Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Economy and Jobs First

At the time when highstreet shops are closing and people across Medway and Kent are suffering we needed a government which is focused solely on growing our economy and drawing down our deficit. 

We needed a government which would not put the stability of inward investment, of house prices and of our future as a global tading partner at risk.

We all know that Cameron did not want a referendum. This has been extracted like blood from a stone because Cameron knows that this issue will define his premiership like it has every other Tory leader. 

And this will end badly for him; just suppose the British electorate are duped into thinking this mob have a clue about how to run our country; and what will happen next will be the cause of the instability. 

Immediately after May 2015 the focus will turn to the upcoming vote on membership and the Tory right wing flank will focus its efforts, not on seeking another term in office, but in spending the first two years of the next term trying to undermine their own leader, who it seems from his speech today will be taking a pro-EU stance.

The Tories will descend into a two year bout of internecine warfare at exactly the time the Eurozone will likely recover with direct investment flowing into countries with a certainty of remaining in the market. 

Cameron will fall because he cant win, which is the reason why this trap is one he has tried desperately to avoid.

If Cameron wins the ballot to stay in he will never be forgiven by the right of his party for 'selling out' on the core principles of leaving, and highly likely to have a leadership challenge from within his own ranks. This is clear because the majority of Tory voters and members are the same people calling for withdrawal. Those anti-Europeans - on losing - would topple him.

If Cameron loses he will likely resign causing an immediate leadership ballot; so resorting to a quicker transition of power to a more right wing candidate.

Assuming of course Cameron actually gets to 2017 and the Thatcherite rump (who would have even more power with a small majority Tory govt) would not put an end to him as soon as the legislation went through knowing his position was pro-EU.

Cameron has already alluded to the fact he only wants the job for another term; he has already made it clear to the public he expects to go. 

The press meanwhile will have a field day from 2015-2017 trying to find splits and divisions within the government and as a result the British public will tire of the political class even further. European leaders will be briefing on our scenario on exit and the terms of the subsequent agreement should we leave.

All of this of course will happen when Britain is trying to compete in a global economy for increasing direct investment and access to our market. No Asia-Pacific bank or company will look to Britain if we are not able to have access or influence policy in our own backyard. The United States has made its stance pretty clear that this is not in their interest; expect US companies to be making this pretty clear.

The reason why I cant support a referendum as defined today is pretty simple
  • Terms - Cameron did not define the terms; to what am I supposed to be voting to opt into; what type of Europe is he seeking to create? He wants a referendum on a position he has not defined to the public. Cameron took a pro-EU position today but to what? It was inconsistent and flimsy.
  • Timing - Britain needs stability in our economy. We have debt rating agencies threatening a downgrade of AAA status; we have a ballooning debt and a deficit reduction cycle in tatters and a Coalition which is focused more on putting stickly plasters on divisions then working
  • Tone - France and Germany will now effectively have an influence over our electorate. They will, through their own actions, decide the parameters and tone of the debate. They know Cameron wont leave but they also know they can define the terms or parameters of our referendum through their own actions or inactions.

Companies looking at investing in Britain from now to 2017 will be concerned; our credit rating; and future economic recovery depends on stability. Stability for our mortgages and stability for Britain.

Only last year I highlighted the case of Vestas which shut shop in Britain because of a lack of certainty on renewables. Companies in constrained times make important decisions based on government policy.  

Cameron claims to want to be in the EU, but for many in the Conservative Party, getting the Prime Minister to commit now to an in/out referendum is not about consent, but about exit. They are only interested in one outcome; and that is our withdrawal... all other ends justify the means. 

People such as Sir Martin Sorrell, the Chief Executive of WPP Group, Sir Roger Carr, the Chairman of Centrica, and John Cridland, the CBI Director-General, have all been clear in warning of the dire consequences for the UK in leaving the EU.

Sir Richard Branson said recently: 

"An exit would be very bad for British business and the economy as a whole.  The UK must not become a peripheral country on the edge of Europe.  This will be damaging to long-term prospects of British business and also in the country's ability to attract new international companies to set up and employ people in the country.”

