Our MEP canvassing in
Alex Mayer, Labour MEP for the East of England (third from left), joined us this morning to canvass for Veronica Fraser, who is the Labour candidate for Watton-at-Stone.
We were also joined by comrades from Hertford and Stortford CLP and Stevenage CLP for this canvass.
If you want to help us to hold the Tory fiefdom of East Herts to account, join us tomorrow, Sunday, 19 August, outside the Bull in Watton High Street, for another canvassing session.
The by-election in Watton-at-Stone is next Thursday, 23 August 2018.
18 August 2018
East Herts Rural branch invites members and other supporters to join them at their summer party in Buntingford at 12.30 pm on Sunday, 2 September. Food and soft drinks are provided, but bring a bottle of whatever you enjoy.
Tickets are £12 for adults and £4 for children (under 5 free). You can pay on the day, but booking is essential. So, book now by emailing the branch secretary, Ian Fairbairn, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The picture shows our Labour MEP, Alex Mayer, speaking at the party in 2017.
14 August 2018
Labour was out in Watton-at-Stone this morning. At present, the only non-Tory on the East Herts District Council is an Independent ex-Tory, who nevertheless remains chair of the Tory Party's Bow Group. In other words, there is no opposition at all and no one to hold Tory councillors to account.
We desperately need Labour councillors. Help us begin to change the District Council at this by-election and then at the elections for the full council in May of next year.
So, join us next weekend on Saturday at 10.30 am or Sunday at 11 am outside the Bull in Watton High Street.
12 August 2018
"After weeks on end of broken promises, recycled reassurances and unacceptable excuses, it's evident Urbaser can't deploy enough trained staff and suitable vehicles to deliver the essential service it tendered for," the North Herts Labour Group says in a statement.
"At this point, the public can have no faith in the Council or the contractor to resolve these fundamental failings.
"Moreover, the public can have no faith in those ultimately responsible. The Leader of the Council Lynda Needham, Portfolio Holder Michael Weeks and the Cabinet chose Urbaser. They've proven unable to lead the Council out of the resulting mess and should resign."
8 August 2018
The by-election in Watton-at-Stone takes place on Thursday, 23 August 2018. At the last general election, Labour was second in the poll in Watton, so that only Labour has any chance of challenging the Tory candidate and ending the monopoly of power that the Tories have on East Herts District Council.
The campaign schedule is on the members' page. Please come and help Veronica Fraser's campaign. If you are not a member of this constituency, please get in touch with the Campaigns Co-ordinator to offer your help.
7 August 2018
The Tory Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has asked the Secretary of State to allow him to run the Fire and Rescue Service, which is currently run by the County Council. This was opposed by all parties on the County Council. However, it is supported by our Tory MPs.
Labour's spokesperson on Community Safety on the County Council is Cllr Joshua Bennett Lovell (pictured). He says:
"Having discussed this with the Secretary of the Herts Fire
Brigades Union (FBU) on several occasions, I am well aware of how
worried local fire-fighters are about the Tory PCC's plans to take-over
Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. Together we co-wrote an open
statement as Herts Labour and Herts FBU to speak out against the
proposals. Many fire-fighters have also written to me personally to
express their concerns. I trust their decades of experience when they
warn of how damaging this could be from both a reputational and safety
"That the PCC is so open about planned station closures should alarm us greatly; whilst the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is currently meeting incident response time targets, the shutting down of stations in the county may significantly impact these figures. Impacted too would be the service's ability to respond to major incidents. In the wake of Grenfell Tower, we must take extremely seriously the risks associated with reducing our fire service's ability to respond to such major threats to the public.
"Our fire-fighters did not join the service to be repeatedly undermined and left at higher risk due to service funding cut-backs and station closures, and the public who depend on their skill, bravery and commitment must not be either. As a cost-cutting exercise, it doesn't get much more dangerous than this. I stand with our fire-fighters and our public in condemning the Tory PCC's plans. We must keep our Fire and Rescue Service in local control, and fight-back against service cuts and station closures."
There is a public meeting on Thursday, 2 August 2018 from 7.30 pm to 9.30 pm at Roe Hill, Briars Lane, Hatfield AL10 8EY, hosted by Welwyn-Hatfield Cllr Kieran Thorpe.
31 July 2018
There is no opposition at all to the Tories on East Herts District Council. All councillors are Conservatives, apart from one, who was elected as a Conservative, but was later suspended from the party for indicating support for UKIP and sits as an Independent.
The by-election in Watton-at-Stone gives a chance to end this monopoly of power, paving the way to a stronger opposition, if not a change of control, when all wards go to the polls in May of next year. The by-election is on 23 August 2018 and results from the sad and sudden death of Cllr Michael Freeman.
The Labour candidate is Veronica Fraser, a retired local government officer and civil servant. "I believe that community voices need to be heard in the design of local services and planning decisions," she says, "and I am committed to genuinely consulting and representing the locality and its people."
There are many issues on which the Tory council needs to be called to account. Some of the most important are these: amongst all the building now going on and planned in East Herts there are not enough affordable homes for young people who have been brought up here and for key workers like nurses and teachers; we also need to challenge the District Council to demand new houses are ecologically sound, to make an even greater effort to recycle and to do more to develop the local economy.
Veronica's election address can be read here.
Away on holiday for the election?
It's very easy to get a postal vote. Apply to the East Herts District Council by 5 pm on 8 August 2018. You can download the form here. If you are going overseas or travelling in this country, a postal vote is not recommended, but you can get someone else that you trust to vote for you ("a proxy vote"). You have until 5 pm on 15 August to do this. You can find the form here.
