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 yooung 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 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.
21 January 2018
To see his message, click on the image which will take you to the video on our Facebook page.
24 December 2017
Alex Mayer, our MEP in the East of England, is offering to take a group of Labour Party members to Brussels, to see the Parliament in action, to have a question and answer session with a panel of Euro MPs and to have dinner with her (and, no doubt, some other socialist MEPs). You will also have some free time to see some of the interesting city of Brussels.
If you are a member in the Eastern Region, you should have had an email from her with the details of the visit and how to apply. The main details are: the visit is from 27 February to 1 March 2018. You travel by Eurostar from St Pancras. You need to be at the station at 9.30 am on 27 February and you return to St Pancras at 6.15 pm on 1 March. The total cost is only £196 (single room) or £99 per person for two people sharing a room. The application form is here. Closing date for applications: 5 pm on 3 January 2017.
The picture shows a group of Eastern Region Labour Party members on an earlier visit to Brussels waiting for a meeting of the European Socialists' Group, to which they had been invited, to begin.
22 December 2017
Teaching A levels in Royston to end
"From next year, Royston will lose its only sixth form, meaning youngsters have to travel eight miles or more to Baldock” says Rob Inwood, Labour town councillor (pictured at Roysia School). “The local Labour Party oppose this decision. It's bound to put barriers in the way for less well-off students due to the expense of travelling that far. We're also concerned the plans were announced before the consultation was even closed; how could the results have been considered?”
The Royston Schools Academy Trust (RSAT) proposes to merge the three schools in Royston and the consultation on this has just ended. However, before it had ended, it was announced that there would no longer be a sixth form offering A levels. These courses would be provided at Knights Templar School in Baldock.
In Royston, the middle schools and the upper school are run by the RSAT. Roysia and Greneway middle schools provide education for pupils in years 5 to 8. Meridian School provides for years 9 and above. The proposal is to form one school taking children from age nine through to age 16. This is unlike most secondary schools which take children in at age 11.
Parents' concerns include longer distances to school for some of the younger children and increased traffic in Garden Walk, where the combined school will be, as well as the journey to Baldock for A level students.
There are more fundamental concerns than these, serious as they are. First, the benefits of the three tier system will be lost or severely diluted, depending on how the new school is organized. Ironically, RSAT boasts on its website, albeit without observing the rules of punctuation: “Pupils feel confident in the three tier system so Greneway, Roysia and Meridian Schools joined together in 2011 to promote and support this system for Royston’s children.”
Second, as well as the problem of travel to Baldock for A level courses, pupils lower down the school will no longer be able to benefit from the expertise of A level teachers.
The real culprit is the government. The major reason for the proposals is the Tories’ austerity policy. It is telling that RSAT say that a sixth form college in Royston is “not financially viable”. The Tories will tell you that education funding has being kept at the same level. This is true, but only if you ignore inflation – and it is not true of the separate funding stream for sixth form provision, which has been cut (see below).
Furthermore, the government has put money towards a vigorous policy of academisation, taking most secondary schools and some others out of local democratic control, so that our education authority – the County Council – is virtually powerless to change what the unelected RSAT decides.
17 December 2017
Doug Swanney commends Sir Oliver Heald
Yesterday in Parliament the government was defeated on an amendment to their EU (Withdrawal) Bill. The amendment was tabled by the former Conservative Attorney General and had the support of ten other Conservative MPs, including our Tory MP, Sir Oliver Heald.
It had Labour support, as well as support from the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists. The government lost by four votes.
The Daily Telegraph had dubbed these 11 Tory MPs as "mutineers" before this debate took place.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that Parliament can decide on the specific terms of Brexit deal, rather than many of the changes being brought in by government regulations - the so-called Henry VIII powers.
Doug Swanney, our Parliamentary spokesperson (pictured at the Baldock hustings meeting during the General Election), sent this letter to Sir Oliver yesterday:
Dear Sir Oliver
While we find ourselves on opposing sides on many matters, I wanted to take the opportunity to commend you on your reported stance on the Brexit bill currently being debated, in particular of your support for amendment 7 to the bill, and your words in the House earlier today.
The dictatorial stance taken by the Government, seeking to subvert the will of elected representatives through the use of so called “Henry VIII powers” would be worrying at the best of times; coming as it does following a campaign seeking to “take back control” for a sovereign parliament it is downright hypocritical.
I would like to support your opposition to the increasingly autocratic attitude taken by senior ministers on the matter of Brexit. This is not only because the principle seems to me inherently wrong, but also, as the representative of a constituency that voted to remain within the EU, and whose opinions have been ridden roughshod by an executive seemingly determined to push through the hardest of Brexits which nobody voted for, it is imperative you speak out for your constituents and many like them around the country.
North East Herts Labour Party
14 December 2017
Young Labour are holding a Christmas pub quiz on Monday, 18 December 2017 at the Cultivo Lounge, 32 Leys Avenue, Letchworth SE6 3EW. Join Alec and Dan, our two Youth Officers, meet other young members, join a quiz team and take part in the Christmas jumper competition. Bring a friend along too.
5 December 2017
Report on Constituency Party meeting
“The NHS is the largest, most successful and most enduring socialist project anywhere in the world – and certainly one of the most popular,” said James Gill. “The King’s Fund found this year that 90% support the founding principles and more than half would happily pay more tax to support it."
He added that it cost less than most comparable systems – 8.5% of GDP compared with the average around 10% for the EU-14 – the most developed European nations. Nevertheless, it had been consistently innovative, providing, for example, the first hip replacement and the MRI scanner.
James is a Central Council member of the Socialist Health Association (SHA), a Party member from our neighbouring Hitchin and Harpenden constituency, and works as an information analyst in the NHS. He was speaking on behalf of the SHA on 29 November 2017 at a meeting of the constituency party in Letchworth. The SHA was founded in 1930 to campaign for a National Health Service, and now it is campaigning to prevent its gradual disappearance.
He saw the NHS as socialist because the distribution of resources is planned fairly, based on evidence, for the benefit of the people. There was overall democratic control and a workforce motivated by factors other than money.
The Tories found this bizarre. In their view, without profit and the threat of bankruptcy, innovation must stall and costs rise. Their solution was the Health and Social Care Act of 2012, introduced by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition, drastically re-organizing the service. Most of the responsibility was handed to over 200 Clinical Commissioning Groups, nominally led by GPs, with planning done at arm’s length by NHS England.
The Tories had expected that more private providers would have entered the market by now, but that this had been partly frustrated by the success of NHS organizations in winning tenders for medical services.
Within three years, NHS England was proposing radical changes through Sustainability and Transformation plans, putting all the new organizations back together again into 44 “footprints” – all this without any legislation or much consultation. He agreed with a questioner that these plans contained some good recommendations, but they were made principally to bring costs down to the reduced budget. For this reason, Labour Conference had voted last September to oppose them.
He suggested that campaigning on specific local cuts was best done in co-operation with others, such as Health Campaigns Together and Keep Our NHS Public. Otherwise, because local plans were so complex, he recommended concentrating on simpler issues like getting the 8.5% figure up to the EU average, keeping democratic control of the NHS and reducing the increasing length of waiting times for surgery and in A&E.
In the lively discussion session after his talk, he agreed that, although the STPs were for local areas, there was a lack of local democratic accountability. It was important to make use of what there was, in particular health scrutiny committees (this is a county council committee, but has members from district councils on it. Margaret Eames-Petersen is the Labour county councillor on the committee); Healthwatch, which any member of the public can join for free; and membership of NHS Foundation Trusts which is also free and open to all.
He strongly supported the restoration of nurse training bursaries and an increase in doctor training to make up the shortfall in the number of GPs.
The probable closure of Nascot Lawn respite care home for disabled children was highlighted as a key current local issue (see article below).
He also agreed that the success of NHS units in winning contracts had the downside of making those units behave like private companies, resulting in some very odd amalgamations, and that the recent proposal to put out tenders for vertically integrated care – from GPs up to acute hospitals – could carry the danger of encouraging more private companies to tender for the contracts.
Membership of the Socialist Health Association is open to all who support Labour. Becoming a member costs £25 per year or less, and supports our work producing and promoting health policy for Labour.
You can see the sources used by James in his talk here.
1 December 2017
CCG decides on closure again
After "setting aside" their decision to withdraw funding for Nascot Lawn respite centre, the Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has reconsidered - and decided to withdraw funding.
Nigel Bell, Labour county councillor for West Watford, called this "cynical and uncaring". "There was no proper cconsultation with parents, which they were due by law - only so-called engagement meetings."
"The fight will not stop here," he said. He promised that Labour will continue to call on the 11 Conervative MPs in the county to demand extra funding to keep the facility open."
"Ultimately, it is the government's continuing austerity policies which have led to the £45 million debts faced by Herts Valleys CCG," he said.
There is more information in our previous report here.
You can sign a petition on the Watford Labour Party website.
30 November 2017
A 'nothing has changed' budget
This was billed as a budget to tackle the housing crisis. The government's own Communities Secretary called for £50m of borrowing to invest in housing.
What the Chancellor has given him is only £7bn, plus £8bn in loans to private house builders.
Philip Hammond quoted a figure of £44m, but John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor (pictured left), points out that only one-third of that is actually "new money".
The plan is to build 300,000 homes a year - but not until the "mid-2020s". There is no mention of social housing, whereas Labour would have ensured 100,000 genuinely affordable houses a year in the mix by 2020.
Instead of social housing, we get help for first-time buyers. "Cutting stamp duty, without the significant increase in house-building that Labour promised," says John Healey, Labour's shadow Housing Secretary (pictured right), "will only drive up prices."
