"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and
open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values
of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall
be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity."
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Lib Dems back milk bar plan
Liberal Democrat community spokesman Cllr Eleanor Macy has applauded the work done by Harlow's Youth Council towards getting a milk bar established in the town. Youth councillors presented their proposals and business plan to a meeting tonight at the Civic Centre. Eleanor says:
"The Youth Council has carried out a very professional and impressive piece of work. Harlow's young people need somewhere safe to gather, and a milk bar would make an enormous difference to their quality of life. I'm very keen indeed to support the Youth Council's efforts to attract the necessary sponsorship to make the project a reality."
Primary Care Trusts will be bigger and more remote
Proposed Government changes to Primary Care Trusts will make decision making about local health services more remote from local people, Harlow's Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesman Lorna Spenceley told a public consultation meeting organised by the Strategic Health Authority at the Latton Bush Centre tonight.
The Secretary of State has ruled that Harlow cannot continue to have its own Primary Care Trust, and must be part of a bigger Trust. One proposal is that the new Trust could be so big that it would be responsible for 1,300,000 people and cover the whole of Essex apart from Southend and Thurrock. Mrs Spenceley said:
"The Government has expressed laudable aims for this consultation, but some of them are contradictory and I'm sceptical that the Government's proposals will achieve them in any case. The Government says it wants to involve local people in health decisions, but then creates larger and more remote health trusts. It says it wants to make health trusts better partners for local councils, but we already have good partnerships up and running in Harlow. It says it wants to cut management costs and put money into front-line services, but admits the proposals will actually cost more money and create major upheaval for at least two years.The four options being consulted on are:
- 2 PCTs (North Essex; South Essex)
- 3 PCTS (Thurrock; Southend; rest of Essex)
- 4 PCTs (Thurrock; Southend; North Essex; rest of South Essex)
- 5 PCTs (Mid; North East; South East; South West; West).
The consultation questionnaire is available online, and the deadline for responses is 22 March.
Harlow Liberal Democrats condemn "assault on the rule of law"
Harlow Liberal Democrats have submitted an emergency motion to the party's national conference in Harrogate this weekend, condemning new powers proposed by the Labour government for government ministers to change laws with minimum reference to Members of Parliament. The emergency motion says:
"Conference deplores proposals in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill which would give powers to government ministers to alter any law passed by Parliament, provided that they do not create new crimes with a penalty greater than two years in prison or increase taxation. Conference believes that these proposals are a fundamental assault on deliberation and debate over proposed legislation, on parliamentary democracy, on the rule of law, and on all the democratic institutions of this country; and therefore call on parliamentarians of all parties and both Houses to reject them."Conference representative David Wright, who has submitted the motion, says:
"This proposal is being sold as a means to remove and simplify excessive regulation, something we would all applaud. But that is not what the Bill says. It would give unprecedented powers to ministers to change the law without any real debate in Parliament. This is not some minor quibble: Magna Carta established that one man could not make arbitrary laws, and the Civil War was fought to establish that only an elected Parliament could make the law. If passed, this Bill would overturn rights established for centuries.Local Liberal Democrats will have to wait until Saturday afternoon to find out whether their motion has been selected for debate - emergency motions are selected at conference in a ballot of all voting conference representatives.
Family support project set to continue
Local Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Chris Millington has welcomed Home Office funding of £48,000 for a family support project to help tackle anti social behaviour.
The project aims to support families identified as exhibiting serious anti-social behaviour, to help them avoid the very serious consequences that may follow if they cannot change certain aspects of their lives.
The funding will also cover the cost of a caseworker for another year, to continue to reduce anti-social behaviour in the town. Chris says:
"This is good news for the families concerned. The level and duration of support needed does vary, but each family receives a minimum of four months' support. The additional funding means that this valuable support project can continue into the next financial year."
Saturday, February 25, 2006
New Life for Bush Fair
Bush Fair councillor Eleanor Macy attended the opening of the New Life Christian Fellowship Church at Purford Green today. She says:
"It's great to see a thriving local church taking an active part in the life of our community."
Friday, February 24, 2006
Harlow Liberal Democrats have submitted two 'urgent issues' for the party's conference to consider on Saturday 4 March in Harrogate. Harlow conference representative David Wright, supported by local leader Cllr Chris Millington, Cllr Robert Thurston and parliamentary spokesman Cllr Lorna Spenceley, has put forward the following two issues for debate.
