Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Pickles Poll Tax

Millions of people around the country are facing rises in their council tax from April 2013 on the orders of Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Eric Pickles has spent his time lecturing councillors that they have a moral duty not to increase council tax bills, whilst he has been planning a £450 million council tax bombshell of his own. But this is a bombshell that is to be paid totally by people on low incomes.
In a desperate bid to get councils blamed for this latest stealth tax, Mr Pickles has told councils that they can choose who gets the tax rise but with a huge swathe of caveats which gives people little room for movement

And even less room for movement because any decrease in benefits would co-incide with a potential increase in Council tax across the entire spectrum of people; with medium term financial forecasts in Medway Council alone looking at between a 2.5-4.0% rise in next years budget.

So not only are Councils being forced to choose between increasing  council taxes on the working poor – over 740,000 working families currently benefit because their income is low - or those of the disabled or of families with young children. But these families may also be hit with the increment caused by a withdrawal of the Council Tax Freeze Grant.

In the most cruel twist, those living in the least wealthy communities will get the biggest cut.

And, just as happened with the poll tax, councils will be forced to spend a fortune chasing people on low incomes for relatively small amounts of money they simply don't have. If you think Medway and Tonbridge & Malling have big Council tax deficits now just wait until you increase the tax burden on those same people by perhaps 20-30%.
When taken together with cuts in housing benefit and working families’ tax credits and education maintenance allowances and rises in bus and train fare it is inevitable that many low income working families, who so far have continually managed to keep their heads just above water, will now lose the struggle next year. 
They won’t be waving, but drowning.
The Budget killed off Nick Clegg's claim that we are all in this together. But, to see big tax cuts for millionaires and significant tax increases for those on low incomes planned to come in on the very same day next April tells us everything we need to know about whose side the coalition is on.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Council Tax rise by 4%?

A few snippets tonight from a pretty damning Medium Term Financial report which sets some assumptions about future budgets which should ring alarm bells. 

It also serves to highlight that Medway Conservative pledges are made to the electorate in 2011 are potentially up for the axe; and most worryingly a very real threat that the Medway Conservatives may be considering a Council Tax rise of 4% in future years because of fiscal mismanagement by central government

Tory Council assumptions: 4% tax rise...

It appears the Medway Conservatives are now considering big increases in Council Taxes which could hit your home. This comes in addition to the cuts in Council Tax Benefits (or the Pickles Poll Tax) which is due to sting 14,000 residents who are amongst the poorest in the area

Dodgy Medway Tory deal begins to bite the Medway taxpayer.

In addition the Medway Tunnel legacy is coming home to bite; the very real threat of a Tory toll caused ostensibly by a dodgy deal led by our Medway Conservatives will cost Council tax payers £1m in tax-payers money over 2013-15. This was a dodgy deal signed when Cllr Chambers [the Medway Conservative leader] was concurrently the River Warden of the Rochester Bridge Trust in what will cost future tax-payers millions of pounds. A Tory Toll legacy which could hit in future years. 

Assumption that Young Person's Concessionary Fares is for chop... or is it just moving budget?

Lastly it appears the concessionary young peoples transport scheme is now under threat; the Medium Term plan appears to remove it from future budget calculations but with its lamentable uptake, due a total lack of advertising, this is not a surprise

This is just a medium term forcast so not confirmed but these are ideas being engaged with by your Medway Conservative administration.

Did you vote for higher Council taxes? Cuts to services? A dodgy Tunnel deal? 

Bus Route 155 Saved

Campaigning at Chatham bus station against fare rises and bus route cuts

A very positive piece of news today for bus campaigners in the Medway Council area and also those in Tonbridge & Malling who have won a battle against the 155 bus cut.

Particular congratulation must go to the independent 155 bus campaign and those involved

I am particularly interested in bus service cuts because I specifically highlighted in 2011 the total lack of Tory transparency after I pushed for accountability locally for my residents in Luton & Wayfield and was rebuffed. Officers at the time refused to disclose the service routes involved despite my repeated requests.