We get the same story with the National Health Service. Simon Stevens, NHS England's chief executive, had called for an immediate injection of £4bn. Instead he has got £350m, with some more to come in the next two years, making a total of £2.8bn.
In Hertfordshire, we have seen headteachers writing to parents about the underfunding of their schools, saying that they would have to reduce staffing and cut some courses. The immediate need nationally has been put at around £2bn.
Instead, schools will get about one-sixth of that to improve maths and computer science teaching. Good in itself, but not enough.
Not a lot has been done for ordinary people's day-to-day lives either. In his response to the budget, Jeremy Corbyn (pictured left) pointed out that 5.5m workers earn less than the living wage - a million more than just five years ago. "Pay is now lower for most people than it was in 2010 and wages are now falling again."
He went on to say: "There is a crisis of low pay and insecure work, affecting 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men - a record 7.4m people in working households in poverty."
Why is this happening? "Economic growth in the first three quarters of this year is the lowest since 2009 and the slowest of the major economies in the G7," Jeremy Corbyn noted. And there was a forecast of more of this gloom in the budget. "Economic growth has been revised down," he said. "Productivity growth has been revised down. Business investment revised down. Wages and living standards revised down. In some parts of the country, life expectancy is actually starting to fall."
The government just goes on and on missing its economic targets. "The deficit," Jeremy Corbyn said, "was due to be eradicated by 2015, then 2016, then 2017, then 2020 and now 2025."
"This what the Chancellor has the barefaced cheek to call a 'strong economy'."
23 November 2017w
Alec Maguire, one of our two constituency Youth Officers, shares his response to Conservative MPs talking out Jim McMahon's private members Bill on votes for 16 and 17 year olds.
When 16 and 17 year olds can legally move out of home, serve in the army, and pay taxes, it seems ridiculous to think that they cannot vote. Many young people stay in education or take-up apprenticeships and these teenagers are routinely expected to make huge life choices – such as making university applications or committing to training for careers – but they continue to have no power to ensure their needs are prioritised by their government.
I was 16 at the time of the 2010 General Election. The resulting coalition decided that my school year would be the first to have to pay £9000 per annum for tuition fees. At the time of our most recent election, at the age of just 23, I carry tens of thousands of pounds of debt – due to a political decision myself and my peers could have no part of. Does that seem democratic?
People may question the political engagement of young people in this age group, but, with no hope of making one's self heard, any voice can be silenced, even the keenest enthusiasm quashed. Engagement would increase if a young people could influence outcomes for themselves and political candidates would need to cater to a new section of voters – they would have to serve them.
Candidates could then visit our local schools not just for PR purposes, but because Sixth Formers would be part of the electorate. I work as a teacher. I have the evidence of my own eyes that Year 12 and 13 classes do know what is going on politically; they can see that there are issues locally and nationally and they question why. They run charity events such as quizzes and non-uniform days. They run Amnesty International groups and mock United Nations events. They are engaged, and should be heard.
The tactics the Tories used to silence the debate in Parliament on the recent Bill for votes at 16 were abhorrent. Rather than allow a democratic debate, they talked and talked – forcing time to run out. This highlights a disdain for political argument.
The last General Election showed a real desire among our young people to engage politically. Rather than shunning debate, why don’t the Tories extend democracy to them and actually fight for their votes? What could they be afraid of by empowering 1.5 million more young voters?
21 November 2017
Jeremy Corbyn has announced a review of democracy within the Labour Party, to which all members have a chance to contribute, whether individually or through their branches.
There is more information on the members' page about the review, which covers all aspects of the working of the Labour Party, from how your local party is run up to how policy is made and how the Leader is elected.
17 November 2017
Cuffley Camp Outdoor Centre has, for 70 years, provided an outdoor learning facility for thousands of school children in a very special woodland setting. But now the County Council wishes to give up the lease, although the lease has 14 years left to run.
The discussion arose because the freeholder (Hatfield House) has issued a schedule of dilapidations because the County Council has failed to honour the terms of the lease, which required it to invest money to maintain and modernise the site, over the last 10 years!
Sharon Taylor, Labour councillor for Stevenage Bedwell (pictured above), argued strongly against the closure at the Resources, Property and the Economy panel meeting. Although some Tory councillors had criticised the failure to honour the lease and had praised the facility, they all voted against an amendment, which was supported by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, to discuss alternative arrangements with the freeholder. So, closure now is being recommended by the panel.
Judi Billing (pictured right), who is leader of the Labour Group and also speaks on education, said that the County Council had seriously failed in its obligation to keep the camp up to scratch and useable.
"Many primary schools," she added, "currently do more sophisticated Year 6 trips these days, but many of these are expensive for parents and sometimes out of reach for some. Cuffley should be refurbished, restored and cherished as an opportunity for all young people, irrespective of means, to enjoy the vital opportunities that it has offered for so many years."
A petition against closure was presented at the meeting. It then had 9,000 signatures. The petition is still open and can be accessed on the Hertfordshire County Council website. The petition closes next Monday, 13 November.
10 November 2017 (amended 11 November 2017)
Update: the CCG will now re-consider their decision on 16 November, in spite of the fact that they have still not carried out a full consultation.
10 November 2017
The Nascot Lawn Respite Service is under threat. Nigel Bell and Asif Khan, the Labour County Councillors for West Watford and North Watford respectively, have been very active in supporting the parents and carers who benefit from the respite care for children with complex needs provided by Nascot Lawn in Watford.
The County Council provides respite care in three homes in Hertfordshire which are run by charities. Nascot Lawn is different from these: it provides care for children with more complex needs and is nurse-led and financed by the NHS.
The Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which provides 90% of the funding, is in formal “financial turnaround” and is required to cut £45m from its spending in the current financial year. They decided to save £600,000 by ceasing to fund Nascot Lawn. The Council faces consequential costs, but is unable to take over the funding completely – even if it could afford it – because it is not permitted to run healthcare facilities.
Following the presentation of a petition to the Council of more than 1000 signatures, Cllr Nigel Bell (pictured above) proposed a motion calling on the Council and the CCG to try jointly to solve the problem of funding. There was also to be a judicial review, but the CCG has at the last moment “set aside” their decision to withdraw funding from 1 November 2017 and will consider the matter further on 9 November.
“This whole matter has been handled badly by the CCG,” says Nigel Bell, “and the refusal of the Conservative County Council to step up immediately with some funding has not helped. As a result, families with some of the most vulnerable children in the county have been treated shamefully.
“However, the real culprits are the government, whose ideological austerity programme has involved severe cuts for the County Council and for the NHS."
7 November 2017
The next constituency party meeting
James Gill is a mathematician and statistician who works for an NHS clinical commissioning group (pictured with Jeremy Corbyn). He will be speaking to us about socialism, a socialist health service and the cuts now being made to NHS services such as female sterlisation (see next item below), IVF, obesity and "stop smoking".
James is a member of the Socialist Health Association, which is a socialist society affiliated to the Labour Party. It was formed in 1930 (as the Socialist Medical Association) and campaigned for a National Health Service. It was in communication with Aneurin Bevan during the formation of the NHS.
This meeting is on Wednesday, 29 November 2017 at 7.30 pm at Howard Gardens Social Centre, Norton Way South, Letchworth SG6 1SU. The meeting is open to all members and affiliated supporters. If you are not known to the constituency officers, please bring your membership card (or, for affiliated supporters, the notice of the meeting sent to you by the constituency party secretary).
Papers for the meeting can be accessed on the members' page.
6 November 2017
Women in Hertfordshire will no longer have access to sterilisation, following the joint decision by the two clinical commissiong groups (CCGs) which cover Hertfordshire.
"For some women sterilisation is the most practical, safest and most reliable contraceptive choice," says Kate Aspinwall, our constituency party's Women's Officer (pictured). "We believe this decision to remove this option is likely to force some women to use other forms of contraception which won't be best option for their health or well-being and require more ongoing support from already stretched GPs."
She adds that the decision to remove this service only for women seems discriminatory and that women should be able to expect their health needs to be met on an equal footing to men's. There are far more vasectomies for men than there are sterilisations for women (only 102 sterilisations last year at a cost of £115,600).
Both CCGs are being required to reduce their spending and the Herts Valleys CCG is in formal "financial turnaround", and is required to reduce spending by £45m in the current year. In effect, this cut in health services is the result of the Tory government's austerity programme, under which the NHS is required to deal with a growing population and, in particular, a growing population of elderly people without any increase in their budget.
3 November 2017
Live jazz and folk throughout the evening. Quiz. Discussion. Buffet. Bring a bottle. £5 entry on the door, or £2.50 unwaged.
29 October 2017
The Royston branch will hold its annual Christmas Social and Curry Night on Tuesday, 5 December 2017 at 7.30 pm. This will be at the Ashiana Spice Restaurant, 7 Baldock Street, Royston SG8 5AY. There is free parking in the car park opposite. The cost is £20. There is no need to pay in advance, but please book your place(s) by Friday, 1 December by email to Vaughan West.
1 November 2017
We were out on the doorstep in Royston on Saturday morning. As Jeremy Corby said in the House of Commons last Wednesday, the government is weak, incompetent and divided, and unable to takke the essential decisions needed for the good of the country. We have to keep up the pressure for however long it takes to oust this government.
The canvassing team is pictured above, ready to go out and spread the news that there is an alternative to this minority government, as it struggles to decide what it should do.
28 October 2017
Reports by our delegates
Helen Oliver, our Communications Officer, was our delegate to the National Women's Conference and Cei Whitehouse, our Campaign Co-ordinator (pictured at the conference), was our delegate to the National Conference, although other members attended as visitors.
