of austerity, but it does not look like it. It is only the end of austerity for the few, and not the many. As Jeremy Corbyn said in his response, it is a budget of broken promises.
30 October 2018
In England, NHS hospital waiting times have been creeping up under Mrs May's dysfunctional government. We should like to tell you about waiting times at the Lister and QE2 hospitals, but once again the East and North Herts NHS Trust, which runs them, has appeared on the list of hospitals who have not reported.
They last reported 14 months ago, when only 87% of patients were seen within 18 weeks (the target is 92%). England's figures have deteriorated since then, so that it seems very likely that the Trust's figures have also deteriorated. The number of providers achieving the target has sunk from almost 80% in 2015 to 54.6% in August 2018.
One of the most disturbing statistics is that the number of patients waiting over a year has climbed very steeply in the last year. Between November 2017 and June of this year it rose from 1,500 to 3,500.
Here is a tip for you: if you want a good chance of being seen within 18 weeks, you should be old or have rheumatism. Of all the specialties, only geriatric medicine and rheumatology are achieving the standard of 92% in 18 weeks.
27 October 2018
or choose both
A family Hallowe'en party in Letchworth or a curry night in Royston? Which do you prefer? Or why not come to both? Details are below.
11 October 2018
North Herts District Council adopts principles of Charter
Last week, our consitituency Labour Party unanimously approved a motion calling on "our" councils to adopt the Co-operative Party's charter against modern slavery.
Only last month, Cambridgeshire Police, working with other agencies, found eight people on a farm at Kneesworth (just north of Royston) who they believe were being exploited as slaves. So, it is important that councils set up systems to ensure that they do not unwittingly employ contractors who make use directly or indirectly ofmodern slavery.
Martin Stears-Handscomb, leader of the Labour and Co-operative Group on North Herts District Council (pictured), reported to the constituency party meeting that he had prevailed upon the Conservative administration to adopt the following motion:
"That in view of evidence that modern slavery and human trafficking is hidden even in affluent areas like North Hertfordshire, this Council notes the legal duties imposed upon it in the Modern Slavery Act 2015, notes the training delivered by Hertfordshire Constabulary to the Councils safeguarding group and agrees that the Council must seek to raise awareness of the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking in all its work and within the District. To achieve this the Council agrees to support the principles of the Modern Slavery Charter." (The ten points of the Charter are included in the Minute of the decision.)
Martin said that signing up to the full charter would form part of the Labour manifesto at the next election.
We shall now ask the Local Campaign Forums for East Herts District and for Hertfordshire County to adopt the charter as part of their manifestos for the next council elections.
10 October 2018
For the many, not the few
Watch the Labour Party's new party political broadcast here.
can see a number of the speeches made at the Conference, in cluding
Jeremy Corbyn's closing address, on the Party's YouTube channel, here.
27 September 2018
Rachel Burgin speaks at Conference
Rachel Burgin (pictured left), who was the campaigns co-ordinator behind our highly successful campaign in May which won us an extra seat on North Herts District Council, spoke at the Conference on skills training. Rachel was also parliamentary candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden in 2015.
You can hear Rachel's speech here.*
* This speech is on Facebook and you will need to log into your Facebook account to hear it.
26 September 2018
Amy Allen, the chair of our Letchworth and Baldock branch, received a warm reception yesterday at Conference when she spoke about the iniquity of UK citizens needing to use food banks in order to eat. Listen to what she said here.*
Amy is one of our three delegates to the Conference. The others are Sue Ngwala, constituency party secretary, and Jess Finn, women's officer.
*This speech is on Facebook and you will need to log into your Facebook account to hear it.
25 September 2018
This morning, Sharon Taylor (pictured), leader of Stevenage Borough Council, signed the Co-operative Party Charter against modern slavery. This is by no means an empty gesture. Home Office figures suggest that there are 13,000 men, women and children in slavery in the UK and others put the estimate at more than ten times as many.
This includes sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and forced labour, but there are other forms as well.
Stevenage's Labour and Co-operative Council had agreed to accept the charter and the formal signing took place at the council's offices, immediately before a Co-operative Party conference, which was opened by Alex Mayer, Labour MEP for our region, who spoke briefly about the European Parliament's determination to tackle modern slavery. The conference then went on to discuss the charter in more detail and also housing co-operatives, credit unions, co-operative schools and colleges and the Co-operative Councils' Innovation Network.
Stevenage joins 24 other councils who have signed the charter or passed a motion adopting the procedures in the charter. Labour and Co-operative councils have led the way, but the list includes SNP and Conservative councils.
In our own constituency, the Labour and Co-operative group on North Herts District Council have prevailed upon the Tory majority to adopt the main points of the charter.
You can read the charter here.
15 September 2018
A motion calling on the County Council to write to government ministers about the cuts in funding for schools, proposed by the Labour Group, was passed unanimously by the Council in July. Cllr Judi Billing reported on this motion to the County Local Campaign Forum (LCF), which was hosted in Letchworth by the North East Herts constituency party last Friday.
Headteachers had written this year and last year to parents about the effect of cuts on the education of their children (see our earlier report). Labour had worked with parent groups and the headteachers in preparing the motion and, although the resulting letter was not hard hitting, the fact was that Tories had voted for a motion which specifically complained about "austerity".
There was concern expressed at the LCF meeting that new government guidelines, just issued, were aimed at preventing headteachers from writing letters such as their letters to parents, by indicating that they should not use school machinery for political purposes.
A further concern was expressed that the number of key stage 1 pupils taught in classes of more than 30 had increased significantly. It is actually illegal to have classes above 30 for children of this age and Judi Billing would enquire further about the 1,404 children in this situation in Hertfordshire.
Cllr Nigel Bell reported that the Nascot Lawn respite centre for children could possibly close on 15 November. Yet, the County Council did not have care packages for some children in place yet. We have reported before on the withdrawal of funding by the Clinical Commissioning Group as a result of a government cut of £45m in their funding.
A delegate drew attention to the fact that the East of England Ambulance Service had been rated the worst in England and Scotland. Cllr Sharon Taylor said that she would be meeting the unions and would follow this up in the light of their views.
This meeting was the LCF's AGM and Selina Norgrove of Broxbourne CLP (centre in the picture above) was elected as the new chair. The meeting said farewell to Leon Reefe, the outgoing chair, who had previously been the leader of the Labour Group on the County Council, and wished him well in his new home in Bournemouth.
10 September 2018
It has just been announced that the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Hertfordshire, Tony Lloyd, who is as former Tory councillor, has backed down and withdrawn his bid to take over the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. This means that the Service will remain within the control of theCounty Council.
His proposal was backed by the Tory MPs in Hertfordshire, but opposed by all the parties on the County Council, including the Tories.
So, the imminent threat of fire station closures and firefighter redundancies has receded. However, more co-operation between the police and the fire service is still to be explored. The difference now is that Labour councillors will have a part to play in the decision making about any changes that are proposed within the fire service.