Like with the railways a cut to these services not only impact working people who can not afford a car but also elderly residents who need frequent bus services to access services.

Of course when people in Medway think of buses they only think of the Tory-led multi-million pound fiasco in Chatham which saw the destruction of the historic Brook to introduce a facility beset with engineering problems; from no toilets, poor crossings and recently poor glass panelling leading to structural failure. 

People also think of the sky-rocketing fare rises under this government which as highlighted in our campaign last December is pricing people off buses

On many of the stops there remains precious little shelter or seating; indeed one can be driven to the distinct conlusion that not one Conservative cabinet member could possibly be a bus user because of its ill-conceived and overbudget design. 

Those residents from outside Medway have also been specifically impacted by the cut to thr 155 service which goes through two Medway wards and impacts many of my residents in Burham, Eccles and Wouldham. The cut has led to numerous independent campaigns who must be congratulated for their efforts.

Make no mistake though; last year as Councillor I pushed Medway Council to reveal the bus routes that were due to face the axe and pushed them to open this up to public scrutiny so that issues such as the 155 would not have happened. At the time I was totally stonewalled by the Conservative authority and the result was what we saw.

Medway Labour has also consistently opposed the rise in fares and cuts in services and have written to Arriva to highlight our vehement concern. We have also led on the Medway Freedom Pass which the Tories have still not seen through. On bus transport we have consistently led.

Under the Tories the statistics stand for themselves:
  • We have seen a reduction in Medway bus journeys from 9.3 to 8.9m in just one year. This represents a full reversal of increasing bus usage from 7.9m to 8.9m under the last Labour government.
  • According to Passenger Focus over a third (37%) of fare-paying passengers were dissatisfied with value for money and more than a fifth (23%) were unhappy with the frequency of buses. Nothing has been done to change this perception and bus services are being reduced not extended

  • We have seen Bus Services slashed – According to Freedom of Information requests we have seen cuts to Bus 155 and still a lack of transparency on future cuts to bus routes  
  • Investment cut - 
  • The governments budget allocation for Medway's Integrated Transport block (which includes bus capital schemes) significantly cut from £3.5m per year to £1.5m per year. As a result the LTP allocation to public transport capital schemes (bus and taxi) reduced from £299k in 2010/11 to £250k in 2011/12.
  • Travel for youth: Medway young people continue to be disadvantaged. Whilst KCC operate a flat £50 or £100 fee for an annual Freedom Pass Medway young people continue to pay extortionate rates on bus services because Tories refuse to extend scheme

The Tories can be accused of being two-faced on bus cuts; the same Councillor's and MPs who are completing petitions and surveys are supporting budget votes in County Halls and in Parliament for cuts to these same services. You simply can not square the circle and with the economy flatlining because of poor fiscal management by George Osborne there is a worry more services could be threatened.

People who did support the independent 155 campaign deserve to feel pleased with their efforts but remember who threatened the service in the first place, who refused to be transparent, and which Councillors voted in Council Chambers to cut the bus subsidy

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Medway Tories: Call the referendum now!

Tony Arbour demolishing the Rodney Chambers argument that because you voted in Local Elections for particular political parties that a referendum is still needed. Highlights neatly the use of the different arguments being employed by the Conservative Party

So residents in the Borough of Richmond are to have a referendum on the pre-consultation Aviation proposal to extend Heathrow airport after a cross-party motion was supported at a Full Council meeting yesterday

In this cross-party motion the Council unanimously reaffirmed its positionto resist any proposals for local airport expansion after 2015 and resolved that any expansion of the airport should be blocked permanently.

The Tory Council Leader, Lord True, also announced his intent that residents would be invited to publically declare their views on any expansion through a referendum-style vote to be held in the next few months.