They both gave reports to the all-member meeting of the Constituency Party on 25 October. These days it seems that government proposals are always given to the media before they are actually announced, even many aspects of the budget. However, we have been rather old-fashioned in not publishing them before the reports had been made to the meeting.
They are now on the members' page.
27 October 2017
£40 pa in North Herts
The East Herts District Council cabinet, in a joint meeting with the North Herts cabinet, decided to charge £40 pa for emptying brown bins, as reported in the next item.
However, the East Herts councillors have voted, against the wishes of their leadership, not to introduce the charge. Whether this means that the weekly waste food collection service will be introduced or not in East Herts is not yet clear.
23 October 2017
Update: Labour councillors had the decision in North Herts to make the charge "called in" to the Oversight and Scrutiny Committee on 8 November. Both Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors argued that the decision should be considered by the full Council, arguing that the decision had been taken without a full analysis of the consultation (85% against the charge), that poorer and disadvantaged residents would be disproportionately affected, and that experience in Welwyn-Hatfield demonstrated that this would reduce recycling. All the Tory members voted against referring the decision to full Council.
10 November 2017
£40 to empty your brown bin
North Herts and East Herts Councils, at a joint cabinet meeting, voted to ignore their electors and impose a £40 pa charge for emptying their brown bins. There will, however, be a weekly food waste collection.
There had been 8,000 responses to the consultation, despite the consultation being over the summer holiday period, and 85% of the respondents thought charging was a bad idea. Nevertheless, it is good to know that the Tory spokesperson says that they "listened carefully" to the views of residents before they ignored them.
North Herts Labour Cllr Judi Billing says: "What a total waste of a consultation. NHDC had clearly made up its mind to charge for garden waste collection before they asked the public what they thought.It’s a scandalous disregard and disrespect for the people we are meant to serve.”
The decision also ignores the environmental impact. There will, undoubtedly, be more fly-tipping and more trips by car to recycling centres (see our comments before the consultation). However, concern for the environment has never been a Tory priority.
18 October 2017
Gillian Troughton is the speaker at an all-member
meeting on 27 September 2017
Gillian Troughton, a Borough and County councillor and formerly a doctor specialising in orthopaedic surgery, was selected as the Labour candidate for the Copeland parliamentary by-election which took place in February 2017.
The by-election was called following the resignation of Jamie Reed, the Labour MP, to take a senior post at the Sellafield nuclear waste facility, which is in the constituency. With the Tories well ahead in the opinion polls, the Labour vote was down by 4.9 percentage points and she lost.
She stood again in the General Election. She increased the Labour vote by 7.8 percentage points, but still lost to the Tory candidate.
There were issues which applied countrywide, like the drop in the UKIP vote, benefitting the Tories, and several special issues, including the fact, on the one hand, that Sellafield is a very large employer in the area and, on the other hand, that the local maternity unit was under threat of closure.
The meeting is at 7.30 pm on Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at the Howard Garden Social Centre, Norton Way South, Letchworth SG6 1SU. The meeting should be over by 9 pm.
21 September 2017
East Herts Rural's Red Rose Party
"The turning point in the general election was the leaking of our manifesto", said Alex Mayer MEP. Alex Mayer is the Labour MEP for the East of England and she was speaking at the East Herts Rural branch's Red Rose Summer Party in Buntingford yesterday.
She assured us that the leak was not deliberate, but that it nevertheless resulted in wide news coverage, so that people came to realise that there were good policies in it, like the ending of austerity and the nationalisation of the railways, all backed by the costings in a separate document.
"By contrast," she added, "the Tory manifesto contained no figures except the page numbers at the bottom of each page."
However, a moral win in the election was not enough. We had to work hard to keep up the pressure for an real election win.
The blues came in when she turned to the Brexit negotiations. She highlighted the Tories' internal quarrels about whether or not we should pay any money to the EU on leaving, the impossible problem of having a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic whilst not having a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic,and the government's mistake in not having immediately given existing EU residents in the UK full, continuing rights.
Her message was not to let people forget that this was all the fault of the Tories, who had held a referendum unnecessarily and then lost it, and had then held a general election to boost their strength in the negotiations, but done so badly that they weakened it.
The party, attended by members from all branches of the constituency, with visitors from Broxbourne, Hertford & Stortford and Hitchin & Harpenden, was enjoyed by all. The food was, as usual, outstandingly good and the company was pretty good too!
After costs, about £300 was raised for branch funds.
18 September 2017
Five years ago, the Tory-led government took police forces away from Police Authorities, which consisted largely of elected councillors, and put them under the control of a single Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). Now, David Lloyd, Hertfordshire’s PCC, is making a bid to take over the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS) as well.
Judi Billing, leader of the Labour Group on the County Council and councillor for Hitchin North, is totally opposed to this move, saying that this is yet another vanity project. She says: “It seems to me, so soon after Grenfell Tower, a ridiculous risk to be messing about with our fire and rescue services, which are generally known to be well-established, experienced and of high quality.”
“The bottom line,” she adds, “is that all our services are stretched to breaking point by ridiculous government cuts and this proposal will do nothing to help them.”
Interestingly, David Lloyd, who was a Tory county councillor until this year’s county council elections, is being opposed by his own party. Indeed, the County Council rejects the proposal, but instead favours the alternative arrangement whereby the PCC will have a place in the Cabinet when the Fire and Rescue Services are being considered.
The Tory vice-chair of the Panel that supervises the FRS, Colin Woodward, said that the entire cross-party council opposed the bid to remove HFRS from 78 democratically elected councillors, answerable to their local residents, and place it under one person. Amusingly, the Labour argument opposing the creation of the role of PCC by the Tories ran on very similar lines.
2 September 2017
Campaign with us on 9 September
If you were running a shop and you were not making a profit, you could either cut back your opening hours and make one of your shop assistants redundant, or you could invest in improved stock and some advertising to expand your business. If you took the second course, you could then make enough profit to live comfortably, pay your staff well and pay off the debts incurred earlier.
Faced with a crisis in the economy, the Tories chose the course of cutting back. Labour would invest in the economy, both through capital investment and through paying government employees well enough for their spending to boost the economy.
We shall be canvassing and delivering leaflets on the morning of Saturday, 9 September 2017 in Letchworth. Join us if you want to save our economy at 10.30 am outside the Southfields Post Office in Letchworth SG6 4NB.
24 August 2017
because your world depends on it
Last night, Al Gore, who "used to be the next President of the United States", spoke in London to audiences in around 340 cinemas around the UK, introducing his new film An Inconvenient Sequel.
Note: this film is now on release in certain cinemas. It is well worth seeing.
He brought a message of urgency, because the the climate change crisis has got so much worse since An Inconvenient Truth only ten years ago. The Arctic ice is melting, storms are getting more severe, insect-borne diseases are moving north and south from the equator and sea levels are rising.
Yet he also brought a message of hope. In spite of Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Treaty, the USA is still on course to meet its obligations under the treaty, thanks to the commitment of states like California and the New England states and many, many cities throughout America. No other countries have followed Trump's lead. Indeed, many have re-iterated their commitment. India, for example, plans to take internal combustion engines off the road completely ten years before we plan to ban new internal combustion engines in the UK.
What is more, as Sue Hayman, our shadow Environment Secretary (pictured), pointed out in the House of Commons, the government has merely stated this goal, but has not indicated how it will be achieved.
Most importantly, the price of renewable technology, in particular solar panels, has plummeted in the last ten years. Developing countries used to be able to argue that we had polluted the atmosphere to get to where we are today and they should be allowed to develop before adopting renewable energy. Now, he argued, we can say, if this technology had been available at the time of our industrial revolutions, we would have adopted it and not used fossil fuels.
Indeed, he had a dig at our Tory government, because his analysis suggested that we are not on course to meet our obligations under the treaty. As we know, they have cut subsidies for electric vehicles, cut the incentives for electricity generation from renewables, stopped building the cheapest form of renewable generation - on shore wind farms - and encouraged fracking for gas and oil.
Al Gore asked us all to Be Inconvenient. Let all of us in the Labour Party be vociferously inconvenient about the failure of the Tory government and of our local Tory councils to take positive action to combat climate change.
12 August 2017
An environmentally unsound proposal
North Herts and East Herts District Councils are planning a joint contract for waste collection and it seems that they want to start charging to take away your garden waste. The proposal "really is rubbish," according to Cllr Elizabeth Dennis (pictured), Labour's shadow portfolio holder for waste, recycling and green issues on North Herts District Council. "Labour councillors absolutely oppose this," she says.
The councils are conducting a consultation in which they float this idea. In North Herts we have Labour councillors to fight against it, but there is no one at all to speak up for us in the Tory fiefdom of East Herts.
"At a recent briefing on the new contract," Elizabeth tells us, "councillors were given the distinct impression this was more than a mere 'option' and we’re extremely concerned: NHDC has told us it’s looking at charging £26 a year for 26 garden waste collections (i.e. fortnightly collections costing £1 each collection). There’s no flexibility with this proposed service; so, if residents want their garden waste collected, they’ll be expected to pay the full annual charge - even if they’ll only need it on an occasional basis."
In the consultation, they suggest higher charges, even "up to £70". Perhaps they hope that we shall then be pleased that it is "only" £26, but to many local families, with ever increasing bills, this is an expense too far.
Collecting garden waste is expensive. In North Herts, collection costs about £150,000 a year and £65 per tonne to process, but costs will be incurred by the change as well. Since the free collection of food waste is statutorily required, provision will have to made for doing this, possibly with new containers and adaptations to the collection vehicles. We could find that green waste gets fly-tipped and has to be cleared up, also at a cost.