Labour’s approach is that to get the best deal for Britain we need to be round the table with our allies in Europe, not shouting from the sidelines with one foot already out of the door.

I am clear, like many of the people I speak to, that the priority now must be jobs and growth. People are worried about their jobs and our high streets are in crisis. Our economy is stagnating and unemployment is too high.

That’s why I am so concerned that because the Prime Minister has shown he is just too weak to control his own party on Europe, and risks creating years of economic uncertainty that will put investment and jobs at risk – just at the time when we need them most. I blogged in 2007/08 that Cameron should have lanced this boil in a clause 4 type moment; but his modernising credentials failed him on this and many other issues; which is why the Tories did not win the election in 2010.

If Tories think a more right wing position is a sensible one to follow they are certainly heading in the right direction. It is a position which may win the election in 2015 because such things do have populist appeal; but courting populist appeal at a time when the world economy is in recovery leads to unintended consequences. 

I am clear that the EU needs to change and work better for people in here in Britain.

I appreciate that in the short term this will not be popular; I fully expect the Tories to be playing games with Labour's position in Westminster for short term political advantage; but government is about the medium-long term interests of Britain not short term polling to stop UKIP in 2015. With office comes responsibility.

Clearly David Cameron is a Prime Minister in office but not in power; imprisoned by party interest and it will be his ultimate downfall.

So as Labour, we will make the hard headed, patriotic case, founded on the national interest, both for Britain in Europe, and for change in Europe.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Logic of Soda ban

Worth watching to understand the problem and the proposed policy background and rationale

Smoking dad?

Hard hitting Department of Health Videos on smoking. 

This is why you can never stop campaigning... and offering help to those who do smoke to make it as easy as possible to quit; for them and their families.

The government does have a role to play in promoting healthy lifestyles and restricting things which do us harm. 


Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Time for Landlord register

The lack of decent, affordable housing in Medway, Aylesford and Snodland is a huge issue and local families will be dismayed that this current Tory-led Government has cut the budget for building new affordable homes by 60 per cent.

This lack of housing has led to a massive increase in the number of people who rent their homes privately, including more than one million families with children. Unfortunately this has also led to a rise in problems associated with renting.

As Councillor in Luton & Wayfield I have lost count of the number of visits to residents with severe damp issues, electrical problems and broken heating systems and of the complaints against landlords who happily take the rent

Only this week we saw an example with AMAT that is a private association which is not maintaining a quality service according to the media. Many Conservative Councillors have lambasted the service but when it comes to introducing tighter regulation over Private Housing Associations, Private Landlords or others they conveniently step back.

Fine you might say; hypocrisy others might say.

If Tory Councillor's were being genuine with the electorate they would call for tighter scrutiny of landlords and rental agencies operating in the private rented sector. We all know there are too many rogue landlords and agencies who are charging rip-off fees for sub-standard housing and hard-working people in Medway and Kent are being let down and ripped off.

But this is when outrage turns into small state realism. The values of Conservatives are to complain but then when given a solution which involves local or national government intervention they do nothing. That is the reason why I suspect my case work will not change one iota until a Labour government is elected in 2015. 

And a tenant looking to rent a new home faces a wave of confusing and often hidden fees for administration, credit reference checks, tenancy renewals and for checking in and out of the property. This lack of transparency makes it hard for people to shop around with average fees estimated at £226 per tenant and £76m per year across the whole private rental sector. This is therefore not just impacting the poor but the young as well. 

Whilst estate agents can be banned for bad practice, lettings agents are not subject to the same stringent complaints and redress procedures. We cannot have two nations divided between those who own their homes and those who rent which is why Labour is determined to find a One Nation solution to the problems associated with renting.

Labour in Medway want to introduce a national register of landlords and grant local authorities greater powers to root out and strike off rogue landlords. This would make it easier for local authorities to tackle rogue landlords and to strike off those found to have broken the rules. We would also provide a system for people to get redress when a lettings agent has ripped them off, just like we have for estate agents. 