It is envisioned that thousands of residents in this borough will vote ‘NO’, sending the strongest possible signal to those lobbying and in goverment

The excuses trotted out by Medway Conservatives and their erstwhile local Lib Dem lackies simply do not stand any scrutiny and have been totally blown out the water.  Not only are our opponents (and Boris Johnson knows what he is doing) pursuing the exact same policy that Medway Labour proposed in January but they are doing so at the same point in the Aviation Consultation life-cycle and in expectation of a swift No vote from the public

Why are our Tory MPs too weak to make this case? How can Zac Goldsmith threaten to resign but our MPs go quiet and distance themselves? 

It is outrageous that we are being let down like this.

In no cases will a mega-airport be positively received; so the result of the referendum is not in dispute; but the message it sends to government is loud and clear. Ignore us and you will be sending a message to those that have voted that you are ignoring the direct wishes of the public.

Lord True (Conservative) is in contact with other West London Councils on further referenda stated that:

“Richmond Council has again taken a united stance on an issue where people righty expect us to put aside party bickering in local politics. We are all elected to fight for our residents - and there is no issue more important to them than this.

"I deeply regret that the nightmare vision of Heathrow expansion that had been so wisely laid to rest by our Coalition government has been resurrected. This time we must kill it off for good. As far as this Council is concerned it will be all-out war with the big money interests and slick-suited PR men peddling this foolish project. It is perfectly possible to deliver increased airport capacity in south-east England without expanding Heathrow. No-one in their right minds would consider building a new airport on the Heathrow site today - that must surely go for a new runway, too.

“Frankly, Richmond and other west London residents have had enough. They have patiently borne the scourge of Heathrow, with all the noise, pollution and risks, for decades. In 2010 they were given hope of permanent relief from expansion - they trusted the word of those who gave that promise and it should not be broken.

"As their elected representatives we are not prepared to sit meekly and take incoming fire from the Heathrow lobby without giving our residents the chance to hit back and have their say. The proposed ballot will give the long-suffering people of west London an unprecedented opportunity to shout loud and clear to those that run the airport, and anyone inside government who may support them, that Londoners simply won’t take it. I hope that other boroughs will join us.”

What Councillor Chambers should have said yesterday but is too weak to do so:

“Medway Council has taken a principled stance on an issue where people rightly expect us to put aside party bickering in local politics.

“We deeply regret that the nightmare vision of an Estuary airport that had been opposed by so many over the last four decades has been resurrected. This time we must kill it off for good. As far as this Council is concerned it will be all-out war with the big money interests and slick-suited PR men peddling numerous foolish projects. It is perfectly possible to deliver increased airport capacity at existing airports without threatening Medway residents with continued blight. No-one in the right minds would consider building a new multi-billion airport in an area of significant natural interest, next door to the largest LNG facility in Western Europe, on numerous historic communities and on a site which would compromise existing air corridor routes across Europe”

“Frankly, Medway residents have had enough. They have patiently watched the government change the goalposts over four years and over successive periods for over 40 years. In 2010 they were given hope of permanent relief from this proposal in letters to local MPs – they trusted the word of those who gave that promise and it should not be broken”

“As their elected representatives we are not prepared to sit meekly and take incoming fire from the London Conservative Mayor and MPs without giving our residents the chance to hit back and have their say. The proposed ballot will give the long-suffering people of Medway an unprecedented opportunity to should loud and clear to those that want a new airport, and anyone inside government who may support them, that our residents simply won’t take it. I hope that other Council’s across Kent will join us”

It is time for Medway people to have a say. The dithering, delay and incompetence in Gun Wharf from Tory Councillor’s must cease; put the area before your own petty partisan interest and join with us to give people a vote; like other parties have done, and will do, across London.

Curtail legal loan sharks

Last night attended a Movement for Change rally with Stella Creasy MP and local activists to listen to harrowing stories but also to re-affirm our solidarity with those across the country who are seeking to stop legal loan sharks from leaching on those in our poorest communities.