There has been protracted correspondence between the PCC and the government as he attempted to adjust his business plan for the Fire Service in order to make it acceptable. The Labour Group will seek to find out just how much this debacle has cost taxpayers.
There is more on this topic here.
8 September 2018
Lorna Kercher, who was a Labour councillor on North Herts District Council for 30 years election, was made an alderman at a Council meeting last Thursday. She gave up her Letchworth seat on the Council at the last election, following her move to Derbyshire.
Tributes were paid to her by councillors from all sides, many joking about "sharing a car with her" - because she does not drive and will accept a lift from another councillor, whatever that councillor's political persuasion!
As well as her long service on the District Council, Lorna was also a County councillor for eight years, representing Letchworth North West. She also served on the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation.
Lorna says that she feels honoured to be made an alderman. "Letchworth and North Herts will always be in a corner of my heart," she says.
Lorna is pictured at the Red Rose Summer Party in Buntingford last Sunday.
8 September 2018
Rail campaign in Royston
Our rail campaign last Monday got a full page spread in the Hertfordshire Mercury today.
Alex Mayer, Labour MEP for the East of England, led our campaign at Royston Station and was extensively quoted by the Mercury. They quoted her as saying: "People have been put off using the train because of the unreliability and cost when we should be doing everything to encourage them. It really is time the railways were run for the benefit of passengers, not profit."
She went on to explain that a season ticket covering all services throughout Germany for one year costs £1,000 less than a season ticket for the 50-mile commute from Royston to London.
6 September 2018
Alex Mayer, Labour MEP for the East of England (above, centre), joined our two Labour town councillors in Royston, along with other members, to campaign for the public ownership of railways, in order to provide a better service.
There is a clear majority in favour of public ownership in the country and a Labour government would provide this at very little cost, since each franchise would be taken back as the present provider's contract expired.
The same message was being delivered by our members at Letchworth Station (pictured left) at the same time. One rail user, a police officer, told us that after a 12 hour shift his 30-minute journey home that morning had taken 1 hour 50 minutes.
3 September 2018
Undaunted by the by-election result in Watton-at-Stone, the East Herts Rural branch held another successful summer party in Buntingford on Sunday, 2 September 2018, welcoming comrades from the other two branches in the constituency as well as from Hertford & Stortford, Enfield and Broxbourne constituencies.
In addition, we welcomed Lorna Kercher - due to become an alderman of North Herts District Council next Thursday - and her husband, Les, who drove down from Derbyshire to celebrate their wedding anniversary with us.
The picture shows all the guests, except CLP secretary Sue Ngwala, who was taking the picture.
2 September 2018
Yesterday's by-election in Watton-at-Stone ended one-party rule in East Hertfordshire, but unfortunately it was the Liberal Democrat candidate who achieved this, in spite of the fact that at the previous election the Liberal Democrats did not even stand.
Their candidate, Sophie Bell, had a remarkable win, taking 531 votes out of a total of 792, with a very high turnout for an August by-election of nearly 40%. The Tory candidate trailed well behind with 238 votes and, although we had an excellent candidate in Veronica Fraser and canvassed almost all of the ward, the Labour vote was only 23.
It was clear from our canvassing that the fact that she was the only local candidate was a key advantage in the minds of many voters. Some told us that their main aim was to defeat the Tories and they would, therefore, vote Liberal Democrat on this occasion.
You could perhaps argue that a great many Tories defected to the Lib. Dems., just like Cllr Marment in Letchworth (see next item).
24 August 2018
Tory majority cut to four
Cllr Paul Marment, the sole Tory in the three-seat ward of Letchworth Grange, has defected to the Liberal Democrats, saying that he has been struggling for some time with Tory policies both nationally and locally. The local issues that he mentions are the farce over refuse collection and the ongoing issues of Hitchin Town Hall.
The Labour Group on the Council has been struggling with Tory policies for even longer and more vociferously than Cllr Marment! The Labour Group says: "All North Herts District Councillors should be dissatisfied with the complacent Conservative leadership. The museum situation is a scandal and the refuse service a farce."
Cllr Marment won his seat from Labour in 2015. He will now sit as a Liberal Democrat until his seat is up for election in 2019. The Labour Group says that local people deserve councillors who will make their voices heard all the time, not just when the need for re-election looms.
The electors of the Grange ward will be able to replace Cllr Marment next May with a Labour councillor. Meanwhile, they already have two Labour councillors, Helen Oliver and Daniel Allen, both elected last May (pictured).
"Cllr Marment may be feeling confused," says Helen, "but Cllr Daniel Allen and myself have been opposing the poor Conservative leadership of NH District Council and we'll continue to do so, along with our fellow Labour councillors."
20 August 2018
Alex Mayer, Labour MEP for the East of England (third from left), joined us this morning to canvass for Veronica Fraser, who is the Labour candidate for Watton-at-Stone.
We were also joined by comrades from Hertford and Stortford CLP and Stevenage CLP for this canvass.
If you want to help us to hold the Tory fiefdom of East Herts to account, join us tomorrow, Sunday, 19 August, outside the Bull in Watton High Street, for another canvassing session.
The by-election in Watton-at-Stone is next Thursday, 23 August 2018.
18 August 2018
East Herts Rural branch invites members and other supporters to join them at their summer party in Buntingford at 12.30 pm on Sunday, 2 September. Food and soft drinks are provided, but bring a bottle of whatever you enjoy.
Tickets are £12 for adults and £4 for children (under 5 free). You can pay on the day, but booking is essential. So, book now by emailing the branch secretary, Ian Fairbairn, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The picture shows our Labour MEP, Alex Mayer, speaking at the party in 2017.
14 August 2018
Labour was out in Watton-at-Stone this morning. At present, the only non-Tory on the East Herts District Council is an Independent ex-Tory, who nevertheless remains chair of the Tory Party's Bow Group. In other words, there is no opposition at all and no one to hold Tory councillors to account.
We desperately need Labour councillors. Help us begin to change the District Council at this by-election and then at the elections for the full council in May of next year.
So, join us next weekend on Saturday at 10.30 am or Sunday at 11 am outside the Bull in Watton High Street.
12 August 2018
"After weeks on end of broken promises, recycled reassurances and unacceptable excuses, it's evident Urbaser can't deploy enough trained staff and suitable vehicles to deliver the essential service it tendered for," the North Herts Labour Group says in a statement.
"At this point, the public can have no faith in the Council or the contractor to resolve these fundamental failings.
"Moreover, the public can have no faith in those ultimately responsible. The Leader of the Council Lynda Needham, Portfolio Holder Michael Weeks and the Cabinet chose Urbaser. They've proven unable to lead the Council out of the resulting mess and should resign."
8 August 2018
The by-election in Watton-at-Stone takes place on Thursday, 23 August 2018. At the last general election, Labour was second in the poll in Watton, so that only Labour has any chance of challenging the Tory candidate and ending the monopoly of power that the Tories have on East Herts District Council.
