I don’t often post about the party rather than what I’m up to or what I think so I thought I would today.
Mark Pack, a well known Lib Dem has produced a wonderful poster to remind us of all the great things that the Lib Dems have achieved in government and I wanted to share it here.
There is also an A3 PDF available for printing. For those of you with screen readers I’ll list the achievements here too:
- Income tax cuts with 2.7m lower earners being freed of income tax burden completely.
- Tax hikes for the rich – a £1m/year earner will pay £381k tax more over the five years of this government than they did under the last 5 years of the Labour government
- Created the world’s first National Green Development Bank
- Started move than 502,600 apprenticeships in 20011/12 – more than Britain has ever had before.
- The pupil premium – in 2013 their school is given £900 for each eligible child (generally those that get free school meals or have done so in the last six years)
- Pensions and earnings are linked better again so we won’t see repeats of some of the awful derisory rises that we have seen in the past.
- Bank reform means that High Street banks will be better protected from some of the excesses of casino banking that really hit the UK in the banking crisis
- Civil Liberties: scrapping ID cards, banning storing DNA of innocent people, stopping detention of children during immigration cases, cutting the maximum period of detention without charge, and much more.
- Protecting post offices
- Building more homes. 190,000 affordable units over the next four years. The first net increase in social housing for over 30 years.
- Equal Marriage – very nearly there!
- Shared parental leave and 15 hours of free childcare for all 3 and 4 year olds.
All pretty amazing stuff!
This evening I went to the first meeting in Oxford of Priced Out. Priced out UK is a group that campaigns for affordable housing for all. I was struck at how many people were sharing the same or similar stories about appalling charges made by some unscrupulous letting agents and also stories of it being so hard to get a property in Oxford at all, as either tenant or owner.
There were some useful people there from both City and County councils and we had a great discussion about causes of the problem, particularly in Oxford and ways that the problem might be eased. Oxford is very short on land and is tightly bordered by Green Belt land and it seems rents just go up and up even in the current economic climate and people will still pay them. I see among my colleagues any younger than about 35 people really struggling to buy a home in Oxford and inevitably having to live further afield and then also having to cope with all the expense of commuting into Oxford to work.
We talked also about innovating schemes like encouraging letting agencies to cut back on ancillary fees in return for recognition as quality agents. We also talked about how many would appreciate longer tenancy terms (perhaps if they are starting families of have children of school age) and how the return for that might be a bit of a change in legislation so that delinquent tenants (those that stop paying) could be less of a burden on landlords. The whole meeting was constructive and helpful and I thank Duncan Stott for organising it, Saint Columba’s URC (my church, incidentally) for hosting it and Tim Lund for letting me use the above picture that he took.
Duncan has done some great work with Priced Out (as well as being a good Lib Dem friend) and I wish him and the campaign every success. If you share its aims and/or are yourself facing some of the problems it is trying address the please do take a look at its website at http://www.pricedout.org.uk and follow it on twitter at @pricedoutuk
I’ve had a few emails about homeless people and rough sleepers in this cold snap. The City Council does have things in place and here is some information:
Oxford City Council has a “Severe Weather Emergency Protocol and extended cold weather provision” (SWEP) which is a protocol for provision of additional bed spaces in hostels in Oxford City.
The protocol sets out a joint effort between Oxford City Council and single homelessness service providers in Oxford City to take all possible steps to avoid deaths on the streets due to people sleeping rough during severe winter weather conditions. The protocol ensures that Oxford City Council and local agencies provide appropriate responses for homeless people during cold and severe weather periods.
This is based on national guidance and follows the principles mentioned below that if temperatures are forecast to be sub-zero for 3 nights then emergency bed provision kicks in.
Currently, the city has 19 people accessing provision over this period which is forecasted to stay open for at least the rest of the week.
This is the third time this winter that the City Council has opened SWEP provision.