The event was timely given Wonga announced a 296% increase in the number of loans, helping revenues rise 225% to £184.7 million and net income lift 269% to £45.8 million

Wonga are by no means the only firm with exorbitant levels of APR but they are certainly making a high profile attempt to embed themselves in local communities by sponsoring football, television shows and trying to legitimise themselves by funding textbooks or financial responsibility. They have even reached into underfunded charities and organisations which are supposed to combat this type of lending and have co-sponsored reviews on the debt they are helping to inflict.

Charities and organisations should be very careful about funding sources and the implications on themselves.

What became clear last night is despite warm platitudes by Conservative MPs – including a number locally – the Tories in government believe that Wonga and other firms are providing a 'market solution' that is necessary for people. They have therefore consistently (now three times) rejected the Labour-led position of restrictions on this type of lending.

Tories of course come from a certain background; many like David Cameron and Gideon Osborne have never represented or seen poverty.

Locally a cross-party group has stepped up to the mark but more can be done; including some ideas that were shared last night from Brent and Camden Council

  •       Refusal of Planning Permission for new legal pay-day lenders on the basis it does not serve a wider community need; this can be challenged by the Money Shops but many companies are afraid of the impact of legal challenges on their reputation; so are withdrawing applications
  •        Registering all new Council tenants with the local Credit Union so that they are getting access to appropriate financial information
  •      Opposing all forms of legal loan sharking sponsorship for any charitable or public service; firms are seeking to legitimise its community presence. Communities must reject any open offer of financial support irrespective of its perceived good. In effect a localised boycott
  •       Enforcement of trading standards; many of those employed by legal loan sharks or Money Sharks are inadequately trained and not complying with the (very limited and basic) trading standards rules

In addition our Tory MPs in Medway can stop putting their heads in the sand and proactively lobby government by supporting (not abstaining or sitting on hands) amendments to the Financial Services Bill which will cap APR and tighten up on regulation. It will also be interesting to see if legal loan shops are placed alongside sex shops, pawn brokers or other licenced establishments in the upcoming Planning changes by the government.

In the United States it is illegal for legal loan sharks to offer loans to US military personnel; there is a reason why the US government has pursued this policy. When a company can make a 225% revenue rise in the middle of a double-dip recession you have to ask to whom this benefits? Meanwhile the impacts on real people can be deadly.

Tory MPs – many multi-millionaires who sit in the cabinet – should start to recognise that having upto 1 million people close to an unaffordable debt spiral is simply unacceptable, unethical and poor economics.

Of course it does not help that major legal money lending directors are massivedonors to the Conservative Party. These people funding In-Touch leaflets and other direct mailing capability to elect Conservative Councillor’s and MPs. They stand alongside tax-evading non-dom’s and shadowy elite Conservative clubs of course; so they keep poor company.

We can all do more but for some it seems getting some our most vulnerable into unsustainable debt levels is acceptable; and that is something that is deeply amoral.

We can not create a Big Society unless we have a Good Society from top to bottom. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Chatham Docks legacy

The news that the £650m Chatham Waters project is to go ahead is a welcome sign to the towns that investment and regeneration in core areas is hopefully around the corner 

The fact that Peel are seeking to invest at this point - when the construction industry is struggling and prior to any change in government Planning policy - highlights how viable this project is as a generator for social, economic and educational success. 

The scheme will provide an employment-led mixed-use redevelopment of the site of approximately 1.9 million sq. ft. including a commercial heart incorporating office space, education facilities, an ‘EventCity’, and a hotel alongside apartments and townhouses, plus landscaped public areas and a foodstore. 

The development has the potential to create approximately 3,500 jobs once completed but in construction will hopefully utilize local contractors; it is hoped that Peel could partner with Mid Kent College and others to provide apprenticeships.

It will also see up to £1bn invested in the Medway towns once completed. £1bn in one scheme is larger then the entire annual Council budget and represents a vast sum of money into an area which has a mixed demographic of incomes 

Incidentally; to those who say that only a mega-airport can generate 'much needed' jobs it can be pointed out clearly that two such schemes in Medway could cut our unemployment, provide opportunities and not destroy our quality of life. Of course such projects are sustainable and in keeping with the area and the other is not.