At least as important is the environmental cost. The proposal is likely to generate many more car trips to the recycling centres to dispose of green waste, and therefore extra carbon emissions. Some green waste may be sneaked into black bins and get into landfill. When the waste rots without contact with the air (anaerobically), as it does in landfill, it produces methane. Methane is far worse than CO2 for global warming. There is also the danger of green waste in landfill producing substances that can contaminate ground water.
These problems do not occur if green waste is composted. Alternatively, if green waste is put into an anaerobic digester, because it then produces methane which is collected and used, rather than being released into the atmosphere, there is no problem either.
We urge you to take part in the consultation and oppose this proposal. The consultation survey is here.
30 July 2017
with Liberal Democrat support
The Labour Group on the County Council proposed that the Council should "look at the compelling need for the provision of social housing for rent across the county". The County Council is setting up a development company and Labour envisaged that this company, in consultation with local planning authorities and other developers, could urgently address this need. In effect, this would mean the use of surplus County Council land for social housing for rent.
The Tory administration, however, amended the Labour motion, so that the remit was broadened so greatly that, in the form that it was approved, it did not address the social housing need.
Judi Billing (pictured), the new leader of the Labour Group, said afterwards: "Sharon Taylor and I made an attempt to promote the building of social housing on HCC land. The Tories, of course, put forward a wrecking amendment, but we were frankly outraged to find the Tory line supported by the Liberal Democrats."
23 July 2017
Sir Keir Starmer in Stevenage
Keir Starmer with the NE Herts Party members
Labour's Minister-in-waiting for Exiting the EU, Sir Keir Starmer, called for all of us to be ready to win the next election. Labour must act as being ready to take over government at any time. It could be this autumn or it could be in 2019, in Keir's view.
He admitted that Labour was far more successful than he expected in the last General Election. He attributed this to three main factors: Jeremy Corbyn led from the front in a fantastic way; the manifesto had a core message that we could have a future that invested in public services to the benefit of future generations; and we were promoting hope over fear - the fear that had gripped the nation since the 2008 crash.
After the election, although we did not win, the Tories are in disarray. The Prime Minister has lost authority at home and abroad. She has shelled out billions to buy the votes of the DUP, making the sensitive state of affairs in Northern Ireland worse.
Labour, by contrast, is now perceived as being influential, especially by Europe, who can see the possibility of Labour taking over the Brexit negotiations. It was at the request of the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, that Jeremy Corbyn and Keith went to see him.
In fact, we are off to a very bad start in the negotiations. Theresa May's belligerent attitude is not the way to get a good deal for the UK. It is not a brilliant tactic to say that we will jump before we are pushed!
Global problems need international solutions: we have to work with other nations on peace or war, terrorism, environmental change and globalisation. We need co-operation with the EU in science, technology and medicine. We shall not get this in the negotiations unless we change our approach.
So, the sooner a general election comes the better.
17 July 2017
The Labour Party is high-lighting the failure of the Tory government's economic policy. We were out in Baldock promoting this campaign on Labour's National Campaign Day, 1 July 2017.
We had a particularly severe recession in 2007/9 as a result of the banking crisis which spread rapidly from the USA to most countries in the world. To prevent the collapse of our economic system, the Labour government had to bail out a number of British banks. This was a cost on government funds, but equally important was the sudden drop in revenue from taxes, which was coupled with an increase in outgoings on social benefits.
So, in spite of the fact that, before the crisis, the UK's national debt was a lower proportion of our wealth than many other countries, e.g. Germany or France, our deficit increased, resulting in debt growing.
There are three ways any government can tackle this situation: cut spending, increase taxes and, most importantly, grow the economy. There can be only one reason that the Tories chose to adopt only one of the three measures. They chose to cut spending, because it gave them the opportunity to "reduce the size of the state", an ideological aim of their Party.
They made this worse by going the opposite way on taxes and actually cutting them, by cutting corporation tax and income tax for higher earners. Furthermore, the reduction in spending by the state actually depressed the economy, so that it hardly grew at all and is now one of the slowest growing of the advanced economies.
It is no surprise, then, that David Cameron's government missed its target of eliminating the deficit in five years by the huge margin of 50%. In 2015 he deferred this target to 2018, but the new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has now kicked it into the long grass, with the vague target of during the next Parliament - so, probably a decade after the original target. Meanwhile the national debt grows relentlessly.
But it's all in vain
So, we have had - and apparently will go on having - cuts to the NHS, schools, the police and, indeed, all public services, all to no good purpose. They intend to go on limiting public sector pay to 1% increases each year. The purchasing power of a public servant's pay is already about 14% below what it was in 2007.
No wonder morale is low, recruitment is difficult and labour turnover is high, further depressing the capability of services to respond to the needs of the population.
1 July 2017
The Great Get Together
At the behest of the Jo Cox Foundation, this afternoon a constant stream of people dropped in to get together in Letchworth, to drink tea, eat cake and - more importantly - to talk to each other.
For this day at least, JC did not stand for Jeremy Corbyn, but for Jo Cox. Organized by Sue Ngwala (3rd from left) and the Letchworth and Baldock branch, the gathering drew in many people from Letchworth, Baldock and around the constituency, including Doug Swanney, our candidate in the general election, actually on his way back from a well-earned holiday.
It was good to hear today that the Bernard Kenny, the pensioner who tackled Jo's attacker in an attempt to save her, and was badly injured himself, has been awarded the George Cross.
17 June 2017
Remembering Jo Cox
All welcome at the Great Get Together
The Great Get Together is organised nationwide by
Brendan Cox and the Jo Cox Foundation. It commemorates the first
anniversary of Jo Cox’s murder on 16 June last year. Jo was
Labour MP for Batley & Spen in West Yorkshire and she believed
passionately in a kinder, fairer society for everyone.
In that spirit, we shall be baking cakes and making tea to share with the local community. Can you come along? Donate a cake? Or simply spread the word that all are welcome?
This Saturday, 17 June at 12noon - 3.00pm
Howard Garden Social Centre
Norton Way South
Letchworth Garden City SG6 1SU
13 June 2017
Relax at a Labour comedy night
Our comrades in the Hertford and Stortford constituency have organised a Stand Up for Labour comedy night next Sunday at 7.30 pm at Hertford Corn Exchange. We have been late in posting this - somehow we have had other things on our minds until a day or two ago, and that means that tickets are slightly dearer, but we can assure that these comedy nights are well worth the extra.
Buy tickets here.
13 June 2017
Doug Swanney explains why you should vote Labour tomorrow for a better Britain
More about Doug Swanney here.
Read the Labour Party's manifesto here.
We have had reports that the Royal Mail have failed to deliver Doug Swanney's election adddress to a number of voters in North East Hertfordshire.
We very much regret this, but the delivery of election addresses is completely outside our control. At general elections all candidates have the opportunity of sending an election address postage-free to every elector. They can choose to post them individually addressed or allow the Royal Mail to deliver a leaflet to every household in the constituency.
Unfortunately, we had not expected an election to be called, since the Prime Minister had argued that an election would destabilise the economy in the run up to Brexit negotiations. We should have known better than to trust her word!
Because of this, we did not have a candidate in place in time to provide addressed leaflets, so that we were forced to use the option of allowing the Royal Mail to deliver unaddressed leaflets to every household. Clearly, they have not delivered them to every household. Indeed, some constituency officers have not received them.
On the other hand, they delivered some in the wrong constituency!
At this stage, we cannot do anything about this, but, if you are reading this, you can find Doug Swanney's five main pledges here.
Of course, one of Labour's manifesto commitments is to re-nationalise the Royal Mail ......
7 June 2017
What support can you give?
Headteachers throughout Hertfordshire have asked parents for support in the face of severe cuts in funding per pupil that were proposed by the Tory government shortly before the election was called.
They are saying that they will be forced to reduce the number of teachers, drop some courses and curtail other school activities.
One constituent, who had written to Sir Oliver Heald about this, shared Sir Oliver's response with us. In the response, Sir Oliver said that the new distribution proposed for school funding "created winners and losers within the constituency".
Since we were only hearing from "losers", Doug Swanney, our Labour candidate, wrote to Sir Oliver and asked which schools were "winners".
Sir Oliver merely asserted again that "a number" of schools would benefit. Out of more than 50 schools in the constituency we can only find THREE that do not lose!
Here are some examples of the scale of the cuts proposed by the Tories by 2022, according to figures compiled by the National Union of Teachers:
School, Letchworth: £290,453 (10%) or £681 per pupil.
Knights Templar School, Baldock: £502,459 (11%) or £484 per pupil.
Meridian School, Royston: £257,936 (12%) or £714 per pupil.
Freman College, Buntingford: £374,135 (16%) or £581 per pupil.
Roger de Clare First School, Puckeridge: £45,442 (8%) or £164 per pupil.
Ashwell Primary School: £95,593 (10%) or £388 per pupil.
Check out the school that your children or grandchildren go to here.
Elsewhere in the country, headteachers have asked for money. They have stopped short of doing this, as far as we know, in Hertfordshire. So, what support can parents give to the school that is educating their children? They can use their vote.
Voting Liberal Democrat would not help. This would reduce the cuts, but nearly all our schools would still have reduced funding per pupil by 2022.
The only course open to parents who do not want schools to deteriorate is to Vote Labour.