1: Impact of EU - US "Open skies" air treaty
The "Open skies" treaty aims to liberalise aviation. However Article 14 limits any environmental measures which could affect the free traffic of aircraft. Air travel is a major contributor to global warming, and locally causes noise and air pollution. But under the draft treaty, measures from taxes on aviation fuel, to controls over noise and airport expansion (Stansted, Heathrow etc) would only be permitted with the agreement of all parties to the treaty, including the USA which has consistently opposed such measures. The EU must reject articles which allow foreign commercial interests to veto European environmental measures.
2: The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill
The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill gives ministers power to alter any law passed by Parliament, provided that in doing so they neither create new crimes incurring a penalty greater than two years imprisonment, nor increase taxation. Backbench MPs' input would be limited to a short committee debate and a ninety minute debate in parliament, with no opportunity to move amendments. This proposal contains fundamental implications for the ability of elected representatives to scrutinise proposed legislation, for the powers of ministers, and for the future of parliamentary democracy itself.
Lib Dem leader welcomes College collaboration
Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Chris Millington was at Harlow College today to celebrate the next stage in the partnership between the College and Anglia Ruskin University to develop higher education provision in Harlow. Cllr Millington said:
"Degree-level study within the town is something I'm very keen to see expanded. A partnership such as this offers tremendous opportunities to local people."
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Water and sewage investment needed, says Lib Dem leader
Extra investment in water and sewage capacity will be needed if expansion at Harlow North is to go ahead, Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Chris Millington told the full council this evening. He went on:
"We understand that further discussions are to take place between the East of England Regional Assembly, the Government Office for the East of England, the Environment Agency and the water companies with a view to submitting a further paper to the Examination in Public Panel on these issues. The Panel have asked that the paper be submitted in time to be discussed ... next week. Clearly from the statements already made, there will be a need for further infrastructure investment both in relation to water resources and sewage capacity to deal with growth - and Harlow's position has always been clear, that growth cannot and should not take place without the necessary infrastructure being provided."Cllr Millington also responded to a question about Harlow Conservatives' 'alternative budget' proposals on 16 February.
"I was disappointed that a formal amendment was not moved by the Conservative Group highlighting their changes to the Administration's budget, which I believe would have helped the debate. The lack of an amendment and the partial list of changes read out during the debate meant that the figures didn't add up and hampered a proper consideration of the opposition's proposals."
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Working together to tackle waste
Working together to manage domestic waste is the way forward, says local Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Chris Millington. Chris represented Harlow today at a meeting to develop ideas for ways in which the County Council and district councils like Harlow could combine forces to deal more effectively with waste collection and disposal.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
One of the lowest council tax increases in the country
Harlow Council's budget for 2006/07 reflects residents' priorities and will lead to one of the lowest council tax increases in the country, said local Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Chris Millington.
"We wanted to keep the increase in council tax as low as possible. We're very pleased that we've been able to keep Harlow's portion of the council tax to a rise of just 2.9%. At 12p a week for a Band D household, that's one of the lowest council tax increases in the country.Harlow's portion of the council tax will increase by 2.9%, compared to an increase of 4.6% in the portion set by Tory-controlled Essex County Council.
Harlow Council Conservatives chose not to join the other two groups to work together on a budget for this year, having been invited as early as last September. They also chose not to put their budget proposals to the council's Policy & Resources Committee, where they could be properly considered; nor to circulate them before the budget-setting meeting.
The Conservatives proposed a council tax increase of £5.62 a year at Band D - only 86p a year less than that proposed by the council's joint administration - while promising small amounts of extra spending. While the Conservative 'alternative budget' added up for 2006/07, however, it would require £177,000 of cuts to services, or raising council tax by an extra 3% - on top of any normal increase - in 2007/08 to balance their books.
At the budget-setting meeting, Harlow Conservative leader Cllr Andrew Johnson described the Lib Dem - Labour budget as "a good budget - more than that, it's a very good budget", before he and his group voted against it.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Harlow clean-up continues
An extra £100,000 is set to be injected into Harlow Council's budget this year to continue its clean-up programme in local estates and shopping hatches.
Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Chris Millington and environment spokesman Cllr Eleanor Macy see this as one of the Liberal Democrats' top priorities. Chris says:
"Before the Liberal Democrats achieved influence on Harlow Council in 2002, one of the most common complaints from residents was that the town was looking dirty and neglected. Liberal Democrats have always put a clean and well-kept town as one of our top priorities, and over the last four years in which we've helped to run the council, we've lived up to our promise.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Bill Rammell breaks pledge on identity cards
Labour MP Bill Rammell has been accused of breaking a manifesto commitment by voting to make identity cards compulsory for anybody applying for a passport. Lorna Spenceley, Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for Harlow, said:
"Bill Rammell was elected last May on a manifesto pledge to introduce voluntary identity cards. Last night he broke that pledge.The Liberal Democrats have pledged to continue the fight against compulsory ID cards when the Bill returns to the House of Lords.
Labour's 2005 general election manifesto said:
"We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports."
County Council budget: Tories reject the most vulnerable
"Conservatives at County Hall are neglecting the most vulnerable members of our society in a desperate bid to balance their books - but we have shown it would be possible to prevent an unacceptable massive rise in the price of meals on wheels,"said Essex County Council Liberal Democrats leader Cllr Tom Smith-Hughes, in response to Tory-controlled Essex County Council's Conservative budget.
"There is increasing pressure on the social services budget due to longer life expectancy and our ability to provide more sophisticated services, which the Conservatives have repeatedly flagged up over the past few months. Astonishingly, they have decided to ignore their own warnings and not put in anywhere near enough money to cover vulnerable residents' needs.The elderly and disabled in Essex have been the hardest hit in the budget agreed for the next financial year. The social services department looks like overspending by a massive £20m in the current financial year. However, the ruling Conservatives' budget for next year, once the overspend and inflation is allowed for, provides no extra money overall.
The Liberal Democrats' proposal was to increase meals on wheels by 10p, with meals costing £2.40 each. The Conservatives' proposal is to increase the charge from £2.30 to either £3.50 or £4.00 per meal.
Research undertaken by Essex County Council in 2005, showed that nearly 60% of current users would only be prepared to pay a maximum of £3 per meal. Over half of current users of meals on wheels are over 75 years of age. Meals on wheels allows the elderly and disabled to remain in their own homes, which is one of the objectives of the County Council.
Monday, February 13, 2006
PCT boundary changes would make health care more remote
Government plans to reduce the number of Primary Care Trusts in Harlow to between two and five have been met with serious concerns by Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesman Lorna Spenceley. The plan would see Harlow's primary health services coordinated by a body which would no longer cover just Harlow, but would serve a much larger area.
Mrs Spenceley, a member of Harlow Council's Preview & Best Value Committee, attended an all-day meeting of the Committee on 8 February that quizzed local experts about the proposals. Mrs Spenceley says:
"My greatest concern of all is that the Labour Government has not allowed residents to express a preference for the status quo. The present Harlow PCT is accessible, and responsive to local needs. It has worked well in partnership with other local organisations, and it would be very worrying if all of that was lost under Labour's proposals.
Council budget "reflects Liberal Democrat principles and priorities"
Harlow Council's proposed budget has been welcomed by local Liberal Democrat councillors, who say it will result in one of the lowest council tax increases in the country this year. Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Chris Millington says:
"Senior councillors from the ruling groups have played a major part in ensuring that money goes to high priority services, paid for by greater efficiencies elsewhere in the council.Harlow Council sets its budget on Thursday 16 February.
Essex County Council should lift Brays Grove threat
Harlow's Liberal Democrats have submitted their response to the consultation by Tory-controlled Essex County Council on the county council's plans to close Brays Grove School.
The Liberal Democrat response states that no secondary school in Harlow should close, and that the county council should look for organisations to work together to provide shared solutions. The response says:
"Essex County Council should lift the threat hanging over Brays Grove School, and seek to engage its strategic local partners in discussions about the best way forward for secondary education in Harlow."Commenting on the recent alternative proposal that secondary education should cease on the Passmores school site, and that Passmores should relocate to the Brays Grove site, Cllr Chris Millington said:
"This is a proposal that currently raises more questions than it gives answers. What will the County Council want to do with the Passmores site? Will any money saved from closing Passmores be re-invested in Harlow? How will the specialisms of the two schools be preserved? How will overcrowding in Harlow's remaining schools be addressed? What arrangements will be made for pupils currently studying at Passmores - especially those with special educational needs? And most importantly, will there be a fresh consultation, to allow Passmores parents to have a say about the proposal that there should no longer be a secondary school on the Passmores site?"