And we would end the confusing and inconsistent fees and charges regime, making fees easily understandable, upfront and comparable across agents.

These policies could make a real difference to people in Medway and in the inner city wards of Chatham, Rochester, Gillingham and Strood who feel trapped and exploited at having to rent their homes from rogue landlords and unscrupulous agencies. It would allow neighbours peace-of-mind that properties are not being overcrowded

We have an opportunity to take action but we risk letting this chance slip by unless the Tory government and our MPs make a stand. 

Alcohol related admissions rise

A very concerning statistic indeed which shows that intervention is necessary in relation to alcohol dependency in the Chatham and Aylesford constituency for men and women.

Whilst many assume alcoholism is more a problem for men it is not born out in statistics

Alcohol consumption in excess can ruin lives and it can destroy families. Whilst many assume it is solely a male problem statistics indicate that over 39,000 women are currently being treated which represents 35% of all such admissions. This % figure has remained statics for many years as the numbers continue to rise significantly

I am particularly interested in the alcohol statistics as Luton and Wayfield ward has the highest level of ward admissions for alcohol related problems in the Medway Towns. 

This anecdotal evidence below suggests that the problem is worsening in many areas with more people being treated putting a strain on the NHS. 

I would fully support minumum pricing policy on alcohol and restrictions on sales and Council enforcement of licensing. I am also working on extension of Control Zones.

Sum of the alcohol attributable fractions(1) for women in Chatham and Aylesford parliamentary constituency of residence(2) and England for the years 2007-08 to 2011-12(3)
Chatham and Aylesford parliamentary constituency of residenceEngland

Female clients in treatment, 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11
Source: National Alcohol Treatment Monitoring System Statistics Report, 1 April 2010 to 31 March.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Medway Parish Precept

At this moment bean counters in Medway will be going over the Quarterly figures and will be preparing for the next full budget to be presented in March.

Today's cabinet meeting will discuss the direct cut to government grant by the Conservative Government which, when you cut through the smoke, mirrors and deliberate Tory obfuscation stands at a budget cut of 3.65%. Taking into account inflation and most residents can read the runes; our services, already stretched by increasing costs to Adult and Children's care are going to be stretched to breaking point.

The direct government grant however is of course the larger; but not the only, part of the equation.

Medway Council is likely (though not confirmed yet) to be rising Council Tax on all residents by approximately 2% this year. This on the face of it would lead to some objection, given this tax rise will come in addition to the Pickles Poll Tax of on average £233 for 14,000 or so people currently receiving a Council Tax Benefit; and the changes to Universal benefits happening on the same day. This is going to be a tough year for our poorest residents.

The interesting point that has, and is rarely looked at, is not just the amount the Council is cutting from the most vulnerable; and raising via direct revenue on Council Tax; but also on the threshold to precepts or levies which the council does not directly control.

Our Tory MPs are always happy to challenge the Police and Fire precept but are always very silent when it comes to Parishes.

In Medway 25,000 residents or so live in areas with Parish Council's; many with inconsistent transparency, rather poor and inaccessible websites, and press commentary in recent years of ruling cliques. Many are subject to democracy in all but name with uncontested elections and co-opting of Councillor’s widespread. I know however that some have strong and committed representatives who are genuine community champions, whilst others are used as a staging post for greater office. There are some great examples and there are - to be fair - some very poor examples; and the inconsistency is stark because of a lack of direct oversight.

Many of these Councils charge not just a small amount, but sometimes up to 10-20% more on the average Council Tax bill with those in bigger properties paying a larger amount. 

An example Medway Parish precept is below currently represented by 3 Conservative UA Councillor’s and is in addition to the Medway Council tax.

A   -   £190 extra
B  -   £223 extra
C  -  £255 extra
D   -  £286 extra
E  -   £350 extra
F  -   £413 extra
G  -  £477 extra
H  -  £572 extra

Many Medway Councillor’s are rightly concerned about the level of Council Tax and we will be debating the rise in the coming weeks no doubt. The elephant in the room though is that of the precept which will see some of Medway’s poor and middle-income residents paying more depending on whether they live in Rochester or Hoo.