The campaign schedule is on the members' page. Please come and help Veronica Fraser's campaign. If you are not a member of this constituency, please get in touch with the Campaigns Co-ordinator to offer your help.
7 August 2018
The Tory Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has asked the Secretary of State to allow him to run the Fire and Rescue Service, which is currently run by the County Council. This was opposed by all parties on the County Council. However, it is supported by our Tory MPs.
Labour's spokesperson on Community Safety on the County Council is Cllr Joshua Bennett Lovell (pictured). He says:
"Having discussed this with the Secretary of the Herts Fire
Brigades Union (FBU) on several occasions, I am well aware of how
worried local fire-fighters are about the Tory PCC's plans to take-over
Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. Together we co-wrote an open
statement as Herts Labour and Herts FBU to speak out against the
proposals. Many fire-fighters have also written to me personally to
express their concerns. I trust their decades of experience when they
warn of how damaging this could be from both a reputational and safety
"That the PCC is so open about planned station closures should alarm us greatly; whilst the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is currently meeting incident response time targets, the shutting down of stations in the county may significantly impact these figures. Impacted too would be the service's ability to respond to major incidents. In the wake of Grenfell Tower, we must take extremely seriously the risks associated with reducing our fire service's ability to respond to such major threats to the public.
"Our fire-fighters did not join the service to be repeatedly undermined and left at higher risk due to service funding cut-backs and station closures, and the public who depend on their skill, bravery and commitment must not be either. As a cost-cutting exercise, it doesn't get much more dangerous than this. I stand with our fire-fighters and our public in condemning the Tory PCC's plans. We must keep our Fire and Rescue Service in local control, and fight-back against service cuts and station closures."
There is a public meeting on Thursday, 2 August 2018 from 7.30 pm to 9.30 pm at Roe Hill, Briars Lane, Hatfield AL10 8EY, hosted by Welwyn-Hatfield Cllr Kieran Thorpe.
31 July 2018
There is no opposition at all to the Tories on East Herts District Council. All councillors are Conservatives, apart from one, who was elected as a Conservative, but was later suspended from the party for indicating support for UKIP and sits as an Independent.
The by-election in Watton-at-Stone gives a chance to end this monopoly of power, paving the way to a stronger opposition, if not a change of control, when all wards go to the polls in May of next year. The by-election is on 23 August 2018 and results from the sad and sudden death of Cllr Michael Freeman.
The Labour candidate is Veronica Fraser, a retired local government officer and civil servant. "I believe that community voices need to be heard in the design of local services and planning decisions," she says, "and I am committed to genuinely consulting and representing the locality and its people."
There are many issues on which the Tory council needs to be called to account. Some of the most important are these: amongst all the building now going on and planned in East Herts there are not enough affordable homes for young people who have been brought up here and for key workers like nurses and teachers; we also need to challenge the District Council to demand new houses are ecologically sound, to make an even greater effort to recycle and to do more to develop the local economy.
Veronica's election address can be read here.
Away on holiday for the election?
It's very easy to get a postal vote. Apply to the East Herts District Council by 5 pm on 8 August 2018. You can download the form here. If you are going overseas or travelling in this country, a postal vote is not recommended, but you can get someone else that you trust to vote for you ("a proxy vote"). You have until 5 pm on 15 August to do this. You can find the form here.
If you have just moved to Watton, you may not be registered to vote. You have until midnight on 7 August 2018 to register for this election. Go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. You will need your National Insurance number.
30 July 2018
but we urgently need two women to step forward for key vacancies
At the AGM yesterday, members elected a new team to run the Constituency Party. Peter Finn (left), from the Royston Branch, was elected as chair unopposed and Cllr Sue Ngwala (below right), from Letchworth and Baldock Branch, was similarly elected as Secretary. The other executive officers are vice-chairs Liz Davis and Clyde Millard, both from East Herts Rural branch; Jess Finn (Royston Branch) as Women's Officer and the treasurer is unchanged - John Rees (Royston Branch).
In his pre-election statement, Peter said that his vision was "a cohesive, functioning campaigning body that demonstrably contributes to successful elections; an enhanced reputation nationally and regionally that will encourage ambitious parliamentary candidates; and a party where we might not all agree but we do feel our views have been heard and respected."
The functional officers who were also elected are shown on the Local Party page.
Two very important posts were not filled and, to maintain gender balance, we urgently need two women to step forward. These posts are Communications Co-ordinator and Membership Secretary. If you want to nominate yourself or want to find out more, please get in touch with Sue Ngwala at this email address.
26 July 2018
It is with great sadness that we announce the death on 12 July 2018 of Peter Wood, at the age of 102. Peter and his wife, Shirley, were an inspiration, both working hard for the Labour Party and for the Co-operative Party until only a few years ago. He died peacefully with Shirley and his family around him.
Peter was politically restricted in his job, but became active in the Labour Party after his retirement. He held various posts within our neighbouring Hertford and Stortford constituency party and the Hertford branch. He was known latterly to the East Herts Rural branch as a meticulous treasurer of the 100 Club, in which the branch continued to take part even after its separation from the Hertford and Stortford constituency. Incidentally, if you needed a history of boundary changes for the constituency or wards within it, everyone knew that the person to ask was Peter.
He and Shirley have been regular attenders at East Herts Rural social events right up to last year and many members from the rest of our constituency will have met them there.
The picture shows Peter and Shirley, with two of their family, at his 100th birthday party, where Peter eschewed reminiscences in favour of persuading his guests to vote "remain" in the referendum.
There will be no funeral as such, because Peter wanted his body to be donated for medical research. A memorial meeting will be arranged soon.
24 July 2018
Some of us can remember when you had to pay to see the doctor or have an operation. It was the luck of who our parents were whether our care could be afforded. Some of us even today have experienced, whilst on holiday in the USA, the awful feeling when you are asked for your credit card before you are asked what your symptoms are.
Aneurin Bevan, after he, as Health Minister in Clement Attlee's government, had brought in the NHS, famously said that it was "the envy of the world". Sure enough, much of the world copied it, with a few changes here and there. So, just how good is it now?
The BBC has commissioned a report from four very reputable bodies: the King's Fund, the Nuffield Trust, the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation. It compares health care in a range of developed countries. It demonstrates just how difficult it is to answer this question.
On equality of access, the NHS can hardly be faulted. They quote the American Commonwealth Fund survey which showed that the UK was much better than the average when people were asked if they had skipped a consultation due to cost and was the best when they were asked if they had skipped a medicine prescription because of cost.
However, health care outcomes are something of a mixed bag. The NHS has a good record on diabetes, for example, and is the best at avoiding death from kidney disease. However, it is less good on some major health problems, such as heart attacks: for example, cancer survival rates are below average, although the rates over the ten years to 2014 have improved faster than the average.