If you have just moved to Watton, you may not be registered to vote. You have until midnight on 7 August 2018 to register for this election. Go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. You will need your National Insurance number.
30 July 2018
but we urgently need two women to step forward for key vacancies
At the AGM yesterday, members elected a new team to run the Constituency Party. Peter Finn (left), from the Royston Branch, was elected as chair unopposed and Cllr Sue Ngwala (below right), from Letchworth and Baldock Branch, was similarly elected as Secretary. The other executive officers are vice-chairs Liz Davis and Clyde Millard, both from East Herts Rural branch; Jess Finn (Royston Branch) as Women's Officer and the treasurer is unchanged - John Rees (Royston Branch).
In his pre-election statement, Peter said that his vision was "a cohesive, functioning campaigning body that demonstrably contributes to successful elections; an enhanced reputation nationally and regionally that will encourage ambitious parliamentary candidates; and a party where we might not all agree but we do feel our views have been heard and respected."
The functional officers who were also elected are shown on the Local Party page.
Two very important posts were not filled and, to maintain gender balance, we urgently need two women to step forward. These posts are Communications Co-ordinator and Membership Secretary. If you want to nominate yourself or want to find out more, please get in touch with Sue Ngwala at this email address.
26 July 2018
It is with great sadness that we announce the death on 12 July 2018 of Peter Wood, at the age of 102. Peter and his wife, Shirley, were an inspiration, both working hard for the Labour Party and for the Co-operative Party until only a few years ago. He died peacefully with Shirley and his family around him.
Peter was politically restricted in his job, but became active in the Labour Party after his retirement. He held various posts within our neighbouring Hertford and Stortford constituency party and the Hertford branch. He was known latterly to the East Herts Rural branch as a meticulous treasurer of the 100 Club, in which the branch continued to take part even after its separation from the Hertford and Stortford constituency. Incidentally, if you needed a history of boundary changes for the constituency or wards within it, everyone knew that the person to ask was Peter.
He and Shirley have been regular attenders at East Herts Rural social events right up to last year and many members from the rest of our constituency will have met them there.
The picture shows Peter and Shirley, with two of their family, at his 100th birthday party, where Peter eschewed reminiscences in favour of persuading his guests to vote "remain" in the referendum.
There will be no funeral as such, because Peter wanted his body to be donated for medical research. A memorial meeting will be arranged soon.
24 July 2018
Some of us can remember when you had to pay to see the doctor or have an operation. It was the luck of who our parents were whether our care could be afforded. Some of us even today have experienced, whilst on holiday in the USA, the awful feeling when you are asked for your credit card before you are asked what your symptoms are.
Aneurin Bevan, after he, as Health Minister in Clement Attlee's government, had brought in the NHS, famously said that it was "the envy of the world". Sure enough, much of the world copied it, with a few changes here and there. So, just how good is it now?
The BBC has commissioned a report from four very reputable bodies: the King's Fund, the Nuffield Trust, the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation. It compares health care in a range of developed countries. It demonstrates just how difficult it is to answer this question.
On equality of access, the NHS can hardly be faulted. They quote the American Commonwealth Fund survey which showed that the UK was much better than the average when people were asked if they had skipped a consultation due to cost and was the best when they were asked if they had skipped a medicine prescription because of cost.
However, health care outcomes are something of a mixed bag. The NHS has a good record on diabetes, for example, and is the best at avoiding death from kidney disease. However, it is less good on some major health problems, such as heart attacks: for example, cancer survival rates are below average, although the rates over the ten years to 2014 have improved faster than the average.
But this needs to be put in context. The UK spends less of its wealth on health care (9.7%) than average (10.2%) - and much less than the USA spends on its largely dysfunctional system (17.2%). More importantly, it is less than France and Germany (11% and 11.3% respectively). This makes it difficult for anyone to argue that we cannot afford to pay for the NHS.
Of course, the GDP per person varies from country to country and the report also looks at spending per person. The UK is again below average by about 5% (10% if the USA is included). The figures are for 2016 and exclude capital spending, which might be an important factor, since the UK, for example, has 2.6 hospital beds per 1,000, compared with an average 4.5, and the lowest number of MRI and CT scanners.
We also lag behind on the number of doctors and nurses. We have one doctor for 356 people against an average of 277. The report speculates about how the numbers of our professional staff can be so far below average when our spending is closer to the average (albeit below it). They fail, however, to consider whether the cost of our present tendering system and the re-organization which has accompanied it, introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, is a factor. In effect, a whole new bureaucracy was added to our healthcare by that government.
We desperately need a Labour government to restore and develop the NHS, removing the bureaucracy of tendering for contracts and halting the creeping privatisation of services. That is why we were out today in Letchworth to mark the 70th birthday of the NHS and to campaign to prevent its disappearance into private hands before we can take it back for the good of the people.
7 July 2018
Labour created the NHS 70 years ago today. It is our greatest achievement. Its creation was, of course, opposed by the Conservatives and, it has to be said, by the doctors. However, the doctors have been won over now.
The problem is that the Tories have not. They entered government in 2010 having promised not to re-organize the NHS, but immediately put forward a bill that radically altered the NHS, breaking it up in parts that could be put out to contract. Sadly, the Liberal Democrats, in coalition with the Conservatives, went along with this.