Any rough sleepers should – during this period only – be directed to O’Hanlon House (Tel: 304600). After this cold period, the situation will revert to normal, with any rough sleepers needing to be assessed under the No Second Night Out (NSNO) arrangements (Tel: Broadway, Oxford City Outreach Team on 304611).
If you want to do something to help then please DON’T give people money on the street but please DO consider making financial donations to OxHop, offering warm clothing to be distributed (dropped off at O’Hanlon House) and raising awareness via social media accounts.
I was horrified to read the column from the Labour Leader of the City Council in my copy of “Your Oxford” (the City Council’s twice-yearly public information newspaper) as it makes some very basic errors about benefit reform and was nowhere near being balanced or even handed.
The two claims were that child benefit is going to be rolled into Universal Credit and that all claims for benefits will have to be made online under the new system. Both claims are just plain wrong and therefore in direct breach of the Code of Practice about such communications from the Department for Communities and Local Government. Paragraph 15 of that says:
“Local authorities should ensure that publicity relating to policies and proposals from
central government is balanced and factually accurate. Such publicity may set out the
local authority’s views and reasons for holding those views, but should avoid anything
likely to be perceived by readers as constituting a political statement, or being a
commentary on contentious areas of public policy.”
I am pleased to say that the Council very quickly saw the error of its ways when I raised this matter and immediately stopped distributing the “Your Oxford” newspaper. It’s an outrage that over 27,000 had already been delivered and that 60,000 had been printed. This is going to be an awful lot of reprinting and I dread to think what it will cost the council.
I think it’s terrible that Labour continually tries to use “Your Oxford” as a party political leaflet when it should confine itself to public information given in a balanced and informative way. Scaremongering at public expense by distributing misinformation is just outrageous. I will continue to pursue the council to find out how much the monumental cock-up will cost the public purse!
Since the date this happened there have been a few news stories about it – The Oxford Mail, and The Oxford Times ran it and I got to appear on BBC South Today about it as well as doing piece on BBC Radio Oxford’s drive time. My colleague Cllr Jean Fooks also had a letter in the Oxford Times about the issue.
I went to an interesting exhibition today about a2dominion‘s plans for redevelopment of Luther Court. This is an area of social housing in a difficult and constrained part of the City Centre and it would be fair to say it has been the victim, and site of, a lot of antisocial behaviour over the years. It comprises of lots of rather small and poky one-bedroomed flats that I’m sure are not ideal for the well-being both mental and physical of their tenants. Currently the accommodation all faces, and has its access from, the North East side facing onto Luther Street Medical Centre and O’Hanlon House. I think it would be fair to say that the interaction of some potential clients unable to be accepted by the Medical Centre or O’Hanlon House, and some of the more vulnerable tenants in the current Luther Court has not always produced optimal outcomes. (click the image below to see a non-squashed version of it!)
The new plan is to demolish the current accommodation and to rebuild it on more levels and facing South West onto Thames Street with access only from that side. The new accommodation would include more two- and possibly three-bedroomed units suitable for small families and would be to much higher standards of building, light provision and so on. There is a plan to include lots of secure bike parking and some student accommodation. The development would be completely car-free and residents would be excluded from having City Centre residents’ parking permits.
I filled in a comment sheet and made the following points:
- While I welcome purpose-built student accommodation, particularly in the City Centre, I do think it works better if there is a resident warden to nip any behaviour or noise issues in the bud. It was indicated that this would probably be done by utilising more mature residents in return for a reduce rent.
- I hope the development will utilise renewable energy including Solar Thermal and/or PV systems as these work incredibly well even in our climate and can make a real difference to social tenants struggling to pay ever-increasing fuel bills. Anything that can keep people out a fuel poverty is a good thing in my book!
- I welcome this consultation event and encourage a2dominion to have lots more making sure local residents are informed and invited widely and that communication with all local stakeholders is maintained
- I asked also that a2dominion take into account the wishes of their current tenants in Luther Court carefully and sensitively. I believe they will and offered to help in any way I can as ward councillor.