But this needs to be put in context. The UK spends less of its wealth on health care (9.7%) than average (10.2%) - and much less than the USA spends on its largely dysfunctional system (17.2%). More importantly, it is less than France and Germany (11% and 11.3% respectively). This makes it difficult for anyone to argue that we cannot afford to pay for the NHS.
Of course, the GDP per person varies from country to country and the report also looks at spending per person. The UK is again below average by about 5% (10% if the USA is included). The figures are for 2016 and exclude capital spending, which might be an important factor, since the UK, for example, has 2.6 hospital beds per 1,000, compared with an average 4.5, and the lowest number of MRI and CT scanners.
We also lag behind on the number of doctors and nurses. We have one doctor for 356 people against an average of 277. The report speculates about how the numbers of our professional staff can be so far below average when our spending is closer to the average (albeit below it). They fail, however, to consider whether the cost of our present tendering system and the re-organization which has accompanied it, introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, is a factor. In effect, a whole new bureaucracy was added to our healthcare by that government.
We desperately need a Labour government to restore and develop the NHS, removing the bureaucracy of tendering for contracts and halting the creeping privatisation of services. That is why we were out today in Letchworth to mark the 70th birthday of the NHS and to campaign to prevent its disappearance into private hands before we can take it back for the good of the people.
7 July 2018
Labour created the NHS 70 years ago today. It is our greatest achievement. Its creation was, of course, opposed by the Conservatives and, it has to be said, by the doctors. However, the doctors have been won over now.
The problem is that the Tories have not. They entered government in 2010 having promised not to re-organize the NHS, but immediately put forward a bill that radically altered the NHS, breaking it up in parts that could be put out to contract. Sadly, the Liberal Democrats, in coalition with the Conservatives, went along with this.
The intention was clear. They expected that these contracts would be won by private companies, especially US health care providers. It did not quite go to plan. Many contracts did go to private companies, but the major American providers held back. Furthermore, against the odds, many contracts were won by NHS organizations, although at the expense of re-organizing themselves on commercial lines and spending scarce funds on the tendering process.
On top of this, the Conservatives have cut the growth of NHS funding and, in real terms, cut the pay of NHS staff. We all saw or read about the state of the NHS over last winter.
That’s why we shall be in Letchworth Town Centre next Saturday, 7 July, to celebrate Labour’s achievement and demand an end to the cuts, austerity and privatisation that have characterised the last eight years of Tory mismanagement of our NHS. We shall be handing out leaflets and talking to shoppers about how the Labour party will save our NHS.
Come and join us in Leys Square, near Esquires Coffee shop, Letchworth Town Centre, 10am to 2.30pm, on Saturday, 7 July 2018.
5 July 2018
An excellent meeting was held on 12 June 2018 to discuss the papers put forward by our Policy Commissions. Members split into small groups, each one discussing a different policy area: health inequalities, national education service, a greener Britain, the future of work, protecting our communities, and giving people power to shape their local communities. Their comments have now all been submitted to the National Policy Forum.
These comments are now available on the members' page of the website. In addition, there are comments on Labour's green paper on social housing, Housing for the Many. These comments were formulated by the East Herts Rural branch.
2 July 2018
Labour, including our two Royston town councillors, at Royston station
The Labour Party was out campaigning about the state of our railways in Letchworth, Baldock and Royston. In Royston, on cue, the rail company delayed one train and advised passengers not to board the fast train because it was only four coaches and was already packed out on arrival.
Fittingly, this is also the first working day for the newly renationalised East Coast mainline. It is now twice that the private franchisee has been unable to run it and twice the state - that's you and me - has had to pick up the pieces. Last time, the nationalised railway company delivered high passenger satisfaction, as well as paying millions of pounds to the Treasury - but the Tories privatised it again, only to be forced to take it back into public ownership.
The Tories tell us that private companies are more efficient than nationalised organizations, but it is clear that they cannot get their figures right when they bid for franchises and they cannot get their timetables right either. Worse, apparently they assured the Secretary of State that all would be well with the new timetable, but now they say that in the north they will not be able to sort out the chaos until November!
25 June 2018
It is two years since Jo Cox was murdered - murdered for her beliefs. But her beliefs live on.
Sue Ngwala, our political education officer, has arranged a second Great Get Together on Saturday 30 June 2018 to celebrate her life and ensure that those beliefs continue to be put into practice.
It is easy to show your support. You only have to eat a slice of cake. But you then need to go on living by her ideals - and that's not difficult either, if you put your mind to it.
23 June 2018
Cei Whitehouse, who was our campaigns co-ordinator at the last general election, explains how the government is ignoring the evidence when it backs grammar schools. Writing in the Hertfordshire Mercury on 7 June 2018, he explains why he gives them only 2 out of 10 - "Must try harder". The article is below.
This was set alongside an article by Cllr Jeff Jones (Buntingford, Conservative) which perfectly illustrates the Tories' flawed grasp of the evidence.
Cei's article is below:
9 June 2018
The 2017 Labour Manifesto is widely thought to have contributed to the remarkable upsurge in Labour support that took place between the council elections in May and the General Election in June 2017.
We are now working on the manifesto for the next general election and your input really can make a difference. We are meeting to discuss policies next Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 7.30 pm in the Mrs Howard Memorial Hall, Norton Way South, Letchworth SG6 1NX. (The Hall is across the road from the Howard Gardens Social Centre where the constituency party usually meets and there is a car park alongside the hall.)
Please read the consultation documents on the subjects that interest you, so that you can make your contribution. Each document sets out some background information and a set of questions that need to be answered. Those familiar with earlier policy consultation documents will find that these are commendably short.
The subjects are:
Towards a National Education Service
The future of work
A greener Britain
Tackling health inequalities
Achieving Sustainable Development Goals
Protecting our communities and turning lives around
Addressing in-work poverty and working-age inequalities
Giving people the power to shape their local communities
You can access all these documents on the Labour Policy Forum website.
We look forward to seeing you. If you are not known to the officers of the constituency party, please remember to bring your membership card with you.
6 June 2018
Alex Jarosy was elected chair of the constituency Labour Party (CLP) at the all-member meeting on 20 May 2018, filling the vacancy left when Doug Swanney resigned earlier in the year. At an earlier meeting, the CLP had decided not to leave the vacancy open until the AGM in July. However, all constituency party posts, including chair, will be up for election at the AGM.
Alex has been membership secretary of the CLP and will continue to hold this post until the AGM. Alex comes with a long history of campaigning in London and recently in elections in our constituency. He has worked in local government at a senior level and with housing associations.
31 May 2018
"Tory policy is clearly having a damaging impact on the most vulnerable in North Herts," said Gary Grindal (pictured right), our Labour and Co-operative councillor for Letchworth Wilbury, after he had seen the report for 2017/8 from Citizens Advice North Hertfordshire.
Compared with the previous year, client issues were up by 20%, principally because people are being hit in several ways by the government's austerity programme: the number of issues per client was up by 15%.