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Katherines House refurbished
Liberal Democrat housing spokesman Councillor Lesley Rideout attended the opening of Katherines House sheltered housing complex today, to celebrate the completion of a programme of extensive refurbishment work.
Harlow Council and Borras Construction Ltd have installed new kitchen units for their kitchens and kitchen flooring - with residents themselves choosing the colours of the units.
Insulation and tiles on the roof were upgraded, and internal guttering replaced with traditional style fascia boards and guttering. Old windows were replaced with new UPVC ones, and timber cladding and gutters and felt on the roof were replaced. The Council's joinery department made level access decking to allow improved access for people with mobility problems.
"Today we are here to see the results of the refurbishment works and I must say that I am delighted with the improvements. I'm especially pleased that residents could have a say in choosing their own kitchens.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Independent living with Swan Housing
Liberal Democrat housing spokesman Cllr Lesley Rideout was in attendance today at the opening of the latest independent living scheme in Harlow for adults with learning difficulties.
The scheme, in Partridge Road, consists of six flats with a common room, and has been developed by housing association Swan Housing. Lesley says:
"This is a terrific scheme which will enable a number of local people to enjoy independent living in safety."
Council clean-up reaches Bush Fair
Bush Fair councillor Eleanor Macy joined Harlow Council's clean-up team as they visited Hookfield today.
In all, over twenty Harlow estates are receiving a special blitz, with a dedicated team sweeping, cleaning and litter-picking.
The clean-up follows the blitz on shopping hatches that took place before Christmas. If the project is successful and enough money is available, the scheme could be extended to other estates.
Friday, February 03, 2006
Brays Grove School
Harlow Council's Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Chris Millington and parliamentary spokesman Lorna Spenceley visited Brays Grove School today to discuss the County Council's proposal to close the school. Cllr Millington said:
"Brays Grove's record in recent years has been very impressive, and it is now in the top 100 most improved schools in the country. It would be totally wrong to leave the whole of the south east of Harlow without any secondary school provision, and Tory-controlled Essex County Council must be told to think again about its plan to close Brays Grove."The deadline for comments on Essex County Council's proposal to close Brays Grove School is Friday 10 February.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Eleanor cuts the ribbon to re-open playground
Bush Fair Liberal Democrat councillor Eleanor Macy - together with children from Purford Green School - was at Nicholls Field playground this morning to officially open the new play area.
The first phase of Harlow Council's town wide playground improvement programme is now complete, giving the town's showpiece playgrounds a real boost.
The improvement follow public consultations last the summer, when staff from the council and play experts Wicksteed visited playgrounds across town, asking what children like to play on and getting children to vote on their choice of equipment. As a result, ten play areas now have exciting new equipment, safer surfacing and fences to keep the dogs out. Eleanor says:
"Thanks to our playground improvement programme we have local play areas that are bright and fun and chosen by the very people that use them."The second phase of the improvement programme will bring smaller local playgrounds up to a higher standard. Work has begun and will be finished by March next year.
Liberal Democrat slams shock increase for meals on wheels
The Conservatives at Essex County Council have announced a shocking 52 per cent increase to its cost for meals on wheels, from £2.10 to £3.50. This will be the third price increase in a year. Last April, just before the county elections, meals were put up by just 5p. Since the elections there have been two big increases.
Cllr Tom Smith-Hughes, Liberal Democrats group leader on Essex County Council, said:
"The Conservatives make much of their ability to manage demand made on frontline services and balancing budgets. However, this is a classic example of managing demand by pricing people out of the market. Nearly 60 per cent of the old and disabled people who received meal on wheels would not be prepared to pay more than £3 for a meal - and that is the finding from the council's own research carried out only last year.Liberal Democrats propose to address some of the financial shortcomings of the county's social services in an amendment to the budget to be discussed at a meeting of the full council on 14 February 2006.