The Council can not however rest on its laurels; there are a number of other sites including Rochester Riverside and Strood Waterside that have been stymied because of financial viability; the Council is right not to cut corners on infrastructure capability but with the changes in Planning coming down the pipe, there remains a real risk that regeneration could become illsuited and without the support structures in place. 

The regeneration in the Chatham Docks area has been an ongoing programme since the closure of the Docks - which was a major employer in the area - by the Conservative government. 

The issue that is conveniently overlooked is it took 10 years for the then  Tory government to recognise the problem - under John Major - after they closed the docks under Thatcher. 

It took a Labour government to start the construction work and it was the Labour MPs who fought hard for the modernised Mid-Kent College and the mixed Medway Universities we see today which in part drove the Peel application on Chatham Waterside. The area is still recovering in employment terms from the decision to close the Docks today - as it in one decision decimated blue collar working and the employment route of thousands - for many that delay on a legacy for the docks in the 1980s and 1990s by the then government left many with no jobs and nowhere to go.

It is true Eric Pickles did give the green light for this scheme, after a planning review, but it is worth remembering that before anyone clamour to take the credit (as CCHQ was doing yesterday) this regeneration has been a long-term strategic project and one which was caused by a rushed closure of an historic dockyard, and a total lack of planning for its immediate legacy on our area

Monday, 17 September 2012

Million Meal Appeal

On Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 of October the “Million Meal Appeal” is coming to Sainsbury’s in Chatham, Hempstead and Larkfield and they need your help. 

Last year, they collected food for 1.2 million meals for disadvantaged people, so this year they have a big target to beat and they can’t do it without you. 

They are looking for enthusiastic volunteers to greet customers and encourage them to buy an additional item of food for FareShare, which they distribute to hostels, day centres, kids’ breakfast clubs and local projects.

I will be volunteering to help in Chatham and Larkfield and it is hoped that  others locally will also lend a hand to help some of our more vulnerable members of the community.

I firmly believe that we need more responsibility from big organisations including:
  • Large supermarkets and large manufacturers should donate a proportion of their surplus food for redistribution to charities.
  • Medway Council and other local public bodies including schools and the NHS should donate a greater proportion of their food waste
  • Introduction of a ‘Good Samaritan’ clause, similar to provisions in the United States, to protect retailers who donate food in good faith
So if you’re passionate about helping local people and you want to be part of the UK’s biggest ever food drive, they'd love to hear from you.

Front line not Hem line

On my door-knocking in Snodland, Aylesford and the villages in the constituency no one has mentioned Police dress code as being a major issue; losing Police officers and PCSOs in rural areas however is a major theme which is emerging from resident forums to Parish Councils.

Put simply people are concerned by the cuts in numbers not the cut of the hemline on a shirt.

The comment from the Tory PCC camp on the Medway Messenger front page today that they would potentially move to re-introduce white shirts was a nod towards a policy of dress code being operated by the Metropolitan Police, which under the current system in Scotland Yard, has officers wearing white shirts and black ties on a semi-regular basis; though underneath a jumper / flack jacket and vest. 

The suggestion by the press however that officers look mean and should cease to wear stab vests, remove first aid equipment and other essiential security equipment must be vigorously opposed

Officers on front line roles cover large and varied areas - not just one village - and are called to situations where violence is a very real possibility wherever they may be; be that from the domestic dispute in leafy suburbia to the inner-city problems in North Kent. They need to be equipped for whatever the circumstance and appropriate to the risk which is why stab jackets are a necessity

The case for a stab vest is strongly documented and officers should wear them where there is any risk of physical confrontation

The use of the phrase 'paramilitary' is a soundbite; there is little evidence at all to say the Police forces using black t-shirts or jumpers are treated any differently by the public at large and why should they be?

Do we now want to waste money on returning to an older uniform? Is this really a best use of tax payers money?