The precept is not capped which means we could see big increases in light of inflationary pressures and cuts. In addition; the totally opaque nature of our current settlement means Parishes will probably be struggling to understand their total tax base. This makes setting of precepts very tricky.

As a social democrat you will be unsurprised to note that I in favour of better services and in many areas a level of tax which support these services well. I am in favour of Councillor’s supporting their communities and justifying higher tax levels. I do consider it mildly hubristic for those same Councillor’s to be decrying Labour for high tax levels when many themselves benefit from the same argument in terms of services rendered. The fact Parishes get away with the precept is because they top-up and offer additional services.

There is a wider political point here; in that some of the biggest advocates for small government and low tax rates are ironically representatives of areas with bigger government in terms of support for services; and they celebrate it. Food for thought.

The message for Parishes in Medway though is stark; with costs of living going up parishes need to be aware that increasing precepts will be scrutinised by your electorates, who like me, share a concern around the level of transparency and democracy on display in parish structures.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Europe Speech Prediction

This may be the week that reality for the Euro-loons sets in; because all polling shows that on current polling they have a fundamental weakness when it comes to Cameron's big speech; David Cameron wants to stay in.

I always said Cameron should have lanced this boil in 2008/2009 when he had the capability as leader to rid himself of the unhinged zealots which comprise the anti-European rump of his party. He could have lanced this boil by setting a conference speech on a moderate and sensible position on Europe and challenged the zealots; instead Cameron dithered and this rump has been a thorn in his side ever since.

Cameron's big European speech in two weeks will do two things; 

It will firstly position that now is not the time for a referendum and that any such decision should be taken after the Eurozone crisis has been resolved and Europe is stable. A position this blog has consistently positioned.

This is important as the Euroloon argument is based on negativism of todays Europe falling apart; they lose a core argument if our economy and that of Europe as a whole starts to pick up.

In addition people will not vote to hurt their own self-interest; this is interesting as on polling people think their lives will worsen if they leave the EU. Most people dont like EU bureaucracy but when asked whether they will be better or worse; even today; people are still wanting to remain. This to me is the death-knell to the anti-EU argument.

The other interesting fact, but dont let the Tory factions continue to squabble, is the large number of people who don’t take sides, especially the 62% who either don’t know what effect leaving the EU would have on them personally (22%) or say it would make no difference (40%). These people will be persuaded by the big personalities; Hannan and Carswell are not Blair, Cameron or the CBI.

Some interesting polling today which will only widen:

Outside the EU, things would be...
difference %
know %
Britain's economy29341918
Jobs and employment27302419
You personally18204022
Britain's relationship with the US10245016
British influence in the world9403814

The second is the vote will be on one of two or three options including that of a renegotiation of undefined powers from the EU.

As soon as you position a 'renegotiated' position then anti-Europeans lose the debate (and that is taken on current polling in the middle of a downturn) let alone one where they will have a Prime Minister, HM Opposition, CBI and most moderates against them. A renogtiation option - but to remain in the EU - shows a 2:1 remaining currently. 

The Euroloons will lose this argument unless they get an immediate vote; Labour should be prepared for a referendum and perhaps look to Cameron's position to work against his own membership and party... 

Cameron is weak but also shrewd. Expect him to kick this into the long grass and then expect him to persue a symbolic re-negotiation of powers.

Will the Euro-loons fall for this? No way!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Firm outcomes needed on Primary Schools

One of the more interesting developments last week was a meeting between Medway MPs with Barbara Peacock. The big question eminating from the meeting - aside from the lack of detail - was why Cllr Les Wicks and Rehman Chisthi MP were not in attendance.

Was this a diary oversight?

Given both Cllr Les Wicks and Rehman Chisthi MP represent all and 2/5ths respectively of the population of the Medway towns; and one is the MP for Gillingham and Rainham; it just seems to many parents that once again the Medway Tories as a whole are not prioritizing the issue of Primary Schools.