Nearly a third of the problems related to benefits and taxes, and the number was up by 21%, followed by debt (up by 9%) and housing (up by 16%). In addition to debt problems, the need for help with budgeting more than doubled.
The highest number of benefit cases related to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). One effect of the change-over from Disability Living Allowance has been on the charges which disabled people have to pay for care workers to assist them. Labour county councillors have tried to prevent the Tory County Council from taking advantage of the change to increase charges for the most disabled (see below).
PIP, together with Employment Support Allowance and Housing Benefit, make up more than half the benefits cases, but Universal Credit cases have more than doubled as this form of benefit is rolled out.
We are fortunate that Citizens Advice has kept going in spite of the withdrawal of local authority funding over recent years and it is good to know that even more people are volunteering their help: volunteer numbers were up 38% since the year before.
"In North Herts, this volunteering organisation helped 5,400 people in the last year," said Gary Grindal. "They remain so vitally important in our community."
30 May 2018
Shock at further cuts for local schools
For the second year in a row, local Head Teachers have felt compelled to write to parents, explaining the devastating effect on our schools of funding cuts.
The letter that we have seen outlines some of the effects of previous cuts on one particular school:
The end of native language assistant support in modern foreign languages
Teachers teaching outside their specialisms
A reduction in teaching staff
A reduced number of teaching assistants for those with additional needs
A reduction in school trips and extra-curricular activiities.
The letter goes on to warn that further reductions in teaching staff may be necessary, resulting in larger cleases at key stage 4, withrawal of some options at GCSE and a reduced range of A-level courses. In addition, before and after school provision may be at risk. The letter, which is signed by all the secondary heads in North Hertfordshire, calls on parents to write to their MP and to government ministers.
Judi Billing, Leader of the Labour Group on the County Council and Spokesperson for Education, Libraries & Localism (pictured), says: "It’s really shocking that in a comparatively wealthy place like North Herts all six of our Secondary Heads feel they must explain to parents and students that they expect standards and choices to decline simply for lack of cash.
"The teachers and leaders at our schools are amongst the the most committed professionals you could ever meet. It's nothing short of a scandal that the government is making it harder and harder for them to deliver the education that they care so much about and that our children need.
"The Secretary of State Damian Hinds should be ashamed of himself and I hope that every North Herts parent will make it clear to him that this funding gap is completely unacceptable for our schools, our teachers and our children in 2018."
Last May, at the Generel Election hustings in Royston, Member of Parliament for NE Herts, Sir Oliver Heald, assured parents that Theresa May had a plan to tackle school funding issues. Despite those assurances, a year on, our children's schools have made cuts, and will be making further cuts, which affect our children's education.
You can read about last year's letter from headteachers here.
26 May 2018
The change of contract for food waste collectioin in North Herts to Urbaser has led to food waste caddies being left out on the kerb for nearly a week.
Cllr Elizabeth Dennis Harburg, Labour's shadow portfolio holder for refuse and waste management, said: "One of the most vital statutory services provided by NHDC, the contract for food waste collection, has been chronically affected by the switch over to Urbaser with new routes and "data errors" being blamed.
Labour councillors on North Herts District have spent the last few days hearing from residents in both Hitchin and Letchworth and raising problems with the Council. In some instances, whole streets have had their unemptied food waste caddies out on the kerb for nearly a week.
To make matters worse, there are many reports of unanswered phones, making reporting the missed collections unnecessarily difficult. And sporadic responses to online fault reporting.
Labour has, therefore, requested a full statement from both NHDC and Urbaser, outlining a clear plan for how they will rectify the problems as rapidly as possible - and how they'll literally clean up the mess."
24 May 2018
Change is coming: get involved
The results of the 2018 District Council Elections have brought change in Letchworth, as the Local Area Committee passes into Labour control. The new Chair, Cllr Gary Grindal, pledges to enable local people to use the meeting to get involved and make their voices heard.
Gary explains, “When we were knocking on people’s doors during the election, it wasn’t so much to talk, as to listen; people definitely needed that, because unfortunately they’ve felt ignored - it’s time for that to change. A fresh ethos will shape how Letchworth’s Labour councillors manage the Local Area Committee, ensuring that we encourage engagement across the town.
"We’ll be asking local community groups, charities and even individuals to come along and make presentations, ask questions or share petitions. We’re looking forward to building stronger links with small local businesses and those working for the local community.
"Whilst both NHDC and the County Council remain in Conservative control, it doesn’t stop Letchworth Councillors and the Local Area Committee from engaging with and supporting our community, seeking improvements where we can, sharing what we’ve learned and challenging decisions, if consultation hasn’t been taken into proper account.”
Grange Cllr Helen Oliver will be supporting Cllr Grindal in the role as Vice Chair. Helen added, “We’ve an enthusiastic, energetic and motivated team of Labour councillors ready to support our town. We’re keen to see local people engage with their Area Committee, so look out for notices of our meetings, or get in touch with me at email@example.com, to find out how to take part.”
Ian Albert outlines the problems facing North Herts Council
Value for money is the key issue as North Herts District Council faces cuts of 40% in its funding in the next two years. Writing in the Hertfordshire Mercury on 17 May 2018, Cllr Ian Albert (Labour and Co-operative, Hitchin Bearton), who is the finance lead for Labour on the council, gives a clear view of the challenges faced by all councils as a result of the government's austerity programme, which has fallen most heavily on local authorities.
You can read his article here.
19 May 2018
Cllr Gary Grindal, just re-elected as our councillor for Letchworth Wilbury, has been elected as the chair of the Letchworth Area Committee, with Cllr Helen Oliver, newly elected as our councillor for Letchworth Grange, as vice-chair.
Over in neighbouring Hitchin, Cllr Ian Albert (Labour and Co-operative, Hitchin Bearton) will be chairing the Hitchin Area Committee.
18 May 2018
Yesterday we successfully defended four seats that we already held in Letchworth and also won an extra seat in Letchworth South East.
Gary Grindal, with new councillors, Sue Ngwala, Daniel Allen, Helen Oliver and Kate Aspinwall
In Letchworth Wilbury Gary Grindal retained his seat on the Council, with a majority of 454 over the Tory candidate and with over 58% of the vote.
Sue Ngwala won Letchworth East, taking over from the popular and well-known Lorna Kercher, who has recently moved away. Sue had a comfortable majority of 394 over the Tory, with nearly 52% of the vote.
In Letchworth Grange, Helen Oliver and Daniel Allen had majorities of 114 and 119 respectively over their nearest Tory rival. They replace Labour's Clare Billing and Sandra Lunn. Sandra did not stand again, but Clare Billing stood for a seat in her home town of Hitchin, where she won comfortably.
In Letchworth South East, Kate Aspinwall won the seat from the Conservatives with a majority of just eight. The other candidates, including a UKIP candidate, lagged well behind.