5 June 2017
The Conservative Party have decided to reveal scant detail in their manifesto, so at first glance it can be hard to grasp exactly what their vision is for the people of North East Hertfordshire. But it seems that up to 90% of pensioners will be hit by cuts, as they plan to:
1. Scrap the “Triple Lock” on state pensions, without which pensioners would have been left at least £330 worse off in recent years.
2. Means-test Winter Fuel Payments, which almost certainly means 90% of pensioners in NE Hertfordshire will lose them.
3. Introduce the “Dementia Tax”, using the value of your property to pay towards the cost of your care in your own home.
Doug Swanney, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for NE Hertfordshire, is deeply concerned by these plans: "If you’re over 65, Sir Oliver Heald’s Party has a grim vision for your future. If, after years of contributing to our economy, you’re unlucky enough to become ill with a condition like dementia, you’ll have to use the value of your home to pay for your care. Despite hurried changes and talk of a “cap”, with Theresa May unable to provide details, this might mean that in our area you could be left with only a quarter of the value of your home to leave to your children. I can’t stand-by and see these burdens placed on retired people."
The Labour Party Manifesto stands in stark contrast, aside from the extra £45 billion for the NHS and social care, which will benefit all of us, they make clear pledges to older people:
1. Secure pensioner incomes with the Triple-Lock on state pensions.
2. Protect the Winter Fuel Allowance and free bus passes for pensioners.
3. Provide justice for women born in the 1950s, who have been badly hit by five-year rise in pension age, with very little time to prepare for the change.
1 June 2017
The Government's cuts in education are a scourge
on our society
Doug Swanney was in Baldock last night at the hustings arranged by Churches Together. Sir Oliver Heald was not there, nor was anyone else to represent Theresa May's party (formerly known as the Conservatives).
Doug showed himself to be passionate about building a better Britain. On no subject was he more passionate than on education. He said that he had talked to headteachers around the constituency and had seen the pain on their faces as they begin the process of laying off teachers. He described the cuts as one of greatest scourges on our society.
The Conservatives talk of putting extra money in, but it still results in a 7% cut in funding per pupil by 2022. By contrast, Labour would reverse the cuts - and not only reverse the cuts but also increase the funding per pupil over the next Parliament.
The Liberal Democrat candidate challenged the National Union of Teachers' figures that show that their plans also result in a cut in funding per pupil, though a smaller cut than under the Conservatives.
Missed this hustings?
You have another chance in Royston
31 May 2017
Local patients and staff deserve a brighter future
you need to pay a visit to the Lister Hospital, chances are the care
and attention you receive will be positive. The cost, however, can be
quite a shock. Not everyone can catch a bus, meaning paying parking
fees of over £5 if your visit lasts longer than a few hours.
It’s a problem which also affects doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers. We have been hearing from staff at the Lister about how the startling cost of parking at the hospital is eating into their income. With medical staff reporting fees of £30 - £50 a month for parking permits, one nurse, Tracy, said: “With your parking permit, and professional registration and insurance costs, you end up working one or two shifts a month for free and I know of one nurse who was charged for her permit while she was off sick after an incident at work!” Emma added, “You can’t even be sure you’ll get a parking space when you’ve paid for your permit, the spaces are small and cars get damaged. I’ve been blocked in before – it’s just the last thing you need after a long shift.” *
Doug Swanney, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for North East Hertfordshire, wants staff and patients to know that their NHS can face a much brighter future: “Our plans for the NHS will reverse the marketisation of health, re-building the high quality, public NHS we’ve all paid for. Morale amongst NHS staff is at rock bottom after six years of being told to deliver more for less; with stagnating wages, they’ve been giving more of themselves to keep our hospitals going. We’ll abolish the cap on pay increases which caused this, and start properly rewarding them for their hard work. At the Lister, we could achieve one big improvement with our pledge to end parking charges for staff, patients and their visitors.”
Since 2010, the average household is paying more in both direct and indirect taxation: a total of nearly £2,000. And now they face the threat of further tax rises. For our hospital staff, whose pay has been held down below inflation by the Tories, the constant demand on their income is unrealistic.
continues:“When you’re unwell, especially long-term, these charges are
cruel, they hit people at their most vulnerable time. If you’re a nurse
or porter, struggling to make ends meet, working long shifts, day and
night, you can ill afford to be losing a chunk of your wages to parking
fees and it doesn’t have to be this way.”
NHS funding cuts hit Royston
Carefully worked out plans for transforming Royston Hospital into a health hub have been rejected as unaffordable, in spite of support from former MP, Sir Oliver Heald.
Swanney, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for North East Hertfordshire,
wants local campaigners to know that a Labour MP could fight harder for
the future of the Royston Hospital site. “While Conservative MP Sir
Oliver Heald supported campaigners looking to see the site developed
into a Health Hub, he’s been effectively working against his own
Party’s policy. So, despite his best efforts, campaigners have been
left feeling as though the last four years of hard work have been for
nothing, because unsurprisingly the Clinical Commissioning Group and
NHS Property Services have rejected their careful plans as
“Our plans for the NHS will reverse the marketisation of health, re-building the high quality, public NHS we’ve all paid for. While the Government continues to sign off new Private Finance Initiatives which can be a drain on resources, we’ll tackle the NHS funding crisis, so that we can spend tax-payers money on healthcare first and look at the future of sites like Royston Hospital on a long-term sustainable basis.”
Doug continues: “While Sir Oliver seems to have given a great deal of support to local plans for the site, if his own Government don’t prioritise public investment in the NHS, it’s always going to be a futile struggle. As a Labour MP, I’ll be able to work to monitor unsuccessful private contracts, demand money is spent where it is needed and look to the long-term future of our hospitals.”
28 May 2017
Labour's plans do add up
The Tories seem no longer to be constantly repeating that Labour's plans are "unaffordable" - possibly because the costings in their own manifesto seem rather shaky. However, it is worth having a look at the costings in the Labour manifesto.
Spending commitments of £48.6 billion are set out in the supplementary document Funding Britain's Future by shadow chancellor, John McDonnell. These commitments cover proper funding for schools and colleges, for childcare, for healthcare and social care, for state pensions, for restoring police numbers and for lifting the public sector pay cap.
Doug Swanney with John McDonnell in Buntingford
Against this, he sets out the tax measures required to raise the money for these commitments. The big one is reversing the corporation tax give-aways made by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats since 2010. Even after this change, our rate will still be lower than Germany's, France's and Belgium's, whereas, after the cuts, the rate is now well below the EU average.
These are revenue costs. Nationalisation is different, because it involves the state acquiring assets, i.e. it is capital expenditure. In most cases, it involves the investment of a capital sum and, in return, the state receives an income.
The easiest renationalisation is the railways, known to be hugely popular. Network Rail, which provides the tracks, is already publicly owned. The train franchises do not have to be bought: they can revert to the state at the end of the franchise, or if the private company walks away from its franchise, as happened with East Coast mainline. Already there is a large investment in railways by the government, but there is no additional cost in taking over the franchises, and the profits go directly to the state, again as happened with East Coast mainline.
To restore majority public control to Royal Mail would involved buying 50.1% of its shares which at current prices would cost around £2.15 billion, but it has been paying out around £215 million a year in dividends to private shareholders, so that this looks like a good investment, especially at a time when the government can borrow very cheaply.
Water is more difficult. A complete buy-out could cost as much as £69 billion. However, Labour's plan is to swap shares for bonds, which involve paying interest, but probably at a rate below the profit margin of water companies.
On electricity and gas, where a complete buy-out would be even more costly, Labour would have a gradual process. Possibilities include supporting local suppliers - possibly co-operatives - to compete against the main suppliers. This could be linked with the very important process of drastically reducing the carbon footprint of generators and suppliers, by investing in new technologies.
This report is largely based on an article by Phillip Inman, economics editor of the i newspaper, which can be seen in full here.
25 May 2017
Another U-turn from Theresa May
First, Theresa May told us that an early election would destabilise our economy and make it more difficult to negotiate Brexit. Then she told us that we needed an election to stabilise the economy and give her a stronger hand in the negotiations.
Now, she has taken the unprecedented step of changing here mind about a commitment in her manifesto, just days after it was published. Such has been the outcry about her decision to change the way that assets are calculated for those who need care in their own home (the dementia tax), that she now says that she will consider a cap on what people have to pay if she gets back into government. Hardly, strong and stable leadership.
Yet, her sole pitch in the election address that some voters have been receiving - Sir Oliver Heald is very much relegated to the background, mentioned in passing as "her" candidate - is that she will provide strong and stable leadership. Repeating it often enough may get some people to believe it, but it does not make it true.
She has already made two concessions even before the negotiations have begun. We will not seek to be in the single market and we will not seek to be in the customs union. Nevertheless, we do know, on the authority of Tory grandee Kenneth Clarke, that she is a "bloody difficult woman".
Just consider whether this is the sort of person to get us the best Brexit deal. Whoever negotiates the deal has a fairly weak hand, because he or she has only one sanction to threaten to use - walking away from the negotiations. Whereas we export more than 40% of our goods to Europe, no European country exports more than 10% to us, except Ireland. Do we really want a weak and wobbly, yet difficult, woman in charge?
With such a weak hand, we need someone who is viewed as reasonable and sympathetic to win the goodwill of the EU negotiators: someone like Jeremy Corbyn, for example.
22 May 2017
There are fewer hustings meetings arranged by local organisations than at past general elections - no doubt, because of the limited amount of notice of the election. However, Doug Swanney will be at the following hustings:
May, 7.30 pm: Baldock Hustings, hosted by Churches
Together at Baldock Methodist Church, Whitehorse Street, Baldock SG7
Friday 2nd June, 7.30 pm: Royston Hustings, hosted by Churches Together at Royston Catholic Church, 6 Melbourn Road, Royston SG8 7DB.