The real risk to community are the front line Police cuts which are impacting communities across Kent; whether they are wearing a white shirt or not. 

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Votes at 16

Just got off Radio Kent after challenging Conservative MPs on BBC Radio Kent this morning about why Tories have refused giving votes to 16 year olds despite the fact many are entitled to fight for our country and pay income tax

Would urge readers to back the British Youth Council campaign for votes at 16 which seeks to recognise the responsibilities of 16 and 17 year olds and enable them to influence key decisions that affect their lives

The argument surrounding age is utterly false; many 16 and 17 year olds pay income tax and National Insurance; gain welfare benefits; consent to sexual relationships and join and fight for our country in our armed forces. 

Many I have met have an academic background and a stronger grasp of politics then those more senior in age, due in part to the introduction of citizenship classes under the last government

There are those of all ages who have a stronger grasp and level of intelligence on our political process just as some people will understand single issues more then others; as is the natural way of things. Ask me about a game of football in detail and I could only give you a basic commentary; that knowledge is not age related. 

A number of right wing commentators from the general public went onto say those that happen to be unemployed or on benefits should have the vote removed. A very concerning narrative if pursued and one which would subvert the basic premise of democracy; that we should all have say if we are taxed and are capable of fighting for our country

In 2010, David Cameron invited the British public to be part of the UK Government; his promise though will fall on deaf ears to thousands of people who have no voice to influence change. 

It is simply not acceptable to expect service to our nation without giving people the chance to influence those that make policy

Many of my constituents would like the opportunity to vote on the Tory record in Parliament on youth issues; including the record of our local Tory MP in Chatham & Aylesford who abstained on Tuition fees which are to rise to £9,000, supported a budget which cut the Educational Maintenance Allowance, and is backing Kent Tory Councillors who are cutting Youth services. 

Monday, 10 September 2012

Mere speculation...

Boris Johnson may be trying to work a clever political narrative of win-win with Medway and London residents if you look at the potential outcomes of the Aviation consultation. 

Like the mythical Janus out of Greek mythology Medway residents could be being played as mugs by Tories who are preparing the ground-work; slowly but surely for an Estuary solution over the next three years.

Imagine you were the advisor to the Mayor of London and you need to have a coherent position which not only benefits his position, but also makes the prospects of a Tory government in 2015 more likely; and his ascendency to the top job more secure.

I speculate:

Tories win the next election

  • Estuary Airport proposed - Boris has left his legacy as Mayor of London and has cemented himself as the pre-emptive leadership favourite to challenge Cameron in his second-term as the lead voice in a multi-million pound infrastructure project
  • Heathrow extension proposed  -  Boris having been the main figurehead against the campaign against Heathrow - along with Zac who is making as about as much noise as you can -  could stand as a stalking horse mid-way through the Cameron second term of office having been the largest opponent. He will win significant support in West London after backing a Goldsmith by-election in 2014 on the prospectus of opposing Heathrow and will position the Conservative Party as both being the lead proponents AND opponents on the issue. 
  • Both proposed - Should that outcome occur Boris can go into the leadership ballot on a platform of opposing all future development and running down Heathrow over a manageable period; so gaining both of the above. Boris has won the debate and left his legacy whilst winding down Heathrow over a manageable period

Labour win next election
  • Proposed alternative solution within existing infrastructure - Cameron lost because he dithered and delayed on Aviation which highlighted his weakness as leader. He would stand as a stalking horse candidate in the leadership and command a significant profile in the Tory membership for being bold. 

The Tories can not be trusted on the airport; that much throughout this process is absolutely certain. 

I believe the Conservative Party is moving quite overtly towards an Estuary solution; a simple time line shows that at every stage the Conservative Party has allowed the goal posts on the Estuary solution to slip. Time and time and time again.

Over the next 12 months expect Boris to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayers money on a campaign to discredit our area and our local position

Cllr Chambers is not a strong enough a leader to challenge this position and needs to understand how he is being utterly out foxed.