The intention was clear. They expected that these contracts would be won by private companies, especially US health care providers. It did not quite go to plan. Many contracts did go to private companies, but the major American providers held back. Furthermore, against the odds, many contracts were won by NHS organizations, although at the expense of re-organizing themselves on commercial lines and spending scarce funds on the tendering process.
On top of this, the Conservatives have cut the growth of NHS funding and, in real terms, cut the pay of NHS staff. We all saw or read about the state of the NHS over last winter.
That’s why we shall be in Letchworth Town Centre next Saturday, 7 July, to celebrate Labour’s achievement and demand an end to the cuts, austerity and privatisation that have characterised the last eight years of Tory mismanagement of our NHS. We shall be handing out leaflets and talking to shoppers about how the Labour party will save our NHS.
Come and join us in Leys Square, near Esquires Coffee shop, Letchworth Town Centre, 10am to 2.30pm, on Saturday, 7 July 2018.
5 July 2018
An excellent meeting was held on 12 June 2018 to discuss the papers put forward by our Policy Commissions. Members split into small groups, each one discussing a different policy area: health inequalities, national education service, a greener Britain, the future of work, protecting our communities, and giving people power to shape their local communities. Their comments have now all been submitted to the National Policy Forum.
These comments are now available on the members' page of the website. In addition, there are comments on Labour's green paper on social housing, Housing for the Many. These comments were formulated by the East Herts Rural branch.
2 July 2018
Labour, including our two Royston town councillors, at Royston station
The Labour Party was out campaigning about the state of our railways in Letchworth, Baldock and Royston. In Royston, on cue, the rail company delayed one train and advised passengers not to board the fast train because it was only four coaches and was already packed out on arrival.
Fittingly, this is also the first working day for the newly renationalised East Coast mainline. It is now twice that the private franchisee has been unable to run it and twice the state - that's you and me - has had to pick up the pieces. Last time, the nationalised railway company delivered high passenger satisfaction, as well as paying millions of pounds to the Treasury - but the Tories privatised it again, only to be forced to take it back into public ownership.
The Tories tell us that private companies are more efficient than nationalised organizations, but it is clear that they cannot get their figures right when they bid for franchises and they cannot get their timetables right either. Worse, apparently they assured the Secretary of State that all would be well with the new timetable, but now they say that in the north they will not be able to sort out the chaos until November!
25 June 2018
It is two years since Jo Cox was murdered - murdered for her beliefs. But her beliefs live on.
Sue Ngwala, our political education officer, has arranged a second Great Get Together on Saturday 30 June 2018 to celebrate her life and ensure that those beliefs continue to be put into practice.
It is easy to show your support. You only have to eat a slice of cake. But you then need to go on living by her ideals - and that's not difficult either, if you put your mind to it.
23 June 2018
Cei Whitehouse, who was our campaigns co-ordinator at the last general election, explains how the government is ignoring the evidence when it backs grammar schools. Writing in the Hertfordshire Mercury on 7 June 2018, he explains why he gives them only 2 out of 10 - "Must try harder". The article is below.
This was set alongside an article by Cllr Jeff Jones (Buntingford, Conservative) which perfectly illustrates the Tories' flawed grasp of the evidence.
Cei's article is below:
9 June 2018
The 2017 Labour Manifesto is widely thought to have contributed to the remarkable upsurge in Labour support that took place between the council elections in May and the General Election in June 2017.
We are now working on the manifesto for the next general election and your input really can make a difference. We are meeting to discuss policies next Tuesday, 12 June 2018 at 7.30 pm in the Mrs Howard Memorial Hall, Norton Way South, Letchworth SG6 1NX. (The Hall is across the road from the Howard Gardens Social Centre where the constituency party usually meets and there is a car park alongside the hall.)
Please read the consultation documents on the subjects that interest you, so that you can make your contribution. Each document sets out some background information and a set of questions that need to be answered. Those familiar with earlier policy consultation documents will find that these are commendably short.
The subjects are:
Towards a National Education Service
The future of work
A greener Britain
Tackling health inequalities
Achieving Sustainable Development Goals
Protecting our communities and turning lives around
Addressing in-work poverty and working-age inequalities
Giving people the power to shape their local communities
You can access all these documents on the Labour Policy Forum website.
We look forward to seeing you. If you are not known to the officers of the constituency party, please remember to bring your membership card with you.
6 June 2018
Alex Jarosy was elected chair of the constituency Labour Party (CLP) at the all-member meeting on 20 May 2018, filling the vacancy left when Doug Swanney resigned earlier in the year. At an earlier meeting, the CLP had decided not to leave the vacancy open until the AGM in July. However, all constituency party posts, including chair, will be up for election at the AGM.
Alex has been membership secretary of the CLP and will continue to hold this post until the AGM. Alex comes with a long history of campaigning in London and recently in elections in our constituency. He has worked in local government at a senior level and with housing associations.
31 May 2018
"Tory policy is clearly having a damaging impact on the most vulnerable in North Herts," said Gary Grindal (pictured right), our Labour and Co-operative councillor for Letchworth Wilbury, after he had seen the report for 2017/8 from Citizens Advice North Hertfordshire.
Compared with the previous year, client issues were up by 20%, principally because people are being hit in several ways by the government's austerity programme: the number of issues per client was up by 15%.
Nearly a third of the problems related to benefits and taxes, and the number was up by 21%, followed by debt (up by 9%) and housing (up by 16%). In addition to debt problems, the need for help with budgeting more than doubled.