Indeed, before posting this blog I waited a few days to ascertain whether follow up meetings were due to occur; perhaps a press statement from Rehman’s office or a comment from Les Wicks on the meeting. I have heard nothing which is not to say nothing is happening, merely perhaps it has not been communicated well to the public, which given public interest is important as well.

Having meetings with officers is of course important and Mark Reckless, to be fair, has done an analysis of sorts on schooling in Rochester and Strood, though his solution limited to procuring good headteachers; but the public need an action plan and also follow through on what happens if results are still poor by Autumn / Winter 2013. Given our MPs are involved this surely now becomes an issue they should all accept responsibility for.

No one is expecting miracles but the public need to know by what measure is considered a success on KS2 and OFSTED; because without a coherent and firm direction of travel parents will righly ask whether anyone is to be held to account should, once again I fear, we remain close to the bottom of the table.

It does not look good that Rehman Chisthi appears absent when it comes to cross-constituency working in Medway. One would hope that securing improvements to Primary School results would stand above all other issues.

Labour is willing to work to improve results but we do believe that with a new, and highly capable, officer that new political direction from the Council is required. It is not a partisan point because the opposition don’t call for every portfolio to resign; but do believe Cllr Wicks has outlived the role which is shared on Tory blogs and we suspect in the Conservative membership.

We and they are not alone in this assessment; the press and public share concern which is why MPs refusing to answer the question on political direction; and whether they back Cllr Wicks; could be considered dereliction of responsibility. How can they claim to be standing up for pupils when pressed on the political direction, which is the area of MPs expertise is it not, they simply refuse to deal with the issue?

For an MP to say they only wanted to meet the officer in my mind is counter-intuitive; and highlights the level to which they are unwilling to engage on the substance which in the case of MPs is the politic as well the outcomes. In the case of education in Medway the two are linked because the Council Portfolio holder is the face of policy and delivery to the public.

In some cases new direction requires renewed political leadership; they either agree or disagree with this position

I assume a follow-up meeting will occur with Rehman and Les Wicks and perhaps then the public can get some concrete proposals which the public can scrutinise and hold those in office to account. 

If we don’t get concrete proposals then the public will rightly hold our MPs to account for the failure to lead on this crucial area.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Coalition Cracking as Minister jumps ship

This week, just over halfway between the last general election in 2010 and the next general election expected in 2015, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have reprised their Downing Street Rose Garden moment and reaffirmed their coalition vows. 

But no amount of re-launching can obscure the reality of the impact of their time in office. No doubt we’ll have more smiles and claims of success but people in Medway and Kent won’t be fooled. They know that this is a Government that promised change but which has made things worse, not better. 

That David Cameron and Nick Clegg are keen to re-launch is predictable. In recent weeks this Government has revealed itself as hopelessly out of touch with the concerns of hard-working people in places such as Medway , Snodland and Aylesford. But their problem isn’t their media strategy – it’s their failed policies and a re-launch isn’t the answer.

Meanwhile today Lord Strathyclyde called it a day and threw in the towel. Cameron replaced him with a man who tried to resign but could'nt at the last reshuffle. Replacing one man who threw in the towel for another who tried too... 

At the Autumn Statement George Osborne tried to claim he was making scroungers and benefits cheats pay the price for cutting the welfare bill, but that quickly unravelled when it became clear that his changes are actually going to hit people who are already in work. 

This shambolic Government has failed to help hard-working people who are struggling to make ends meet. They have failed on growth and jobs; the cost of living is soaring, with prices going up faster than wages; the economy went in to double dip recession on their watch; and the benefits bill is set to soar by £13.6 billion higher than forecast. All of this means that they are having to borrow more than they planned to pay for their own failure while hard working families pick up the bill.   

And their failure extends far beyond the economy. They have pushed through a massive, wasteful upheaval of the NHS whilst almost 7,000 nurses have been axed and more people wait longer in A&E; 15,000 police are set to go by the next election despite their promises to protect the frontline; house building starts have fallen; and Sure Start Centres are closing. This is the price we are all paying for Tory failure.

People don’t want relaunches, they want a One Nation government that will bring us together to overcome the challenges we face. The truth is that all David Cameron and Nick Clegg can offer is division and more of the same. They simply cannot be the change we so desperately need. 