Boris has put himself in a win-win situation irrespective of the outcome which is only shrewd if it isnt relentlessly exposed over the next three years.

We need to up the ante and soon; locally we should fund a proper campaign and start engaging local people in a real debate

Time to ramp up campaign

Labour PPC for Chatham & Aylesford has called on the Medway Council Conservative administration to step up its campaign efforts or be subsumed in the national debate over aviation capacity which is due to be completed in the summer of 2015

 Should Medway Council lose this argument our area will be threatend with a mega-airport which will undermine the quality of life for thousands of residents and the bulldozing of historic communities on the Hoo Peninsula. 

 The announcement by the Coalition Government last week gives our Council a three year campaigning window to rally local opposition to any airport on the Peninsula, but it requires political leadership from Cllr Rodney Chambers and the Medway Conservative Group.

 London Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson has promised a 'full throated' and funded opposition to Heathrow Airport and local MPs in South West London have threatened to resign and call by-elections over the proposals. 

Conservatives in London are to run and fund their own consultation exercise which is being designed to pursue an Estuary Solution. A consultation exercise which could, in theory, ballot local communities in the areas surrounding Heathrow.

Tristan Osborne said;

"It is clear that the London Conservatives will try and pit anti-airport campaigners in South West London and North Kent against each other in a deliberate attempt to divide-and-rule over the location of an airport. 

Whilst respecting the independent commission established by the government it is very likely the Mayor will try and pursue the Estuary solution as the only feasible alternative to Heathrow; and he will use the significant financial resources at his disposal as Conservative Mayor of London to fund activities to pursue this objective"

"Local car stickers and posters are all well and good but the change in the resolve of the London Conservative administration means we now need to run a professional and highly visual campaign and which will rally the public. 

I am calling on them to start a lamp post poster campaign - as with the campaign to oppose Cliffe previously - and for further exploration of a referendum of the local electorate, as soon as possible, so that we can give people a chance to respond and send a message to local MPs and the government"

"The Conservative-led Local Enterprize Partnership has not ruled out the Estuary Airport over the long term and its clear that dithering and delay in London will lead to a further move in Parliament by Conservatives to pursue an Estuary solution; via the establishment of a Parliamentary Group which could streamline legislation should it be proposed"

"If the Medway Conservatives cant stand up for our area with a meaningful campaign the public across our towns will rightly judge them in 2015 should the idea be proposed"

Friday, 7 September 2012

How much more can you stomach?

I do not share all its conclusions but its commentary on the coalition is spot on the money.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Commuters clobbered by Medway MPs

Train fares were the lead issue for yesterday's opposition day debate which proposed that the government introduced a cap of 1% on fare rises for SouthEastern trains.

Two of our MPs abstained and one was absent for this crucial debate. 

The debate gave the opportunity to cut fares for Kent commuters to a more affordable level given the economic conditions

This policy of a reduced cap was one which Conservative MPs, like those in Kent, have previously campaigned on (see the Kent Conservative website) and where we have had cross-party consensus in Gun Wharf to cut the fares; recently documented in the letter sent by Cllr Phil Filmer to the government.


“Many people in Medway rely on trains to commute to work outside of Medway and fare increases could drastically impact on their ability to commute to their jobs.

“Medway Conservatives appreciate that investment in services is necessary but for hard squeezed commuters to have to dig deep in their pockets in these tough times is not the answer. I am calling on Southeastern Trains to keep fare increases to an absolute minimum.”

It is sad that Medway Tory MPs ignored local Councillors, ignored local residents and ignored South Eastern commuters and voted to keep RPI +3%.

They claimed it was opportunism yet the proposal was similar to that two of our MPs signed as an EDM in 2010; it was a costed and reasoned proposal to reduce the cap to +1% across the entire network.