The highest number of benefit cases related to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). One effect of the change-over from Disability Living Allowance has been on the charges which disabled people have to pay for care workers to assist them. Labour county councillors have tried to prevent the Tory County Council from taking advantage of the change to increase charges for the most disabled (see below).
PIP, together with Employment Support Allowance and Housing Benefit, make up more than half the benefits cases, but Universal Credit cases have more than doubled as this form of benefit is rolled out.
We are fortunate that Citizens Advice has kept going in spite of the withdrawal of local authority funding over recent years and it is good to know that even more people are volunteering their help: volunteer numbers were up 38% since the year before.
"In North Herts, this volunteering organisation helped 5,400 people in the last year," said Gary Grindal. "They remain so vitally important in our community."
30 May 2018
Shock at further cuts for local schools
For the second year in a row, local Head Teachers have felt compelled to write to parents, explaining the devastating effect on our schools of funding cuts.
The letter that we have seen outlines some of the effects of previous cuts on one particular school:
The end of native language assistant support in modern foreign languages
Teachers teaching outside their specialisms
A reduction in teaching staff
A reduced number of teaching assistants for those with additional needs
A reduction in school trips and extra-curricular activiities.
The letter goes on to warn that further reductions in teaching staff may be necessary, resulting in larger cleases at key stage 4, withrawal of some options at GCSE and a reduced range of A-level courses. In addition, before and after school provision may be at risk. The letter, which is signed by all the secondary heads in North Hertfordshire, calls on parents to write to their MP and to government ministers.
Judi Billing, Leader of the Labour Group on the County Council and Spokesperson for Education, Libraries & Localism (pictured), says: "It’s really shocking that in a comparatively wealthy place like North Herts all six of our Secondary Heads feel they must explain to parents and students that they expect standards and choices to decline simply for lack of cash.
"The teachers and leaders at our schools are amongst the the most committed professionals you could ever meet. It's nothing short of a scandal that the government is making it harder and harder for them to deliver the education that they care so much about and that our children need.
"The Secretary of State Damian Hinds should be ashamed of himself and I hope that every North Herts parent will make it clear to him that this funding gap is completely unacceptable for our schools, our teachers and our children in 2018."
Last May, at the Generel Election hustings in Royston, Member of Parliament for NE Herts, Sir Oliver Heald, assured parents that Theresa May had a plan to tackle school funding issues. Despite those assurances, a year on, our children's schools have made cuts, and will be making further cuts, which affect our children's education.
You can read about last year's letter from headteachers here.
26 May 2018
The change of contract for food waste collectioin in North Herts to Urbaser has led to food waste caddies being left out on the kerb for nearly a week.
Cllr Elizabeth Dennis Harburg, Labour's shadow portfolio holder for refuse and waste management, said: "One of the most vital statutory services provided by NHDC, the contract for food waste collection, has been chronically affected by the switch over to Urbaser with new routes and "data errors" being blamed.
Labour councillors on North Herts District have spent the last few days hearing from residents in both Hitchin and Letchworth and raising problems with the Council. In some instances, whole streets have had their unemptied food waste caddies out on the kerb for nearly a week.
To make matters worse, there are many reports of unanswered phones, making reporting the missed collections unnecessarily difficult. And sporadic responses to online fault reporting.
Labour has, therefore, requested a full statement from both NHDC and Urbaser, outlining a clear plan for how they will rectify the problems as rapidly as possible - and how they'll literally clean up the mess."
24 May 2018
Change is coming: get involved
The results of the 2018 District Council Elections have brought change in Letchworth, as the Local Area Committee passes into Labour control. The new Chair, Cllr Gary Grindal, pledges to enable local people to use the meeting to get involved and make their voices heard.
Gary explains, “When we were knocking on people’s doors during the election, it wasn’t so much to talk, as to listen; people definitely needed that, because unfortunately they’ve felt ignored - it’s time for that to change. A fresh ethos will shape how Letchworth’s Labour councillors manage the Local Area Committee, ensuring that we encourage engagement across the town.
"We’ll be asking local community groups, charities and even individuals to come along and make presentations, ask questions or share petitions. We’re looking forward to building stronger links with small local businesses and those working for the local community.
"Whilst both NHDC and the County Council remain in Conservative control, it doesn’t stop Letchworth Councillors and the Local Area Committee from engaging with and supporting our community, seeking improvements where we can, sharing what we’ve learned and challenging decisions, if consultation hasn’t been taken into proper account.”
Grange Cllr Helen Oliver will be supporting Cllr Grindal in the role as Vice Chair. Helen added, “We’ve an enthusiastic, energetic and motivated team of Labour councillors ready to support our town. We’re keen to see local people engage with their Area Committee, so look out for notices of our meetings, or get in touch with me at email@example.com, to find out how to take part.”
Ian Albert outlines the problems facing North Herts Council
Value for money is the key issue as North Herts District Council faces cuts of 40% in its funding in the next two years. Writing in the Hertfordshire Mercury on 17 May 2018, Cllr Ian Albert (Labour and Co-operative, Hitchin Bearton), who is the finance lead for Labour on the council, gives a clear view of the challenges faced by all councils as a result of the government's austerity programme, which has fallen most heavily on local authorities.
You can read his article here.
19 May 2018
Cllr Gary Grindal, just re-elected as our councillor for Letchworth Wilbury, has been elected as the chair of the Letchworth Area Committee, with Cllr Helen Oliver, newly elected as our councillor for Letchworth Grange, as vice-chair.