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Nanny has a role to play

An interesting debate last night between left and the hard libertarian Conservative Party right last night which shows you the divergent opinions on health within our towns.

This is very important for residents because public health and the responsibility for scrutiny is the preserve of Medway Council and the Health and Adult Social Care Overview & Scrutiny committee. This committee is Tory-led and policy formulating so it is important that the views of Conservatives and their supporters on health are exposed. In Kent County Council also the Health Overview & Scrutiny committee is Tory dominated.

The two issues my libertarian colleagues were expressing surrounded the concept of state intervention in promoting health by banning or management of substances which can cause harm; and the treatment of health issues which arise from potentially such excess.

The Conservative argument expressed is the state has no place at all in banning, legislating or promoting healthy activities which could curtail the freedom of those who make us unhealthy, and that as a result it is for the individual to make a rational decision with all the facts. As a result; if you were to get unhealthy, you should have to pay - at the hospital - to cure yourself because the state should not treat you equally to those who have not made the same 'lifestyle choice'

Assuming of course the libertarian argument that freedom requires access to all the information and facts which in reality never happens because people misunderstand fact which is presented in different ways, and that these people are willingly choosing to make themselves unhealthy, the issue then arises does the state have a wider role to play at all to ensure we live healthier lives? 

They would say no. 

This is where I part company in that people dont make decisions based on objective parameters, and are heavily influenced by emotion and the environment around them, which means individuals dont necessarily make the right choices for their future. 

How many documentaries on those with Liver disease have I watched where the patient regrets the decision and would not want to go back again? 

I have always, and do consistently believe, the state has a role to play in promoting healthy lifestyles and eating and should be seeking to promote education of health choices. In addition it should seek to restrict, 'ban' or manage social health outcomes if issues are leading to wider public harm. Obesity and alcholism are two such areas where state intervention is needed because the problem, like with other addictive behaviours, will not cure itself without education and intervention.

The libertarians start from a blank canvass but it is worth reminding ourselves how 'nanny' state has intervened in the past to set the context for why it is not a slippery slope towards state control but reasoned policy to safeguard people. 

It seems strange now, but back in the 1930s the issue of milk pasteurisation was controversial with 2,000 deaths a year from bovine TB, mainly due to people drinking raw milk. At the time many experts  recommended milk be pasteurised - heated to kill bacteria - but the libertarian right opposed this as state inteference in lifestypes. Only in 1949 did a bill finally come before parliament with campaigning MP Dr Edith Summerskill saying: "Pasteurisation has been prevented by ignorance, prejudice and selfishness."

The statistics show she was right. Nowadays the infection of humans with bovine TB is virtually unheard of. Since the pasteurisation of milk - and indeed before then - a series of public health measures have helped to prevent disease and ill-health. Of course the introduction of Pasteurisation would have led to additional cost on milk production and would have led to some losing business or becoming less profitable; but today the standard is set and progress made.

Air pollution was brought under regulatory control in 1956 with the Clean Air Act following the death of 4,000 people in the London smog of four years earlier. And the 1960s and 1970s saw a series of measures, including drink driving and seat-belt laws, to curb the number of deaths on the road. Of course the introduction of Clean Air laws led to red tape on industry which led to decline in profits but the result today is a healthier society and air we can breath.

The introduction of a seat belt regulation for all drivers in the 1990s was met with hostility from libertarians yet its use has saved lives and actually not fundamentally undermined our rights. The introduction of a smoking ban in public places; which many libertarians still hack over; resulted in a small decline in attendance in some bars but improved the working environment for employees in pubs - who didnt smoke - do not have to breath fumes from those that do. Many look back it now and wonder how we all survived in smoke filled bars and how our clothes stank at the end of the night... alas hindsight. 

Taking away the carcinogenic and major health issues around smoking which are not in dispute - countless studies prove it causes cancer, heart problems and other issues - but we still have some libertarians campaigning to stop plain packaging which has been introduced in Australia. It is only a matter of time given the statistics on smoking are stubborn.