It is also one which the Conservative government introduced temporarily last year;
  • Inflation figures confirm that current RPI figure (Retail Price Index) is currently 3.2%. This means regulated rail fares are set to increase on average by 6.2%, with train companies allowed to add another 5% on top.
  • Labour believes that train companies should not be allowed to increase fares by more than one per cent above inflation across their routes. Hard-working commuters are already being hit by other cost of living increases in their everyday lives while their salaries remain the same.
  • The annual season ticket from Medway to London Stations is £3,524 and for HS1 £4,412 and from Aylesford/Snodland the annual season ticket is £3,676
It is simply unsustainable for commuters in Chatham, Aylesford or Snodland to be potentially paying £4,000 in January 2013. It is pricing people off rail and threatening family budgets at a moment when the Tory economic plan has led to zero growth in the economy.

Our MPs have let down commuters across Kent by voting to retain the +3% RPI rail fare increase which is a direct cotnradiction to the stated position of local Council groups and Medway residents

The vote last night reinforced that Fare isnt fair under the Tories; they have sold out on their committments to fare payers. They have the wrong platform and should change track.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

No mistake; Estuary Airport still on table

The news that Justine Greening has been shunted out of the Department of Transport was met with a metaphorical cheer yesterday from anti-Estuary airport activists from across North Kent. 

As this blog remarked at the time; the appointment was foolhardy and unwise and the result was a year of dithering, snubs, delayed consultations and inept management; Justine simply was never going to be an impartial arbiter on aviation; as someone who took the proposal for Heathrow expansion to a judicial review it was hardly something she could propose.

I suspect that is why the government dithered and delayed on aviation; had she of course accepted a cross-party working group at the get-go she could have denuded the opposition. That however was not her intent; she wanted no expansion and no debate on expansion at Heathrow and as is becoming clear that position is now shifting in the Conservative Party much to the annoyance of Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith

The resulting appointments of Patrick McLouglin and Stephen Hammond into the respective Secretary of State and Under-minister should however be a warning light to anti-Estuary campaigners and a reinforcement of the fact that whilst the Tories got the strategy wrong with Justine Greening MP there is still a clear and present danger of an Estuary Solution.

 Three pieces of evidence point to this outcome:

  • Patrick McLouglin as aviation minister from 1989-1992 has had responsibility for airport expansion before and was considered a safe pair of hands. Indeed; he was open to ideas of expansion both at Heathrow and in other locations; and according to Times today refused to rule out expansion in North Kent.
  • Stephen Hammond has u-turned rather recently on his opposition to Heathrow expansion (see his #TwoFaced switch from here to here); he has expressed the following which should send warning signs

 "I was initially sceptical but am now convinced that the demand for capacity out to 2075 should be met by a new hub with at least five runways. Estimates are bandied around of the cost of the airport and associated infrastructure, which make a new airport look unaffordable. However, we should remember this is inflated by opponents. There are at least two feasible proposals identified and there is appetite to invest in UK infrastructure projects, certainly to the tune of the £30 billion which will be required.

A new airport would need government backing. It would also require some public financial support but with public borrowing costs at the lowest rates for a century, this would represent good value. The reality is that procrastination is now the only real impediment. And with six years of planning phase and six years of build phase, it could be open by 2025"

Put the bubbly on ice; the Estuary Airport isnt gone; it could be argued that the #TwoFacedTories are just changing tactics and faces to make it look more legitimate and are about to put both options on the table 

Monday, 3 September 2012

Follow the Money

Source: Medway Messenger

Next time you get a leaflet from your Conservative MP or Councillor; just remember the money has to come from somewhere.

In this case it is either coming from a number of elite Conservative clubs in London; a non-domicile multi-millionaire and a number of private donors with links to big money and industry.

It must be pointed out however that a number of these donations were made prior to the selection of candidates and a number of donations were in lieu of other costs.

Getting a message across is of course a necessary part of the democratic process but when its funded by those not paying taxes or via secretive Tory clubs it raises questions about the sources. 

You can read more about the specific donations here; very little has come from local sources which does raise the question of whether the Tories are buying Medway votes?