Over in neighbouring Hitchin, Cllr Ian Albert (Labour and Co-operative, Hitchin Bearton) will be chairing the Hitchin Area Committee.
18 May 2018
Yesterday we successfully defended four seats that we already held in Letchworth and also won an extra seat in Letchworth South East.
Gary Grindal, with new councillors, Sue Ngwala, Daniel Allen, Helen Oliver and Kate Aspinwall
In Letchworth Wilbury Gary Grindal retained his seat on the Council, with a majority of 454 over the Tory candidate and with over 58% of the vote.
Sue Ngwala won Letchworth East, taking over from the popular and well-known Lorna Kercher, who has recently moved away. Sue had a comfortable majority of 394 over the Tory, with nearly 52% of the vote.
In Letchworth Grange, Helen Oliver and Daniel Allen had majorities of 114 and 119 respectively over their nearest Tory rival. They replace Labour's Clare Billing and Sandra Lunn. Sandra did not stand again, but Clare Billing stood for a seat in her home town of Hitchin, where she won comfortably.
In Letchworth South East, Kate Aspinwall won the seat from the Conservatives with a majority of just eight. The other candidates, including a UKIP candidate, lagged well behind.
In Baldock Town, Alec Maguire lost to the Tory candidate, but was well ahead of the Liberal Democrat and the Green candidates. Similarly in Royston Palace, Rob Inwood was second to the Conservative and ahead of the other two parties. Rob Inwood (pictured right) was, however, re-elected to Royston Town Council and Amy Bourke-Waite (pictured left), formerly our vice-chair (membership), was also elected to the Town Council.
In the other two Royston seats, Ken Garland and Jess Finn fared less well. In both cases, the Liberal Democrats had something of a resurgence. In Royston Heath, they actually took the seat from the sitting Conservative councillor.
Our neighbours in Hitchin held two seats that they were defending and also gained a seat in Hitchin Walsworth, by a hefty majority.
For more information about the candidates and to see their election addresses, go to the Election page.
For detailed figures, and for the results in the rest of North Herts, go to the North Herts District Council website.
4 May 2018
Roma Mills has won back her seat on the County Council, taking the St Albans North division for Labour. A by-election for this seat took place at the same time as district council elections. This brings the strength of the Labour Group up to ten.
She had a majority of 319 over the Liberal Democrat candidate. The Conservative candidate came third.
Roma was also re-elected to the St Albans City and District Council.
4 May 2018
Three District Council candidates at Royston market: (from left) Alec Maguire, Rob Inwood and Jess Finn, with supporters
When the Tory District Councillors implement the Tory Government's swingeing cuts on local government, whilst giving themselves yet another increase in their allowances, it is time to strengthen the opposition, to try to preserve our services in North Herts.
Rob Inwood is the Labour and Co-operative candidate for Royston Palace and Jess Finn is the Labour candidate for Royston Meridian. Alec Maguire, who is our candidate in Baldock Town, was visiting to give his support. Rob Inwood is also standing for re-election to the Town Council and John Rees (on the right of the picture) is a town council candidate as well.
There is more information about the election and our candidates on the election page.
14 April 2018
If you are not registered to vote, you have until 17 April to register in time for the district council elections on 3 May. It's very easy to register - go to https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. You will need your National Insurance number.
If you have moved recently, you need to register at your new address. Your registration is not transferred to your new address by the council, even if they are aware that you are paying council tax at the new address.
If you think that you may not be able to get to the polling station on election day, you should apply for a postal vote. You have until 5pm on 18 April to apply.There is more information on how to apply here.
7 April 2018 (revised 13 April)
District Council elections on 3 May
We will keep the play parks open in North Herts and we will scrap the bin tax. We will provide genuinely affordable, quality homes and make sure that developers provide the facilities that are needed. This, and more, is set out in Labour's manifesto for the North Herts District Council elections on 3 May 2018, which can be read here.
There will be elections in all five of the Letchworth wards, all three Royston wards and in Baldock Town ward. We are defending four seats in Letchworth. The other seats up for election are held by Tory councillors. There is also an election for all the seats on the Royston Town Council.
For information on Labour candidates, please go to the Elections page.
We need people to deliver leaflets and targeted letters over the Easter weekend. Email the Campaign Co-ordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help.
31 March 2018
Letchworth playground campaigners last summer
Last weekend local residents in Hitchin Walsworth received a "newsletter" - of sorts - from Conservative District Councillor Alan Millard. In it he seemed to imply some responsibility for a recommendation before the next Cabinet meeting to continue maintaining local Rosehill playground. The letter infuriated members of the campaigning group "Save Our Parks - Hitchin" and local Labour Councillors alike - as Mr Millard had not been an active part of the hard work put in to save this valued community space.
Labour Councillor Elizabeh Dennis said: "Looking back on the excellent campaign at Rosehill, I remember it was led by motivated local people, concerned about their playground. I was proud to be part of that campaign and support those families, to help them make their voices heard. I don’t remember Cllr Millard coming along to listen, nor offer encouragement.
"If our residents are to place trust in local democracy, councillors need to be clear and open about their position on local issues – or it disrespects the hard-work put in by those trying to make a difference and share the views of their community."
In any case, the Tory proposal is to retain the play equipment "for the time being" and appears to relate to just this one playground. Elizabeth Dennis continued: "Residents in and around Linnet Close playground in Letchworth, including local Labour Candidate for the Grange, Helen Oliver, organised to show how treasured their playground was – yet it remains planned for closure."