As these plans are worked up and come to the planning permission stage I will of course have to back away and keep an open mind about any plans that are actually submitted to the planning process in case I have to take part in a determination of the planning application at a committee. At this stage though I think can honestly, and without prejudicing myself, say things look promising!
I am grateful to a2dominion for keeping me informed as a local councillor at this early stage of planning what could be a really effective and exciting new development.
I attended this meeting today as I wanted to see the outcome of the planning application to change the use of three shop units in Gloucester Green to A3 food use. The meeting was ably chaired by Oscar Van Nooijen and there was some good discussion on all the applications considered. The biggest item on the agenda was the St. Clements’ Car park application but that was deferred.
Much discussion ensued on the Gloucester Green application and the voting was a dead heat. I am pleased that Oscar used his casting vote as chair to decline the permission as I think three extra late-night food outlets in that area would have caused intolerable problems for the residents of the flats on Gloucester Green (the Chilterns).
The meeting papers are available online.
This group met today and discussed various issues around crime and safety in the City Centre area. It consists of lots of Thames Valley Police staff right from Inspector to Police Community Support Officers. Community safety officers and estate managers are present as well as resident, park rangers, the City Centre Manager and Nightsafe.
The agenda included discussions about drug dealing & misuse, alcohol-related antisocial behaviour and litter issues.
The NAGs are actually very useful in terms of keeping all the relevant authorities, including the Police, in touch with each other and enable a much more holistic approach to general community safety and well-being than would otherwise be possible.
We had a full council meeting at 4pm today. It was primarily to discuss the council’s response to the Core Strategy. The leading group had tried to get our leader to jointly sign a letter with the leader but our group was of the view that this is far too important an issue to sign off behind closed doors so we asked for a full council meeting. The main areas of contention were the numbers of new houses in the strategy, whether the Northern Gateway should be included and whether the employment land allocation needs reviewing, in the light of how much land earmarked for employment use has been fallow for such a long time.
The amendments to the response proposed by our group were:
Delete “8,000 new homes” in line 2 and substitute with “9,000 new homes” to read:
(1) Endorse the housing figure in the Core Strategy of at least 9,000 new homes between 2006 and 2026 and confirm that this level of growth is considered appropriate in the absence of the target from the South East Plan
After point (1) insert the following paragraph:
Council urges the Leader and the two Members of Parliament for Oxford to campaign immediately for a recognition that the housing needs of Oxford City over the plan period cannot be met solely by building within the city; and that a mechanism to meet economic, social and environmental needs of the economic unit of which Oxfordshire and the neighbouring Local Planning Authorities (unitaries and District Councils) should be formed as a Local Economic Partnership.
After point (1) [and amendment 2] insert the following paragraph:
Council calls for a new employment land study to be undertaken before any targets for quantity and diversity of jobs are enshrined in the Core Strategy
The Labour group outvoted all these amendments and I must say I have never seen them quite so tetchy. I felt that the meeting was essential so that the Council’s response could be debated and voted on in public but unfortunately some administration members had said they thought it was “silly politics. The building and development plan for the next 20 years in Oxford doesn’t seem like that to me!
I met with PC Paul Phillips today and we had a walk around Carfax Ward. Paul’s been policing this area for 8 years now and clearly knows lots of people and is generally accepted and liked in the neighbourhood.
We talked about issues which include homelessness, drug dealing and binge drinking. It was good to see Paul being firm but fair and polite with people being antisocial in the streets and we came across a couple of worries. These were the £2 per pint of Stella all day at one pub and the complete blocking of the fire exit of another by a parked car – despite the sign!
A small piece of casework today. A resident of some social housing in Carfax rang to say his area’s glass recycling bin is full and that when he rings City Works to arrange a collection he gets told that they need to check if the Registered Social Landlord (OCHA in this case) has paid for the service. Then nothing happens.
This would not happen if the City Council owned and managed all the council housing in Oxford City. And to think the Labour Group was trying to hand it all off to registered social landlords not so long ago. The problem is there is no accountability – at least Council Housing tenants have councillors to hold their landlord to account.