The Tories propose that, when people need care at home and have assets above £100,000, the value of their house should be included in the assets. The value of their home is already taken into account if they need residential care.
They argue that this is fairer, because it purely a matter of luck whether you need to be cared for in your own home or cared for in residential care.
However, this is only a blinkered view of fairness. It is also only a matter of luck whether you need care at all. The fair way is to treat it like an insurance for everyone and that is what Labour proposes.
Amongst other measures, Labour will reverse the cut in inheritance tax, so that those with the resources help everyone to have care and dignity in old age.
21 May 2017
This morning Doug Swanney and his team spent the morning canvassing in Cambridge where Daniel Zeichner is defending a majority of 599. Alex Mayer, the MEP for the East of England, was also there and the picture shows the three of them in a moment off from door-knocking.
If you want to help Daniel, get in touch with his team at the Cambridge Labour office.
20 May 2017
A manifesto for your grandchildren - and for bees
None of Labour's aspirations for a better Britain mean anything if we continue to trash the planet. So, a manifesto for the many must, as an absolute precondition, include proposals to take measures to protect not just our environment, but the world's.
Do you remember the Tories' promise to be the "greenest government ever"? That has meant allowing fracking, even in national parks. It has meant air pollution at a level that is actually illegal. In some places we breached the air pollution limits for the year in the first few days of the year. They even tried to sell off our forest for commercial exploitation, but such was the public outcry that they performed one of their many U-turns.
Labour will introduce a Clean Air Act to deal with this. We will protect the seas around us with measures like plastic bottle deposits. Instead of cutting funding for flood defences, Labour will fund robust flood resilience.
This a manifesto for bees as well. You may have been signing petitions to ban neonicotinoids, as the evidence of the harm that they do to bees grows. Now you have a better course than signing petitiions - you can vote for a Labour government.
This is a manifesto for our children and grandchildren. It is not just a question of whether they will have a better future, but whether they will have a future at all.
17 May 2017
Last weekend Doug Swanney was at the Letchworth Chilli festival, the Baldock Street Fair and at Ashwell at Home. We would have said that in Baldock he was holding the mighty sword of truth, if that phrase had not been brought into disrepute by a certain Tory politician.
Saturday, 20 May:
Doug will be visiting the Farmers' Market in Letchworth at around 1 pm. Come and meet him and say hello.
In the time available between the announcement that Doug Swanney had been selected as our parliamentary candidate and the election, there is not a lot of time for voters to meet him. There are close on 40,000 properties in the constituency spread over a large geographical area and there are 26 days before the election. That would be over 1,500 each day, but Doug will be visiting places all over the constituency. If you would like him to come to any event that you are organizing, get in touch with his campaign co-ordinator to see if he is available.
Even members, who usually get the chance to meet candidates before their selection and, indeed, to vote for their choice of candidate, have not had this opportunity. So, if you are a member, and fancy a chilli lunch, a trip to Baldock street fair or a shop in Hitchin, go and make yourself known to him
13 May 2017 (updated)
Alex Mayer, Labour MEP for the East of England (in the green coat), got Doug Swanney's campaign off to a good start on the Jackmans estate in Letchworth.
After the canvass, party members filled the Grapevine Turkish and Mediterranean Restaurant in Letchworth to eat an excellent meal and to listen to Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society, and to Doug Swanney himself. And, this being the Labour Party, the speeches were followed by a raffle.
Andrew, who was our Labour candidate in 2005, commented that he had never had so many members at a meeting. Based on his experience then, he offered some advice to Doug and drew a number of parallels between the problems that he faced then with the problems that Doug faced now. He went on to discuss how important it was to keep the Labour vote up in North East Hertfordshire, because the media would look at the proportion of Labour votes nationwide. In the face of the damage being done to the country by the Conservatives under Theresa May, he argued that it was imperative that the whole Labour Party united to oust them.
Doug followed with an impassioned speech, tracing the development of his own political philosophy back to his upbringing in Scotland. He particularly emphasised the five pledges which will appear on his election calling card:
Giving schools the funding that they need, without wasting money on educating only a privileged few in grammar schools.
Ending the destruction of the NHS and restoring proper funding.
Ending poverty amongst those in work with the banning of zero-hours contracts and a £10 minimum wage.
Providing genuinely affordable homes for local people, both to rent and to buy.
Accepting the democratic decision to leave the EU, but working sympathetically with our European neighbours to negotiate a deal that is fair for all.
He brought the audience to their feet at the end of his speech.
Andrew Harrop is pictured below in the restaurant with Doug
9 May 2017
On 7 May, Doug was in Stevenage, where Yvette Cooper launched Sharon Taylor's campaign. The picture shows Doug with Yvette Cooper.
Also there were John Hayes, the candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden, and Judi Billing, newly elected as the leader of the County Labour Group. Judi provided the most heartening news to come out of the disappointing county council election results, when we heard that she had increased her share of the vote to 51% and had a majority of 1008 over the Conservative candidate.
L. to r.: Doug, Yvette Cooper, Sharon Taylor, Judi Billing and John Hayes
8 May 2017
Doug Swanney is to be the Labour parliamentary candidate in the general election on 8 June. Doug has lived in the constituency for the last 11 years, so that he has a keen awareness of the local issues.
Speaking after learning of his selection, he said: "Our country has faced huges challenges in the last seven years, with big changes just around the corner. I see this next chapter as a chance for positive change - to once again create a Britain for the many, not the few. It's time to build a stronger Britain with a fairer economy, where people's voices are heard."
Welcoming Doug's selection, Clyde Millard, chair of the constituency Labour Party, said: "As someone sho lives in the constituency, if elected on the 8th June, he will put this area first and will be a talented and committed local MP, which is surely what local people deserve."
Alex Mayer MEP to launch the campaign
Doug's campaign will be launched by Alex Mayer, the Labour MEP for the East of England, who will be canvassing with us from 6 pm next Monday, 8 May 2017. Details of the canvass are on the members' page. If you are not a party member in this constituency, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Andrew Harrop to speak at the launch dinner
Following the canvass, there will be a launch dinner in
at 7.30 for 8 pm. Andrew Harrop, the general secretary of the Fabian
Society, will be the keynote speaker. Andrew was our parliamentary
candidate in 2005. For details of the dinner, which costs £20, and to
book, go to the members page or email email@example.com.
5 May 2017
County Council elections
With the media full of the general election, it is all too easy to forget that you vote on Thursday, 4 May to elect your County Councillor. The picture shows Doug Swanney, Labour candidate for Letchworth North.
These elections are important. Of course, a change of control on the County Council will not halt the continuing cuts in funding for local councils whilst we have a Conservative government, but a Labour council would make different choices with the money available. The Tories, as their election leaflets show, meekly accept every cut without a word of protest.
A simple choice
Your choice is simple:
You can vote for a further deterioration in services for the elderly and the disabled, or you can vote Labour.
You can vote to do nothing about the crisis in Hertfordshire schools, clearly explained to parents by many headteachers, or you can vote Labour.
You can vote for potholes and noisy road surfaces with flying chips, or you can vote Labour.
You can vote for cuts in recycling sites and more fly-tipping, or you can vote Labour.
You can vote not to fund the Home Start service, or you can vote Labour.
You can vote to keep street lights turned off at midnight everywhere, or you can vote Labour.
You can decide that you do not think this part of Hertfordshire needs any changes in transport provision until after 2050, or you can vote Labour.
The choice is simple and the choice is yours. Read more about Labour's fully costed programme for Hertfordshire in Labour's county manifesto.
Labour's manifesto for the County Council elections on 4 May 2017 is on the election page.
Are you wondering who our parliamentary candidate will be?
The Labour Party has agreed a special procedure for selecting candidates for this unexpected general election. Normally, potential candidates are interviewed to be accepted on to the panel of candidates. They can then apply to any constituency which is seeking a candidate. There is then a short-listing procedure and the process culminates in a hustings meeting where every member has a vote.
Clearly, this is not a viable selection method in the time available. So, sitting MPs are automaticaly re-selected unless they do not wish to stand. Other candidates are being selected by a joint panel consisting of two representatives of the National Executive Committee and one of the Regional Board.
Candidates who stood in 2015 are being asked if they want to be considered to stand again, but Chris York does not feel able to do so, for health reasons.
We expect to hear who our candidate is during next week. In the meantime, we have appointed a campaign manager and an agent, as well as a new communications co-ordinator.
28 April 2017
"Labour will be offering the country an effective alternative to a government that has failed to rebuild the economy, deliverd falling standards and damaging cuts to our schools and NHS," Jeremy Corbyn said, in response to the Prime Minister's announcement of a general election on 8 June 2017.
"In the last couple of weeks," he said, "Labour has set out policies that offer a clear and credible choice for the country. We look forward to showing how Labour will stand up for the people of Britain."
Labour's ten pledges are above. As a reminder, the policies that Jeremy refers to as having just been announced are:
Free school meals in primary schools, paid for by charging VAT on private school fees.
A £10 minimum wage by 2020.
Maintaining the "triple lock" for pensions until 2025, i.e. increasing pensions annually by the highest of wage inflation, price inflation or 2.5%, and compensating women hardest hit by the changes in retirement date.
Tackling the scandal of late payments by large businesses to their suppliers, requiring companies bidding for public contracts to pay suppliers within 30 days.
Using the power of public purchasing also to get businesses to cut the ratio between the pay of the highest and lowest paid workers,with the eventual aim of 20:1, and allowing councils to prioritise local suppliers.
Requiring large companies to publish full tax returns.