The Labour manifesto for the election in May makes it clear that they would claw back the increase in councillors' allowances which the Tories awarded in the last two years to help to keep local playgrounds.
14 March 2018
As North Herts Tories spent last weekend apparently confused about the details of their own plans for the “bin tax”, local Labour’s alternative could not be clearer.
A confusing tweet from @NorthHertsTories on Friday, asserting that residents could pay the £40 “brown bin tax” in instalments, has resulted in North Herts District Council having to inform residents once again that this is not the case – the new charge must be paid in one lump sum.
Labour Councillor Ian Albert (pictured) said: “First, the Conservatives ignored resident consultation, which was overwhelmingly against this change, then they were unable to answer a number of our questions when the “brown bin tax” was scrutinised, then a letter was sent to residents about the charges - with no contact telephone number and no postal address. Now it seems they are even confused about how residents must pay the £40 charge.
"In contrast we’ve been clear that we oppose the charge. A Labour run Council for North Herts would work to bring an end to the charge. If the Tories insist on introducing it, there needs to be clear communications, the ability to pay in instalments and proper concessions for groups such as the elderly and disabled."
Ian Albert continued: "Local Labour are clearly offering an alternative to what feels like a panicked and confused response to national government’s relentless slashes to our Council’s funding; over the next two years this Council faces a further reduction in funding of more than 40%, a savage attack on essential local services. However, it’s a political choice to starve Local Government of funding and Labour Councillors would make different choices when dealing with it."
In the Oversight and Scrutiny Committee, the Tories all voted against referring the brown bin charge to the full Council. In East Herts the decision was referred to the full Council and, although the two councils have joined forces to award the contract for refuse collection, East Herts Council decided not to introduce the tax.
See previous news item for more information.
13 March 2018
Our first-past-the-post voting system ensures that right-wing parties can govern with around 37% of the vote. John Doolan, a member of the executive committee of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform (LCER), spoke at an all-member meeting of the constituency Labour Party last night and set out why, in his view, the present system was broken.
At present, the system results in a very narrow debate on how best to influence swing voters, most of whom are not very interested in politics anyway, rather than on the major policies to benefit the country, he argued.
The aim of LCER was to get the Labour Party to accept that the first-past-the-post system should be replaced and then to enter the debate about which system of proportional representation (PR) to propose in the manifesto for adoption by the next Labour government.
In the ensuing, lively debate, he admitted that coalitions were more likely, but contested the view that these would be arrived at through deals behind closed doors. He said that, for example in the Netherlands, parties spelt out in advance what sort of deals they might enter into. He believed also that policies resulting from agreement between coalition partners were more difficult to reverse.
He countered the suggestion that the referendum which decisively rejected the alternative vote system (AV) made PR an unviable policy for Labour at the moment by explaining that AV was not truly PR. As a result, the right wing press and the Tories had found it very easy to rubbish.
Of course, PR would allow more parties to gain MPs and, in the recent past, UKIP would have gained some seats in Parliament. He suggested that this would have shown them up for what they really were.
An indicative vote in the well-attended meeting showed a majority in favour of PR, but with several opponents and several who had not made up their minds.
1 March 2018
Labour's alternative budget for Hertfordshire
Sharon Taylor, Labour County Councillor for Stevenage Bedwell, introducing Labour's amendment to the Tory budget for the county for 2018/9, put the blame for the cuts squarely on the Tory government. "We recognise the impossible position the council has been placed in by its own government," she said.
"The appalling treatment of local goverrnment in successive austerity-driven budgets will go down in history as the most unprecedented and concerted attack on localism and local services this country has ever seen. £16bn of cuts between 2010 and 2020."
She drew attention to the predicted £5.8bn gap in adult care services funding and the rising demand for child protection, leading to a gap of £2bn or more by 2020.
So, Labour could only "seek to mitigate the worst impacts on our most vulnerable residents" and to show the importance of making this a "county of opportunity for all of our younger residents".
So, Labour proposed a fully costed amendment to redeploy some of the money available - principally money being set aside for future use - to allow the Council to:
Exempt those leaving care from council tax until age 25, as over 60 councils have already done.
Allow councillors to use their Highways Locality budget to subsidise bus services (no additional cost for the council).
Reverse the decision to close Cuffley Camp (see below).
Reverse the proposal to cut the Youth Service and Youth Connexions budget.
The Tory administration has just agreed to reconsider one element of their proposal to increase the charges for home care. Labour proposed withdrawing all the increases and conducting a full consultation (see below).
The Tories have also agreed to withdraw for one year their proposal to cut the funding for the Savercard, which allows young people to access education and job opportunities, as well as the wealth of cultural opportunities in the county. Labour demonstrated how this funding could be kept in place at least until 2020/1.
The proposals were rejected by the Tory-dominated council, but show how Labour could make things better, even in the impossible situation created by the government. There is more on the increase in the county's council tax precept here.
27 Februayr 2018
For the second time, the High Court has quashed the decision of the Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to close the Nascot Lawn respite centre, which provides respite care for severely disabled children throughout Hertfordshire. (See earlier reports below.)
Parents, who have been supported throughout their struggle to keep Nascot Lawn open by Labour councillors Nigel Bell and Asif Khan, mounted the challenge. The CCG is required to cut £45m from its spending in the current financial year and have tried to argue throughout that they did not have to support the centre because it was a care facility, not a medical facility. The judge has now ruled that it is a medical facility, that they must consult with the County Council and that they must hold a public consultation before they can make a decision to close the facility. The service must continue to be provided at least until August.