The Scottish government is also introducing minimum alcohol pricing and it is welcome to note some Supermarkets are restricting alcohol sales. The scourge of heavily reduced drink subsidies which were tightened up under Labour and the fact people are not binge drinking to a closing time has reduced the problem of late night rowdyness... though more needs to be done. We have seen a reduction in alcohol consumption in young people from 18-24 for the first time in decades with Labour legislation but the legacy of alcohol remains; especially in my ward which has the highest rate of alcohol related admissions into Medway hospitals.

At every point society has come upon a major social health problem - and obesity by the way is the latest 21st century problem - their has been one of two responses. We either put our heads in the sand and allow the problem to worsen or we can learn from history and engage with the issue head on through legislative action. I say we learn from history.

Dr Chris Spencer Jones, the former chairman of the British Medical Association's public health committee, said: "Public health measures can have a huge impact and at times have played a more important role than medical breakthroughs.

"The UK has often not been the first to introduce these, but we have been good at implementation and that has saved many thousands of lives."

My guiding principle is that government should intervene if an individual's or organisation's actions are harming others which is why intervention on high alcohol drinks and a curtailment of fast food chains are necessary; be that licensing hours, use of trans-fats or indeed super-sized portions or just to copious advertising that goes through doors in my ward and in Medway.

There is of couse a happy medium to be had on the above; Frosties at breakfast is an example of high sugary food but other examples could be better highlighted. The free mega-sized chocolate bar at WHS Smith when you buy a paper etc..

Where I differ further from my Conservative friends however is on dealing with health care as a consequence of the above perceived 'lifestyle' choices.

Dr Phillip Lee MP and his surrogates have positioned that people should be forced to pay for health care if their 'lifestyle' (and how this is defined in law would interest) was a contributory or main cause to their health problem. Dr Lee suggests that people then have to pay - by credit / debit or cash - at the hospital for treatment; perhaps on drugs or a treatment regime. 

The problem with this libertarian position is that where is the limit defined. Many cancers could be caused by lifestyle choices in addition to genetic predisposition to a particular cancer; do we charge those with skin cancer because they tanned too much twenty years before diagnosis. Do we charge for statins for a gentleman who is overweight and has been admitted with an emergency heart attack? Do we charge for those from the sub-continent who do not present obesity in the same way as Caucasian patients; and thus are more pre-disposed to Diabetes? Does an adult who has been fat since childhook (because of parental choices on diet and a lack of education by schools) not deserve the same treatment? Does someone who has found out she has an unplanned pregnancy have to pay? 

These are all clear points where 'lifestyle' hits reality hits individual grey lines; no person is the same but assumptions can be made which may be wrong; Tories should be considering this before rushing to the press including those with medical backgrounds who should know better 

And more importantly who makes the above judgement to charge; are doctors forced to make economic decisions whilst examining patients. Do NHS bean-counters obesessed with rationining have the final clinical choice on those who are unable to afford health care or drugs?

The problem with this libertarian view is that, like most of their rabid arguments, they dont stand up to scrutiny. Clinical decisions by doctors on the frontline should not be based around economic judgments and the ability to pay; or indeed even making judgments on lifestyle which could turn out to br wrong through misdiagnosis or early misjudgement by junior doctors. 

And going to the opposite extreme - because Tory MPs are an inconsistent bunch are they not - we have another Conservative MP, Alec Shelbrooke, taking state intervention a step too far by targeting those on welfare with ID cards so that they cant spend any money on anything other then what the state gives permission for; taking the argument of state intervention to another level he has callously mixed the issue of cost of benefits to the government with that of reducing perceived undesirable behaviours. A truly dangerous position for a mainstream politician to take. It would be totally unenforceable; watch out for HM Government white vans trying to stop people getting hold of pound sterling ...

On childhood obesity - where remember the parent makes the choices in many cases on diet - Medway does have a problem; the above table highlights the issue we have in our towns and you can read more about it here

I believe that national and local government does need to be more proactive in managing health which is why I support the move to look at whether we cant change the licences of fast food chains near schools; in the same way the Council has the ability to change the licences for alcohol sales in our pubs for the social good. 