In Baldock Town, Alec Maguire lost to the Tory candidate, but was well ahead of the Liberal Democrat and the Green candidates. Similarly in Royston Palace, Rob Inwood was second to the Conservative and ahead of the other two parties. Rob Inwood (pictured right) was, however, re-elected to Royston Town Council and Amy Bourke-Waite (pictured left), formerly our vice-chair (membership), was also elected to the Town Council.
In the other two Royston seats, Ken Garland and Jess Finn fared less well. In both cases, the Liberal Democrats had something of a resurgence. In Royston Heath, they actually took the seat from the sitting Conservative councillor.
Our neighbours in Hitchin held two seats that they were defending and also gained a seat in Hitchin Walsworth, by a hefty majority.
For more information about the candidates and to see their election addresses, go to the Election page.
For detailed figures, and for the results in the rest of North Herts, go to the North Herts District Council website.
4 May 2018
Roma Mills has won back her seat on the County Council, taking the St Albans North division for Labour. A by-election for this seat took place at the same time as district council elections. This brings the strength of the Labour Group up to ten.
She had a majority of 319 over the Liberal Democrat candidate. The Conservative candidate came third.
Roma was also re-elected to the St Albans City and District Council.
4 May 2018
Three District Council candidates at Royston market: (from left) Alec Maguire, Rob Inwood and Jess Finn, with supporters
When the Tory District Councillors implement the Tory Government's swingeing cuts on local government, whilst giving themselves yet another increase in their allowances, it is time to strengthen the opposition, to try to preserve our services in North Herts.
Rob Inwood is the Labour and Co-operative candidate for Royston Palace and Jess Finn is the Labour candidate for Royston Meridian. Alec Maguire, who is our candidate in Baldock Town, was visiting to give his support. Rob Inwood is also standing for re-election to the Town Council and John Rees (on the right of the picture) is a town council candidate as well.
There is more information about the election and our candidates on the election page.
14 April 2018
If you are not registered to vote, you have until 17 April to register in time for the district council elections on 3 May. It's very easy to register - go to https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. You will need your National Insurance number.
If you have moved recently, you need to register at your new address. Your registration is not transferred to your new address by the council, even if they are aware that you are paying council tax at the new address.
If you think that you may not be able to get to the polling station on election day, you should apply for a postal vote. You have until 5pm on 18 April to apply.There is more information on how to apply here.
7 April 2018 (revised 13 April)
District Council elections on 3 May
We will keep the play parks open in North Herts and we will scrap the bin tax. We will provide genuinely affordable, quality homes and make sure that developers provide the facilities that are needed. This, and more, is set out in Labour's manifesto for the North Herts District Council elections on 3 May 2018, which can be read here.
There will be elections in all five of the Letchworth wards, all three Royston wards and in Baldock Town ward. We are defending four seats in Letchworth. The other seats up for election are held by Tory councillors. There is also an election for all the seats on the Royston Town Council.
For information on Labour candidates, please go to the Elections page.
We need people to deliver leaflets and targeted letters over the Easter weekend. Email the Campaign Co-ordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help.
31 March 2018
Letchworth playground campaigners last summer
Last weekend local residents in Hitchin Walsworth received a "newsletter" - of sorts - from Conservative District Councillor Alan Millard. In it he seemed to imply some responsibility for a recommendation before the next Cabinet meeting to continue maintaining local Rosehill playground. The letter infuriated members of the campaigning group "Save Our Parks - Hitchin" and local Labour Councillors alike - as Mr Millard had not been an active part of the hard work put in to save this valued community space.
Labour Councillor Elizabeh Dennis said: "Looking back on the excellent campaign at Rosehill, I remember it was led by motivated local people, concerned about their playground. I was proud to be part of that campaign and support those families, to help them make their voices heard. I don’t remember Cllr Millard coming along to listen, nor offer encouragement.
"If our residents are to place trust in local democracy, councillors need to be clear and open about their position on local issues – or it disrespects the hard-work put in by those trying to make a difference and share the views of their community."
In any case, the Tory proposal is to retain the play equipment "for the time being" and appears to relate to just this one playground. Elizabeth Dennis continued: "Residents in and around Linnet Close playground in Letchworth, including local Labour Candidate for the Grange, Helen Oliver, organised to show how treasured their playground was – yet it remains planned for closure."
The Labour manifesto for the election in May makes it clear that they would claw back the increase in councillors' allowances which the Tories awarded in the last two years to help to keep local playgrounds.
14 March 2018
As North Herts Tories spent last weekend apparently confused about the details of their own plans for the “bin tax”, local Labour’s alternative could not be clearer.
A confusing tweet from @NorthHertsTories on Friday, asserting that residents could pay the £40 “brown bin tax” in instalments, has resulted in North Herts District Council having to inform residents once again that this is not the case – the new charge must be paid in one lump sum.
Labour Councillor Ian Albert (pictured) said: “First, the Conservatives ignored resident consultation, which was overwhelmingly against this change, then they were unable to answer a number of our questions when the “brown bin tax” was scrutinised, then a letter was sent to residents about the charges - with no contact telephone number and no postal address. Now it seems they are even confused about how residents must pay the £40 charge.
"In contrast we’ve been clear that we oppose the charge. A Labour run Council for North Herts would work to bring an end to the charge. If the Tories insist on introducing it, there needs to be clear communications, the ability to pay in instalments and proper concessions for groups such as the elderly and disabled."
Ian Albert continued: "Local Labour are clearly offering an alternative to what feels like a panicked and confused response to national government’s relentless slashes to our Council’s funding; over the next two years this Council faces a further reduction in funding of more than 40%, a savage attack on essential local services. However, it’s a political choice to starve Local Government of funding and Labour Councillors would make different choices when dealing with it."
In the Oversight and Scrutiny Committee, the Tories all voted against referring the brown bin charge to the full Council. In East Herts the decision was referred to the full Council and, although the two councils have joined forces to award the contract for refuse collection, East Herts Council decided not to introduce the tax.
See previous news item for more information.
13 March 2018
Our first-past-the-post voting system ensures that right-wing parties can govern with around 37% of the vote. John Doolan, a member of the executive committee of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform (LCER), spoke at an all-member meeting of the constituency Labour Party last night and set out why, in his view, the present system was broken.
At present, the system results in a very narrow debate on how best to influence swing voters, most of whom are not very interested in politics anyway, rather than on the major policies to benefit the country, he argued.
The aim of LCER was to get the Labour Party to accept that the first-past-the-post system should be replaced and then to enter the debate about which system of proportional representation (PR) to propose in the manifesto for adoption by the next Labour government.
In the ensuing, lively debate, he admitted that coalitions were more likely, but contested the view that these would be arrived at through deals behind closed doors. He said that, for example in the Netherlands, parties spelt out in advance what sort of deals they might enter into. He believed also that policies resulting from agreement between coalition partners were more difficult to reverse.