Chris Ostrowski (pictured), Labour's parliamentary candidate for Watford, where the centre is located, said: "I am so pleased for the parents. Their determination and campaigning has been rewarded. I call upon the CCG and the Government to abandon this closure. The root cause is the £45 million of Tory government cuts to west Hertfordshire's NHS. I would expect the local MP and Mayor to be campaigning for more funding for our local NHS."
23 February 2018
Labour councillors on North Herts District Council called on the Tories to lead by example. Recognising that the Council faces the imposition of a further 40% cut to its budget by the Tory government, they proposed that they should end the bin tax and stop the closure of play parks by reducing councillors' allowances.
However, the Tories rejected Labour's fully costed alternative budget and went ahead with their own budget with the brown bin tax and the closure of children's play parks, and an increase in councillors' allowances of 2%, on top of the 10% increase last year.
Cllr Ian Albert (Labour, Hitchin Bearton, pictured above) explained: "This Council faces ...a savage attack on essential local services provided by our hard-pressed staff. However, we reject Cllr Cunningham's view that considering cuts to our front-line services or outsourcing public amenities are a sad inevitability. Labour would make different choices.
"We won't close playgrounds. Young people are our future. We'll lead by example. We need to correct the damage of the 10% increase (in councillors' allowances) last year. We propose a reduction. Furthermore, we propose to end the costly civic reception. There are far better ways to honour our local community and raise money for charity than a three-course meal on the taxpayer."
20 Feburary 2018
The Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform campaigns to change Labour policy to support for a voting system on a more proportional system. They believe it is in everyone’s interest, including the Labour Party’s, to do this. John Doolan will be speaking on this and leading a debate on this topic at the constituency party's all-member meeting on 28th February 2018.
This meeting is open to all members and affiliated supporters. There is also some business to transact. An agenda has been sent to members, but a revised version will be sent to them shortly.
As usual the meeting is at 7.30 pm at Howard Gardens Social Centre, Norton Way South, Letchworth SG6 1SU.
19 February 2018
On Saturday, the North Herts District Election campaign was launched with a flourish in Hitchin Town Square. No one in the square that morning can have missed the red campaign stall and the large number of supporters who came to suppport the candidates for election throughout the district.
North Herts District Council has elections every year for one -third of the seats, except in the year of County Council elections. Within in our constituency there are elections on 3 May 2018 in all the seats in Letchworth and in Royston, as well as in the Baldock Town ward. Three of these seats are currently held by Labour: Letchworth Wilbury, Letchworth Grange and Letchworth East.
There are, of course, also wards with elections in the neighbouring Hitchin and Harpenden constituency and this was the joint launch in both constituencies. The picture shows campaigners from our constituency in Hitchin Town Square.
East Herts Rural branch dinner
That evening, several of those who had been campaigning in Hitchin joined members of the East Herts Rural branch for their annual fund-raising dinner, which was held in the Axe and Compasses in Braughing.
Cllr Judi Billing, who is a North Herts District Councillor, but is also a Hertfordshire County Councillor and Labour Group Leader on that council, came to talk about the important work that is done by the County Council and the effect that the currently small group of Labour councillors can have. Judi is at the head of the table in the picture and Rachel Burgin, our interim campaign co-ordinator for the elections this May is on the right.
The dinner raised £242 for branch funds - essential for the branch to fight East Herts District Council elections next year and for such contingencies as an unexpected General Election!
12 February 2018
North Herts District Council elections on 3 May
We shall be launching our campaign tomorrow, 10 February 2018, along with our colleagues from the Hitchin and Harpenden constituency. The launch will be at 10.30 am at a stall in Hitchin Town Square SG5 1DY, where local electors can find out about Labour's alternative District Council budget, the Labour manifesto for these election and how to make sure that they are registered to vote.
Candidates, councillors and local campaigners will be at the stall from 10.30 am until 12 noon. Come and join us. Look our for the red gazebo!
"We'll be happy to answer people's questions on our fully costed budget," says Cllr Ian Albert (pictured), "which puts residents first and reflects Labour's understanding that the District Council provides important services, not just numbers at the bottom of a page of cuts. We know it's possible to give these services the funding they deserve."
Last Saturday, local campaigners were out in Letchworth, talking to shoppers, hearing their views on issues from charging for brown bins to Conservative councillors awarding themselves another allowance increase. Come along to Hitchin on Saturday to give us your views. "It will be great to get the chance to share our plans and listen to the public, because our manifesto is focused on our commitment to genuine consultation," says Ian Albert.
9 February 2018
But Stephen Hawkins wins right to challenge the changes
Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, had planned to lay regulations allowing so-called Accountable Care Organisations (ACOs) to take over all the NHS services, as well as social services, in a particular area.
This was discussed briefly at the constituency party meeting addressed by Stephen Gill of the Socialist Health Association (SHA) in November (see below).
This form or organisation would mean that the whole NHS service in a particular area - from GP surgeries up to acute hospitals would be put out to tender to be taken over by a private company, who may itself run the whole of the service or sub-contract parts of it to others. It may also include social services, taken over from the democratic control of local councils.
The result looks very like privatisation of the NHS. The level of service would be set by the terms of the contract and would not be in the day-to-day control of NHS bodies. Eventually, it could mean that the whole of the NHS was privately provided.
There are already companies providing this "service" in the USA. One can imagine that this change, which has not gone before Parliament, aims to attract American companies, such as Kaiser Permanente. This is in spite of the fact that American healthcare is hardly a model that we should want to follow, since it costs twice as much as our healthcare and overall has considerably worse outcomes.