Obviously the above can not be isolation which is why we need to encourage personal responsibility an fitness and work on school sports initiatives. 

We also need to accept that with the rise of computers people are becoming more sedentary which means ensuring nutritional guidance is advertised on all products is absolutely key. 

People need to be educated on healthy eating but having 15 fast food restaurants stuffing pizza and kebab shop leaflets into peoples letter boxes in my ward is in my mind contributing to health problems; I think its time we legislated on it to stop the waste in paper and something which actually irks our residents.

Local government has a major part to play with government; we have seen this throughout history and whilst being sensible and reasonable it isnt always the case that the state restricting and banning things is negative.

p.s. In case you are wondering I have never supported a ban on fast food outlets near schools without firm evidence which does not exist. I do think stronger licensing should be looked at.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Job Guarantee will help constituents

Every week I speak to people in Chatham, Aylesford, Snodland and the villages who have a job and are working hard but still rely on their tax credits to help make ends meet until payday.

Times are tough. And sometimes we all need a bit of extra help. That is why we have a system to help people out if the worst happens. But we need to reform the system so benefits are tough, fair and reward people who work.

George Osborne and David Cameron have tried to divide the country by dishonestly claiming that their welfare policies are targeting the work-shy and benefit ‘scroungers’.

It angers me that bright people in government are deliberately playing divide and rule games with peoples lives and those who are working on low and medium incomes. Especially as they are struggling to pay the everyday household bills.

For those that don't think the Tories are targeting working people and nor are they playing games I urge you to read the piece by Conservative Cllr Alan Jarrett (above) in today's Messenger where he accused the government of playing games with local government finances and forcing local Tories to tax the poorest; the same games with a different context are being played on welfare and it is grossly irresponsible. 

The contribution of Ian Duncan-Smith over the New Year compounds the government error; an article which was factually spurious still has not been rebutted or refuted in government. His figures were way out and they were pandering to the worst public instinct.

The TUC poll gives the reality on the ground:

The Tory attempt to play politics has backfired. The changes they are making will hit people who have a job and are working hard to make ends meet. Quite simply, they are introducing a tax on strivers.

Because the economy has flatlined, George Osborne will be borrowing £212 billion more than he planned and it’s working families across Kent that will be paying the price of his economic failure.

Two-thirds of people hit by the Government’s cuts to tax credits and benefits are in work. And make no mistake, while they are hitting striving families, they are giving a £3 billion tax cut to the very richest people in the country.

Over Christmas I met a number of small business owners who are looking to hire but are being hampered by this Tory government; I also meet people who are struggling to get work.

Like everyone, I want to cut the benefits bill. But the best way to do that is to get people into work, not punish people who are already doing the right thing by working but are struggling to make ends meet. This is why I also oppose the rise in SouthEastern train fares; because it is the Tory government which is taxing work and its strangling our economy

I want a system that helps people who are doing the right thing and trying to get a job or our already working but struggling to make ends meet. I want a One Nation system which is tough but fair and which rewards people who work.

That’s why I am pleased that Labour has announced a compulsory jobs guarantee for people who are long-term unemployed.

The guarantee means that every adult who’s been out of work for two years would be offered a job. And they would have to take it or lose their benefits.

This will help up 285 people directly in Chatham and Aylesford, 790 people across the Medway seats and 9,800 across the South East region

Labour would pay for this by reducing the tax relief on the pensions of people who earn over £150,000. When times are tough it cannot be right that we subsidise the pension contributions of the top 2 per cent of earners at more than double the rate of people on average incomes paying the basic rate of tax.

David Cameron cannot be the one nation Prime Minister Britain needs when his government targets people in work and people who want to work, and labels them as scroungers. A One Nation approach to welfare reform is one which is tough on the responsibility of people to work if they work, but fair to those who are in work or genuinely want to work.

This is in contrast to the Government whose approach on welfare has shown them to be more interested in exploiting the challenges the country faces than solving them.