He countered the suggestion that the referendum which decisively rejected the alternative vote system (AV) made PR an unviable policy for Labour at the moment by explaining that AV was not truly PR. As a result, the right wing press and the Tories had found it very easy to rubbish.
Of course, PR would allow more parties to gain MPs and, in the recent past, UKIP would have gained some seats in Parliament. He suggested that this would have shown them up for what they really were.
An indicative vote in the well-attended meeting showed a majority in favour of PR, but with several opponents and several who had not made up their minds.
1 March 2018
Labour's alternative budget for Hertfordshire
Sharon Taylor, Labour County Councillor for Stevenage Bedwell, introducing Labour's amendment to the Tory budget for the county for 2018/9, put the blame for the cuts squarely on the Tory government. "We recognise the impossible position the council has been placed in by its own government," she said.
"The appalling treatment of local goverrnment in successive austerity-driven budgets will go down in history as the most unprecedented and concerted attack on localism and local services this country has ever seen. £16bn of cuts between 2010 and 2020."
She drew attention to the predicted £5.8bn gap in adult care services funding and the rising demand for child protection, leading to a gap of £2bn or more by 2020.
So, Labour could only "seek to mitigate the worst impacts on our most vulnerable residents" and to show the importance of making this a "county of opportunity for all of our younger residents".
So, Labour proposed a fully costed amendment to redeploy some of the money available - principally money being set aside for future use - to allow the Council to:
Exempt those leaving care from council tax until age 25, as over 60 councils have already done.
Allow councillors to use their Highways Locality budget to subsidise bus services (no additional cost for the council).
Reverse the decision to close Cuffley Camp (see below).
Reverse the proposal to cut the Youth Service and Youth Connexions budget.
The Tory administration has just agreed to reconsider one element of their proposal to increase the charges for home care. Labour proposed withdrawing all the increases and conducting a full consultation (see below).
The Tories have also agreed to withdraw for one year their proposal to cut the funding for the Savercard, which allows young people to access education and job opportunities, as well as the wealth of cultural opportunities in the county. Labour demonstrated how this funding could be kept in place at least until 2020/1.
The proposals were rejected by the Tory-dominated council, but show how Labour could make things better, even in the impossible situation created by the government. There is more on the increase in the county's council tax precept here.
27 Februayr 2018
For the second time, the High Court has quashed the decision of the Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to close the Nascot Lawn respite centre, which provides respite care for severely disabled children throughout Hertfordshire. (See earlier reports below.)
Parents, who have been supported throughout their struggle to keep Nascot Lawn open by Labour councillors Nigel Bell and Asif Khan, mounted the challenge. The CCG is required to cut £45m from its spending in the current financial year and have tried to argue throughout that they did not have to support the centre because it was a care facility, not a medical facility. The judge has now ruled that it is a medical facility, that they must consult with the County Council and that they must hold a public consultation before they can make a decision to close the facility. The service must continue to be provided at least until August.
Chris Ostrowski (pictured), Labour's parliamentary candidate for Watford, where the centre is located, said: "I am so pleased for the parents. Their determination and campaigning has been rewarded. I call upon the CCG and the Government to abandon this closure. The root cause is the £45 million of Tory government cuts to west Hertfordshire's NHS. I would expect the local MP and Mayor to be campaigning for more funding for our local NHS."
23 February 2018
Labour councillors on North Herts District Council called on the Tories to lead by example. Recognising that the Council faces the imposition of a further 40% cut to its budget by the Tory government, they proposed that they should end the bin tax and stop the closure of play parks by reducing councillors' allowances.
However, the Tories rejected Labour's fully costed alternative budget and went ahead with their own budget with the brown bin tax and the closure of children's play parks, and an increase in councillors' allowances of 2%, on top of the 10% increase last year.
Cllr Ian Albert (Labour, Hitchin Bearton, pictured above) explained: "This Council faces ...a savage attack on essential local services provided by our hard-pressed staff. However, we reject Cllr Cunningham's view that considering cuts to our front-line services or outsourcing public amenities are a sad inevitability. Labour would make different choices.
"We won't close playgrounds. Young people are our future. We'll lead by example. We need to correct the damage of the 10% increase (in councillors' allowances) last year. We propose a reduction. Furthermore, we propose to end the costly civic reception. There are far better ways to honour our local community and raise money for charity than a three-course meal on the taxpayer."
20 Feburary 2018
The Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform campaigns to change Labour policy to support for a voting system on a more proportional system. They believe it is in everyone’s interest, including the Labour Party’s, to do this. John Doolan will be speaking on this and leading a debate on this topic at the constituency party's all-member meeting on 28th February 2018.
This meeting is open to all members and affiliated supporters. There is also some business to transact. An agenda has been sent to members, but a revised version will be sent to them shortly.
As usual the meeting is at 7.30 pm at Howard Gardens Social Centre, Norton Way South, Letchworth SG6 1SU.
19 February 2018
On Saturday, the North Herts District Election campaign was launched with a flourish in Hitchin Town Square. No one in the square that morning can have missed the red campaign stall and the large number of supporters who came to suppport the candidates for election throughout the district.
North Herts District Council has elections every year for one -third of the seats, except in the year of County Council elections. Within in our constituency there are elections on 3 May 2018 in all the seats in Letchworth and in Royston, as well as in the Baldock Town ward. Three of these seats are currently held by Labour: Letchworth Wilbury, Letchworth Grange and Letchworth East.
There are, of course, also wards with elections in the neighbouring Hitchin and Harpenden constituency and this was the joint launch in both constituencies. The picture shows campaigners from our constituency in Hitchin Town Square.
East Herts Rural branch dinner
That evening, several of those who had been campaigning in Hitchin joined members of the East Herts Rural branch for their annual fund-raising dinner, which was held in the Axe and Compasses in Braughing.
Cllr Judi Billing, who is a North Herts District Councillor, but is also a Hertfordshire County Councillor and Labour Group Leader on that council, came to talk about the important work that is done by the County Council and the effect that the currently small group of Labour councillors can have. Judi is at the head of the table in the picture and Rachel Burgin, our interim campaign co-ordinator for the elections this May is on the right.
The dinner raised £242 for branch funds - essential for the branch to fight East Herts District Council elections next year and for such contingencies as an unexpected General Election!
12 February 2018
North Herts District Council elections on 3 May
We shall be launching our campaign tomorrow, 10 February 2018, along with our colleagues from the Hitchin and Harpenden constituency. The launch will be at 10.30 am at a stall in Hitchin Town Square SG5 1DY, where local electors can find out about Labour's alternative District Council budget, the Labour manifesto for these election and how to make sure that they are registered to vote.
Candidates, councillors and local campaigners will be at the stall from 10.30 am until 12 noon. Come and join us. Look our for the red gazebo!