Added on 18 April:
Increase of £10 per week in carer's allowance, paid for by scrapping the Tories' cut in inheritance tax.
18 April 2017 (amended 19 April)
Doug Swanney is the Labour candidate for the County Council division of Letchworth North. Boundary changes mean that this division is similar to the Letchworth NW division, currently held for Labour by Lorna Kercher, but not exactly the same.
You are in Letchworth North if you live in the district wards of Letchworth Wilbury, Letchworth Grange or that part of Letchworth East which is north of the railway line.
11 April 2017
Hertfordshire headteachers are so alarmed by the reductions in secondary school funding that they have taken the unprecedented step of writing to parents sharing their problems and appealing for help.
The North East Hertfordshire Labour Party is demanding an urgent increase in funding to protect our children's education and to reverse the 35% to 45% funding per pupil that our headteachers report.
"The Conservative Council continue to make these cuts to our schools, without questioning or challenging those in Westminister," says Doug Swanney (pictured), who is the Labour candidate for Letchworth North in the forthcoming County Council elections on 4 May. "These cuts have gone too far - a decent education isn't 'jam today'; it's a basic service, for which we all pay taxes and which children deserve," he adds.
Fearnhill School in Letchworth Garden City is one of the schools that have written to parents, setting out the school's problems and asking them to lobby their MP and to ministers, as well as to their county councillors. Ms Ellis, the headteacher, says that the school is "facing a vastly reduced capacity to ensure that all children's needs are met". She sets out the increases in local government and teachers' pension costs, National Insurance employer contributions, four years of teachers' pay increases at 1% p.a., and the staff training costs arising from ther government's changes to GCSE and A-level courses.
"We have now faced several years of budget reductions," writes Ms Ellis. "The Government would have you believe otherwise – they say school funding is protected. The Government tells us that there is more money in the education system than ever before, which there is, for the simple reason that there are more children in the system. The truth for our schools is that we are receiving the same amount per pupil for an 11-16 year-old as we have done for a number of years – the so called ‘flat cash settlement’, whilst the costs of running our schools has been rising year on year. Our funding for post 16 students has been reduced in real terms for a number of years."
"Failure to invest in our children is devastating for them and also for the future of the the United Kingdom" says David Bell, our parliamentary spokesperson. "Our Tory county council meekly goes along with this. We must shake them out of their complacency on 4 May."
9 April 2017
Anne Holland, the Labour candidate for the County Council division of Baldock and Letchworth East, is campaigning to get the District Council to change its mind about closing our children's playgrounds throughout the district.
Anne knows what she is talking about. She is a retired primary school teacher, who has lived in Baldock for over 20 years, and is well aware of the important role that play has in the development of children.
The elections are on 4 May 2017 for all the divisions throughout Hertfordshire. Go to the election page for more information about Anne and to read her election address. There is also more information on the other Labour candidates in North East Hertfordshire..
22 March 2017
The Chancellor certainly took this advice in presenting his budget to Parliament. You have to read the small print to know that he does not expect to see the deficit eliminated until well after this Parliament - maybe around 2025.
The reason, of course, is that the Tories have failed miserably in their aim - you might say it was their flagship aim - in eliminating the deficit.
They used to say that Britain would become a "basket case", like Greece, if it was not eliminated by 2015. On a generous interpretation of their promise, they failed by 50% to achieve this. So, they put the target back to 2018/19. Now we know clearly that this will not be achieved either. The deficit is actually predictedd to rise next year. What more do the Tories have to do to lose their reputation for financial competence?
We should remember that the last time we had a budget surplus was 1998 to 2001 - for four years under a Labour government. Attlee's Labour government reached a surplus only a couple of years after the Second World War and their surplus peaked at 6.3% in 1950. It peaked again under Harold Wilson at a record 7.6%. Deficits were the norm under Margaret Thatcher and John Major apart from three years in 1998/90 and rocketed to 5.7% in 1994.
Doug Swanney, candidate for Letchworth North (second from left), canvassing yesterday on Labour's national campaign day on the budget
Most people have been suffering from the Tories' austerity measures since 2010. It would perhaps have been more tolerable if they had worked. In fact, the measures themselves held back recovery.
The fact is that Labour is the government of economic competence and we need to persuade the British voters that this is a fact.
The self-employed National Insurance contribution "omnishambles" also shows a lack of competence. Whilst there is an element of truth in the Chancellor's argument about unfairness, this needs tackling in an overall review of contributions and benefits. The biggest unfairness is that high earners pay a smaller proportion of their income than those further down the line. This was corrected for the employers' contributions, but not the employees'.
As for money for selective free schools, perhaps the most worrying aspect is that the Prime Minister - for it would seem to be the Prime Minister who is driving this policy - is willing to ignore all the evidence that selection favours a few at the expense of the many. No longer does the country need a small élite to manage large manual work-forces, but rather a well-educated work-force to take up the jobs that are now being created.
12 March 2017
Labour's 10 promises for the county elections
The government has cut council budgets severely. Nevertheless, by making different choices from the Tories, Labour can provide much better services for you - as long as you vote for the Labour candidate on 4 May 2017.
We are one of the most prosperous counties in the country. Our country is the sixth biggest economy in the world. We could have first class services, but the Tories want to "shrink the state".
Speaking at the County Council meeting on next year's budget, Leon Reefe, leader of the Labour Group (pictured), said: "The sign reading Hertfordshire is the County of Opportunity is now in danger of reading The County of the Bare Minimum."
Starting on 4 March, we published a promise a day to send the Tories away. These ten promises constitute the Labour manifesto for Hertfordshire.
The full manifesto is now on the election page.
15 March 2017
Today is International Women's Day. Below we are building up Labour's 10 promises for Hertfordshire. It is worth noting that the majority of Labour's county councillors are women. At present, due to the sad death of Sherma Batson, we currently have only 14 councillors. Of thoses 14 councillors, 10 are women.
Similarly, the constituency party has six executive officers, of whom four are women.
8 March 2017
Tory County budget proposals
The Tories claimed that their budget for the County in 2017/8 was to help elderly and vulnerable people. "It was nothing of the kind!" says Cllr Judi Billing, deputy leader of the Labour Group.
Elderly people need social care, but the council has implemented the government's cuts without protest.
Elderly people need public transport. Again, this is being cut to the bone.
All of us need to feel safe at night with street lights on. We now have the technology to turn lights on in the locations where they are needed. Labour would do this.
The council is now the lead authority for flood prevention, but is doing nothing about it. Elderly and vulnerable people will suffer most.
We need better mental health services, especially for vulnerable young people.
We certainly do not need a council that pursues costly court cases against parents over special educational needs. Labour would set up a sensible mediation service to reach agreement in such disputes.
"Everyone needs a County Council that will go into battle for them in order to achieve these things," Judi says. "But this Tory Council is too complacent to confront its own government about the disastrous cuts to public expenditure.
"They shrug their shoulders," she adds, "whilst Labour looks for creative solutions to help people."
We desperately need a Labour Council to be elected in May.
26 February 2017
John McDonnell, Labour's shadow Chancellor, was on the panel of BBC Any Questions? at Edwinstree School in Buntingford yesterday evening.
A group of Labour Party members, mainly from the local branch, were invited to join the audience, although unfortunately none of us was selected to ask a question.
Afterwards, in spite of having had a very busy 24 hours and being in great need of sleep, John was kind enough to talk to us. He is shown above with Doug Swanney, the Labour candidate for the key seat of Letchworth North.
He was the only panel member to join his supporters after the meeting. The other panel members were Lord Lamont, Arron Banks (who has donated large sums to UKIP) and Ayesha Hazarika, who is a stand-up comedian and who has previously worked for Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman.
You can listen to Any Questions? at 2.10 pm today on Radio 4, on BBC iPlayer Radio and you can also download the podcast if you want to hear us clapping and sometimes groaning - or, indeed, if you want to hear the discussion.
25 February 2017
Why do we put people in prison? This is the question Sara Hyde opened with at a meeting of Party members in Letchworth yesterday evening. The answers ranged over the whole spectrum from rehabilitation to punishment, which made Sara's point very clearly that we have no consensus on this. Nevertheless, the Labour view would be to put a heavy emphasis on rehabilitation.
Sara Hyde has been a counsellor in prisons and currently works with women on their release from custody, as well a serving on a Ministry of Justice Board that recommends magistrates for appointment. She made the point that it is often "habilitation", since they have never in their lives fitted into society.
She emphasised the importance of the context in which the prisoners became involved in crime. For example, nearly one-third of female prisoners were brought up in the care system. Half of female prisoners attempt suicide, an indication of the high level of mental health problems. There is a high level of drug and alcohol abuse, and a high level of illiteracy.
They need help in prison from experienced prison officers, and help after they leave prison. Yet, the number of prison officers has been cut from 25,000 to 18,000, and much experience was lost in this exercise. New prisons have been contracted out to companies like G4S and the improvement in building design have been regarded solely as a way of cutting costs, rather than improving the outcomes.
It is not too fanciful to attribute prison riots to this cut in staff. Deaths in custody now run at their highest level ever and suicides run at two per week. Deaths from natural causes have also risen and the lack of staff can exacerbate this, when prison officers are not there when a prisoner collapses or are not available to accompany the to hospital for treatment.
There was a glimmer of hope, because the Tory chair of the Justice Select Committee, Bob Neill, has recognised that there is indeed a crisis and Liz Truss, the Secretary of State, has indicated a plan to increase the number of prison officers.
There was a lively discussion afterwards about ways of reducing the prison population, the employment of ex-prisoners and restorative justice amongst other topics.