The good news now is that it was announced during last week that Prof. Stephen Hawking has won the right to have a full judicial review of the lawfulness of setting up ACOs. He and leading healthcare professionals argue that the change to such organisations requires an Act of Parliament, so that the Commons and the Lords can scrutinise the proposal.
The whole of the drive towards NHS privatisation seems to have begun in 2002 with an article in the British Medical Journal, which claimed that Kaiser Permanente achieved better results than the NHS at roughly the same cost. However, it was subsequently shown that the comparison was not valid and that the Kaiser model was actually very much more expensive than the NHS.
A variant of this system is about to come into force for Cornwall. The county council, run by a coalition of Liberal Democrats and Independents, proposes to take over the NHS services and care services from 1 April 2018 in an "Accountable Care System", which they distinguish from an ACO. Whilst the incorporation of care services into the same system as health is to be welcomed, this does open up the possibility of the council contracting out some or all of the services to private companies.
However, Jeremy Hunt has drawn back from authorising this because no consultation has taken place. Even so, this major change in the type of orgnaisation put out to tender has not been subject to Parliamentary debate. It has not even been debated by Cornwall County Council! You can read more about this on the old website of the North Cornwall Labour Party, under both Press Releases and Cornwall Issues.
4 February 2018
It is with great sadness that we report the death of Henry Sargent MBE, at the age of 93. He was twice Mayor of Hertford - and the first Labour Mayor. He served on Hertford Town Council for many years and was instrumental in setting up the Hertford Music Festival.
From this constituency's point of view, his importance was his service as a district councillor on East Herts District Council, although for a ward outside our present constituency. For many years, he was the sole Labour councillor, until he was joined by one other and then, in 1995, by seven others. He was leader of this enlarged Labour Group for one year until he stood down from that role.
He will be remembered for his kindness to all who worked with him, his support for younger members coming on behind him, and for his cheerfulness in spite of the Conservative domination of the district council.
His funeral is next Monday, 5 February 2018 at 1 pm at St Joseph's Church, St John's Street, Hertford SG14 1RX. All who knew him are welcome. There will be refreshments in the church hall afterwards. Family flowers only. We understand that there will be an opportunity, announced at the funeral, to make a donation in his memory.
31 January 2018
The increase in the council tax would be made up of 3% for social care and 2.99% for other services, this being the largest increase allowed by the government without a referendum.
You may wonder why you have not heard what Labour's counter-proposals for next year's budget are. This is because the Tory proposal has not yet been debated. It is a proposal from the Tory Cabinet. The Tories have jumped the gun before going through the due processes of the county council. It has yet to go to the Scrutiny Committee, where the opposition parties can have their say, and for agreement by the full Council.
Labour will bring forward its proposals at the correct time, when they can be properly debated. Judi Billing, the Labour Group leader, says: "It rather makes a mockery of the democratic process and makes me wonder why they bother to pretend that they want to seriously listen to the views of all."
It is notable that the Tories are expecting that their government funding will be cut once again - this time by £22m.
28 January 2018
"20 died after late arrival of ambulances," says MP
Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South (right), has said that 20 people died in the East of England - an area which includes Hertfordshire - in the period between 18 December 2017 and 3 January 2018, after ambulances arrived late.
A senior member of the ambulance staff told HSJ (Health Service Journal) that at least 40 patients were "harmed or died following significant ambulance delays" in the East of England in this period.
An ambulance service spokesman said that in this period "on just one day in that period our ambulance crews spent more than 117 hours waiting to hand over patients to the care of hospitals".
"Our findings will likely show that a number of these incidents were caused by delays in reaching patients," he added.
The government Health Minister told the Commons that a "risk summit" had been set up. However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that our hospitals are over-stretched, partly because patients cannot be released through lack of social care, which results in over-crowding in A&E departments, with the result that ambulance crews have to hang around outside hospitals or in hospital corridors with their patients, and therefore are not available to respond to new 999 calls.
The Tories will tell you that they have increased funding to the NHS this year, but not that funding has dropped well below the funding in Germany or France.
24 January 2018
The speaker is Judi Billing, the leader of the Labour Group on the County Council, who will tell us of the importance of this Labour voice, at present only nine councillors, on the Tory-dominated council.
Please book by 2 February and give us your menu choices. You can access the menu here.
22 January 2018
It is the most disabled who will suffer most under the changes to charges for social care services, set to be introduced by the Tory County Council from 15 April this year.
"The proposal would negatively impact upon ..... the sustainability of their care and ability to stay at home. which could result in higher costs across the health and social care system," says the charity, Carers in Hertfordshire.
Some new charges affect all users of the particular service, like the doubling of the charge of transport to and from day care centres, from £2 to £4, and a weekly charge of £3.25 per week for telecare services provided by Serco.
Other changes fall especially on the most disabled. Previously, if two care workers were needed to assist the disabled person, the second worker was not charged for, but a charge will now be made. Also, when means-testing was carried out to determine payments, the higher rate disability living allowance (DLA) was ignored and the middle rate assumed, on the grounds that the higher rate was only awarded if care at night was required. The new personal independence payment (PIP) does not include this criterion and the Council will therefore take the higher payment fully into account in the means test.
The proposal for these increases goes to the full Council on 20 February 2018. Carers in Hertfordshire have started a petition. This is at present 126 short of the 1,000 needed for presentation to the Council. Please sign the petition here.