"We'll be happy to answer people's questions on our fully costed budget," says Cllr Ian Albert (pictured), "which puts residents first and reflects Labour's understanding that the District Council provides important services, not just numbers at the bottom of a page of cuts. We know it's possible to give these services the funding they deserve."
Last Saturday, local campaigners were out in Letchworth, talking to shoppers, hearing their views on issues from charging for brown bins to Conservative councillors awarding themselves another allowance increase. Come along to Hitchin on Saturday to give us your views. "It will be great to get the chance to share our plans and listen to the public, because our manifesto is focused on our commitment to genuine consultation," says Ian Albert.
9 February 2018
But Stephen Hawkins wins right to challenge the changes
Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, had planned to lay regulations allowing so-called Accountable Care Organisations (ACOs) to take over all the NHS services, as well as social services, in a particular area.
This was discussed briefly at the constituency party meeting addressed by Stephen Gill of the Socialist Health Association (SHA) in November (see below).
This form or organisation would mean that the whole NHS service in a particular area - from GP surgeries up to acute hospitals would be put out to tender to be taken over by a private company, who may itself run the whole of the service or sub-contract parts of it to others. It may also include social services, taken over from the democratic control of local councils.
The result looks very like privatisation of the NHS. The level of service would be set by the terms of the contract and would not be in the day-to-day control of NHS bodies. Eventually, it could mean that the whole of the NHS was privately provided.
There are already companies providing this "service" in the USA. One can imagine that this change, which has not gone before Parliament, aims to attract American companies, such as Kaiser Permanente. This is in spite of the fact that American healthcare is hardly a model that we should want to follow, since it costs twice as much as our healthcare and overall has considerably worse outcomes.
The good news now is that it was announced during last week that Prof. Stephen Hawking has won the right to have a full judicial review of the lawfulness of setting up ACOs. He and leading healthcare professionals argue that the change to such organisations requires an Act of Parliament, so that the Commons and the Lords can scrutinise the proposal.
The whole of the drive towards NHS privatisation seems to have begun in 2002 with an article in the British Medical Journal, which claimed that Kaiser Permanente achieved better results than the NHS at roughly the same cost. However, it was subsequently shown that the comparison was not valid and that the Kaiser model was actually very much more expensive than the NHS.
A variant of this system is about to come into force for Cornwall. The county council, run by a coalition of Liberal Democrats and Independents, proposes to take over the NHS services and care services from 1 April 2018 in an "Accountable Care System", which they distinguish from an ACO. Whilst the incorporation of care services into the same system as health is to be welcomed, this does open up the possibility of the council contracting out some or all of the services to private companies.
However, Jeremy Hunt has drawn back from authorising this because no consultation has taken place. Even so, this major change in the type of orgnaisation put out to tender has not been subject to Parliamentary debate. It has not even been debated by Cornwall County Council! You can read more about this on the old website of the North Cornwall Labour Party, under both Press Releases and Cornwall Issues.
4 February 2018
It is with great sadness that we report the death of Henry Sargent MBE, at the age of 93. He was twice Mayor of Hertford - and the first Labour Mayor. He served on Hertford Town Council for many years and was instrumental in setting up the Hertford Music Festival.
From this constituency's point of view, his importance was his service as a district councillor on East Herts District Council, although for a ward outside our present constituency. For many years, he was the sole Labour councillor, until he was joined by one other and then, in 1995, by seven others. He was leader of this enlarged Labour Group for one year until he stood down from that role.
He will be remembered for his kindness to all who worked with him, his support for younger members coming on behind him, and for his cheerfulness in spite of the Conservative domination of the district council.
His funeral is next Monday, 5 February 2018 at 1 pm at St Joseph's Church, St John's Street, Hertford SG14 1RX. All who knew him are welcome. There will be refreshments in the church hall afterwards. Family flowers only. We understand that there will be an opportunity, announced at the funeral, to make a donation in his memory.
31 January 2018
The increase in the council tax would be made up of 3% for social care and 2.99% for other services, this being the largest increase allowed by the government without a referendum.
You may wonder why you have not heard what Labour's counter-proposals for next year's budget are. This is because the Tory proposal has not yet been debated. It is a proposal from the Tory Cabinet. The Tories have jumped the gun before going through the due processes of the county council. It has yet to go to the Scrutiny Committee, where the opposition parties can have their say, and for agreement by the full Council.
Labour will bring forward its proposals at the correct time, when they can be properly debated. Judi Billing, the Labour Group leader, says: "It rather makes a mockery of the democratic process and makes me wonder why they bother to pretend that they want to seriously listen to the views of all."
It is notable that the Tories are expecting that their government funding will be cut once again - this time by £22m.
28 January 2018
"20 died after late arrival of ambulances," says MP
Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South (right), has said that 20 people died in the East of England - an area which includes Hertfordshire - in the period between 18 December 2017 and 3 January 2018, after ambulances arrived late.
A senior member of the ambulance staff told HSJ (Health Service Journal) that at least 40 patients were "harmed or died following significant ambulance delays" in the East of England in this period.
An ambulance service spokesman said that in this period "on just one day in that period our ambulance crews spent more than 117 hours waiting to hand over patients to the care of hospitals".
"Our findings will likely show that a number of these incidents were caused by delays in reaching patients," he added.
The government Health Minister told the Commons that a "risk summit" had been set up. However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that our hospitals are over-stretched, partly because patients cannot be released through lack of social care, which results in over-crowding in A&E departments, with the result that ambulance crews have to hang around outside hospitals or in hospital corridors with their patients, and therefore are not available to respond to new 999 calls.
The Tories will tell you that they have increased funding to the NHS this year, but not that funding has dropped well below the funding in Germany or France.
24 January 2018
The speaker is Judi Billing, the leader of the Labour Group on the County Council, who will tell us of the importance of this Labour voice, at present only nine councillors, on the Tory-dominated council.
Please book by 2 February and give us your menu choices. You can access the menu here.
22 January 2018
It is the most disabled who will suffer most under the changes to charges for social care services, set to be introduced by the Tory County Council from 15 April this year.
"The proposal would negatively impact upon ..... the sustainability of their care and ability to stay at home. which could result in higher costs across the health and social care system," says the charity, Carers in Hertfordshire.
Some new charges affect all users of the particular service, like the doubling of the charge of transport to and from day care centres, from £2 to £4, and a weekly charge of £3.25 per week for telecare services provided by Serco.
Other changes fall especially on the most disabled. Previously, if two care workers were needed to assist the disabled person, the second worker was not charged for, but a charge will now be made. Also, when means-testing was carried out to determine payments, the higher rate disability living allowance (DLA) was ignored and the middle rate assumed, on the grounds that the higher rate was only awarded if care at night was required. The new personal independence payment (PIP) does not include this criterion and the Council will therefore take the higher payment fully into account in the means test.
The proposal for these increases goes to the full Council on 20 February 2018. Carers in Hertfordshire have started a petition. This is at present 126 short of the 1,000 needed for presentation to the Council. Please sign the petition here.