23 February 2017
As the financial year-end approaches, we can expect our local hospitals to be reporting yet again that they are in deficit.
In 2015/6, the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, which runs the Lister Hospital in Stevenage, the QE II in Welwyn Garden City and Mount Vernon, reported an overspend of well over £16 million.
Rumour has it that this year its overspend will be much more, at around £28 million.
Meanwhile, the government expects all hospitals to make "cost improvements" year-on-year - that means cuts - in spite of the aging population which puts greater demands on them. Will they allow such deficits to continue?
We can count ourselves lucky that, in 2015/6, the Trust managed to meet the 18-week waiting time standards, unlike most of England and Wales, and improve its mortality rate. Nevertheless, it failed to maintain the A&E standard (95% of patients within four hours) and the 62-day standard for cancer patients (time to first treatment).
So, next year, with a mounting deficit hanging over the Trust and the requirement for further "cost improvements", we can expect cuts.
The Tories are pursuing their policy of reducing "the size of the state" and apparently are not concerned if this impacts on our health. Yet, this policy is not even succeeding in reducing the government deficit.
Our NHS is slowly, but definitely, disappearing before our eyes. It is difficult not to conclude that this is the government's intention.
18 February 2017
in Letchworth on 25/26 February.
Labour has 15 county councillors in Hertfordshire. We must retain all those seats on 4 May and add some more. This is what we can do to save social care, which in turn helps to save the NHS, from the depradations of this government and its obsession with "making the state smaller".
There will be three canvassing sessions:
Saturday, 25 February: 11 am
to 1 pm
Saturday, 25 February: 2 pm to 4 pm
Sunday, 26 February: 11 am to 1 pm
17 February 2017
The East Herts Rural branch dinner was held on 16 February 2017 at the Viceroy Indian Restaurant in Buntingford.
David Evans engaged in the key task of selling raffle tickets
In welcoming branch members, as well as members from elsewhere in the constituency and from the neighbouring Hertford and Ware branch,David Bell, the East Herts Rural branch chair, said that he was deeply worried about the future of the country.
"Everything that has been achieved in my lifetime, since the Second World War, has been or is being dismantled," he said. He attributed the peace in Europe in that period to the European Union and he singled out the ongoing destruction of the NHS, on which we spend less than the European average, and the cuts to social services.
"What can we do?" he asked and his answer was: "Promote, promote and promote again the Party that we love." He added that right now we had to elect Labour county councillors, in particular, Doug Swanney, our excellent candidate for Letchworth North - a county division which we already held on slightly different boundaries - and also promote the Party in Baldock and Letchworth East, which we had held when its boundaries were considerably different.
He asked for support in promoting the Labour Party in Letchworth on 25 and 26 February. Details in the preceding item.
17 February 2017
We joined forces with comrades in Hitchin and Harpenden Labour Party to run a canvassing training session in Letchworth Garden City on 28 January 2017. The picture above shows Cllr Judi Billing, deputy leader of the County Labour Group, talking to some of those taking part. The other tutors were Deborah Segalini (Hitchin & Harpenden CLP) and the Letchworth and Baldock branch's canvassing co-ordinator, Cei Whitehouse.
After the very successful training session, the trainees were joined by some more experienced canvassers for the first canvass of 2017, as part of our county council election campaign. Our candidate for Letchworth North, Doug Swanney, was one of the canvass team.
County council elections take place on Thursday, 4 May 2017.
We were delighted to be joined for the canvass by our Labour MEP for the East of England, Alex Mayer, who recently replaced Richard Howitt in this role.
Alex is third from the left (wearing a red scarf). Doug Swanney is next to her, wearing a red rosette.
30 January 2017
Donald Trump has signed an executive order to begin the process of dismantling "Obamacare" in the United States. Meanwhile, Theresa May is continuing the process of dismantling the NHS by stealth.
Tories have cut £4.6 billion from social care budgets. They cannot really be surprised that this means that hospitals cannot discharge patients. The minimal increases to the NHS budget mean that it is not keeping pace with the needs of an aging population. They cannot really be surprised that this means that waiting times in A&E and waiting lists for operations have soared.
Soon, they will tell us that we cannot afford the NHS and we shall have to have insurance for a private system. Yet, we currently pay out less for the NHS than the EU average. And we pay out very much less than the USA does on medical care. Somehow they can afford it!
That's why we were out in order to bring to people's attention what is happening to our NHS. The picture shows the campaign team, with county council candidate Doug Swanney (fourth from right) and North Herts district councillor for Wilbury Deepak Sangha (holding poster, left).
Labour created the NHS. Only Labour can get it back for you.
21 January 2017
In the first week of January, all our local hospitals were on "red alert", as were four out of ten other hospitals throughout England.This means that there are major pressures compromising patient flow and further urgent actions are required.
East and North Herts Trust (Lister, QE II and Mount Vernon) was on red alert for five days in the week, Addenbrooke's for six days and the Princess Alexandra, Harlow for three days. At least, none was on "black alert", which indicates that they were unable to cope, but four hospitals around the country were.
Yet, the government believes that it can cure the problem by forcing GPs to open at weekends, by altering junior hospital doctors' contracts and changing the targets for seeing patients in A&E departments. Apparently, the government believes that it has nothing to do with the fact that the we spend a lower proportion of our wealth on health than the European average and much less than the USA.
Or does it really believe that? The fact is it wants you to believe that a publicly funded health service is not viable. The only question is: how bad does it have to get before we are offered a privatised insurance scheme where those who pay more will get a better service?
Do something about it
If you want to save the NHS, come out with us in Letchworth North next Saturday, 21 January 2017 at 10.30 am as part of Labour's national NHS campaign day. Most people do not realise that the NHS is disappearing before their eyes. We must open their eyes before it is too late.
15 January 2017
Political debate in North East Hertfordshire
During the last year, our members have enjoyed having debates, addressing political issues important to us, at both branch and constituency level. We have discussed many issues including the national housing crisis, so-called Austerity and Brexit. Sometimes discussions have been impassioned, but have brought great focus on the values we all share.
Discussion has led to action – such as collecting donations to the local Food Bank, pounding the streets on our NHS Day of Action and campaigning for the by-election win in Hitchin Oughton. Members have been willing and able to find uniting consensus and work together.
This year, at constituency level, we intend to stick more closely to our aim of holding monthly meetings which alternate political discussion with management committee meetings. Sometimes, however, this is knocked off course by pressing business or by the need to find suitable dates for speakers.
We are pleased we have two impressive speakers to start 2017.
We hope all members and affiliated supporters will join us to hear them
speak, ask questions and share ideas for any local action.
Jess Phillips: Women in the
Friday, 3 February 2017 - 7.30pm – 9pm
Jess is very sorry but she has to attend a funeral
to be a remarkable woman to get to the top … average men get there all
An outspoken feminist, Jess Phillips is MP for Birmingham Yardley, as well as Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party Women’s Group and winner of Parliamentarian of the Year.
Sara Hyde: Prison Reform - Imagining Positive Outcomes for Offenders and Society
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 – 7.30pm – 9pm
prisons crisis shows how austerity has ripped the soul out of
Britain... we could
make our country a safer place to live rather than just holding people
Sara Hyde is a leading left-wing thinker on women and the criminal justice system; she has worked in prisons for six years, sits on a Ministry of Justice board appointing magistrates and, passionate about grassroots social change, is an active member of the Labour Party.
Both meetings are open only to Labour Party members and affiliated supporters. Members should bring their membership cards with them. Go to the members' page for more details. Members from other constituencies who wish to come should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
10 January 2017
It is with great sadness that we report the death of Sherma Batson, who will be known to many Labour members in this constituency and throughout Hertfordshire. She died yesterday whilst away on a "jazz weekend" in Blackpool, at the age of 59.
Sherma was a Stevenage Borough Councillor and a Hertfordshire County Councillor and was a member of the Police and Crime Panel for Hertfordshire. She was also a Deputy Lieutenant of the County.
She was Labour's first candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner and many members canvassed with her during that campaign. In the second round, she had 40% of the vote. The picture shows her speaking at the East Herts Rural branch's Red Rose Party during that campaign.
She had been Mayor of Stevenage and was a member of the Police Authority, which oversaw the Hertfordshire Constabulary before the advent of Police and Crime Commissioners. She received an MBE for her service to local government and the community in 2008.
Our sympathy goes to her husband Howard Rooke, to her mother Yvonne and to her daughter and grandson, as well as her many friends.
9 January 2017
It is not as difficult as you think
We are not seeking doorstep conversions. The main aim of canvassing is to identify supporters, so that we can try to ensure that they vote on election day. Also, the mere fact that a Labour member has knocked on the door or rung up helps to get Labour supporters out to vote.
We are starting the year with a canvassing training session on Saturday, 28 January 2017 in Letchworth, followed by some real canvassing supported by experienced canvassers. If you have never canvassed or have not done so recently, this is for you.
This is a joint initiative with the Hitchin & Harpenden Constituency Labour Party and is open to all members in the two constituencies.
Details are on the members' page.
7 January 2017
Jeremy Corbyn's New Year message
"Decisions made in Westminster are making people's lives harder," Jeremy Corbyn said in his New Year message. He went on to say that the elderly were not getting the care they deserved, people were waiting longer in A&E because the NHS and social care is at breaking point, and homeless families were being priced out of the housing market.
"This Christmas 120,000 children didn't have a home to call their own," he said.
"We now have the chance to do things differently. To build an economy that invests and works for everyone.... We are the party that listens to you and makes Britain better. Let's do that, together, in 2017."
Listen to his message here.