Andrew Laird: The Prime Minister’s devolution drive will protect public services from Brexit chaos

Andrew Laird is a founder and Director of Mutual Ventures.

A couple of weeks ago, Boris Johnson’s first full policy speech as Prime Minister focused on English devolution. Manchester was a significant choice of venue as it is the area in England (outside of London) which has enjoyed the most devolution of powers.

As the former mayor of London, the new Prime Minister is clearly a big fan of devolving powers to cities and local areas. This is very good news indeed for local public services.

While ministers and Parliament focus on delivering Brexit, local services (e.g. adult social care, children’s services and even the NHS), are looking increasingly like unintended victims. These services need constant care and attention, both through legislative updates and serious policy research and discussion at a national level. But they haven’t been getting any of this.

Over the last couple of years there has been an increasing number of central government actions and decisions being delayed, which has made life more difficult for those delivering local services. This is largely due to ministers and MPs focusing on Brexit and thousands of civil servants being taken away from their normal jobs of supporting public services to work on exit planning.

Regardless of your view on Brexit, this was always going to be an inevitable consequence. The Brexit process has taken up policy-making and decision-making headspace usually spent on other things – things which are essential to smooth running of public services.

As an example, one of the biggest challenges facing the Government is the funding crisis in adult social care. Alongside devolution and infrastructure investment, Johnson has also identified social care as a key priority. The green paper on social care needs to set out a serious long term financial answer – but it has been continually delayed.

There are three Brexit-related issues causing this delay.

The first is creating the time for ministers and the Cabinet to agree to the plan – there hasn’t been much non-Brexit bandwidth at the top of government. This extends way back before the leadership election which itself caused additional ministerial stasis.

The second is that the planned cross-government spending review can’t really take place until our path through Brexit is confirmed. It’s impossible to set out a long term solution to social care without knowing the funding available.

The third is that any serious social care solution will involve tough decisions which will require media space to explain it to the public. Again, there isn’t much non-Brexit media time at the minute. So social care services have been left to struggle on without any long-term funding certainty.

This is already having a much wider impact across public services. Without setting out a long-term funding solution for social care, NHS reforms will struggle to take hold. The NHS and social care are inextricably linked, with service users often bouncing between the two in an unplanned way. So Johnson’s decision to focus on resolving the adult social care crisis is to be welcomed.

Turning back to devolution, distributing funding and decision making to cities and local areas is a big part of the immediate answer to challenges like social care – and also a mechanism to prevent the build-up of issues in the future.

Across the political spectrum, the Prime Minister is largely preaching to the choir on devolution. West Midlands Mayor Andy Street is already showing what can be achieved for a region with devolved authority and has set out his asks from the new Johnson administration on this site. We also have the beginnings of the “Northern Powerhouse”, based around the 11 northern Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Inspired by this, a recent report commissioned by Bristol, Cardiff, and Newport City Councils (‘A Powerhouse for the West‘) is calling for a similar arrangement along the M4 corridor, from Swindon across to Cardiff and Swansea, and from Gloucester and Cheltenham to Bath and Bristol. Grand partnership strategies like this, combined with more localised devolution to cities, councils, and combined authorities, are what is needed.

The drive for devolution has been knocked down the priority list. This was once a really positive agenda item for central government. Giving local areas additional powers was a big step towards empowering local communities, elected mayors, and councillors, and had the added benefit of insulating local services from the process of delivering Brexit.

Johnson has recognised this, and he should move quickly to encourage and support a new wave of devolution deals.

Read More

Home ownership is managing a modest recovery

Part of the story of the last General Election was how many younger voters, with the aspiration to become home owners, decided to vote for a Marxist-led Labour Party in frustration at the difficulty in seeing their dreams realised. It might seem an odd protest, but if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Has anything changed during the last couple of years? Not fundamentally. As the Prime Minister might put it, there has been a period of “dithering and delay” regarding housing policy under his predecessor, as on other issues.

Whisper it softly. While there has been no breakthrough, there has been some modest, incremental progress. Property prices have been becalmed – falling slightly in London, rising roughly in line with inflation elsewhere. At the same time, we have seen real wages rise. It follows that this makes buying a home more affordable (or less unaffordable) than previously. The latest English Housing Survey says:

“In 2017-18, there were an estimated 14.8 million households who either owned their home outright or were buying with a mortgage. This represents 64 per cent of all households. More than half (53 per cent) of owner-occupiers (and 34 per cent of all households) own their home outright.”

A year earlier, the figure for home ownership was 63 per cent. A year before that, it was the same.  Home ownership peaked at 71 per cent in 2003. An increase from 63 per cent to 64 per cent might be just margin of error territory, though the sample of 13,000 for the survey is pretty hefty. Or it might be the start of a trend. The other guide is the Dwelling Stock Estimates. That is also mildly encouraging in terms of the latest data:

“The proportion of dwellings in owner-occupation increased steadily from the 1980s to 2002 when it reached its peak of 69.5 per cent. Since then, owner-occupation gradually declined to level out at 62.4 per cent in 2015 and 2016, increasing slightly to 63.2 per cent in 2018.”

If we already have a slight trend in place and we can notch up a percentage point each year, then after a few years that becomes rather important. If the radicalism of the new regime sees bold reforms such as the easing of planning restrictions and a reduction in Stamp Duty then that would be further encouragement.

There is a caveat. These figures are for households not individuals. After children grow up, they are staying at home with their parents for longer. If the son of a home owning couple is still in situ, aged 32, unable to afford to rent or buy, then he is in an “owner-occupied” property. That does not mean it is a satisfactory outcome. It may be very annoying for all concerned.

What about the expectations of those renting that they will one day be able to buy?

“In 2017-18, 25 per cent of social renters expected to buy a property at some point in the future, down from 30 per cent in 2016-17. A greater proportion of private renters expect to buy – 58 per cent, unchanged from 2016-17.”

In many ways, the situation for the social renters is where it is easiest for the Government to make a difference. The promise to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants, on equivalent terms available to council tenants, has yet to be fulfilled. The Conservatives need to get on and deliver it. There must also be a right to shared ownership brought in.

Boris Johnson, speaking at the Conservative Home fringe meeting at the Party Conference last year, recalled being a young reporter on the Wolverhampton Express and Star and being sent to see a couple who were complaining about damp. He said:

“It was a terrible scene. They were sitting there and with the heating on full blast and a baby crying, and the condensation dripping down the window, and there were these great black spores all over the wall. The chap was in his socks in an armchair and in a state of total despair. He was worried about the baby’s cough – which was getting worse. The council wouldn’t do anything, and he felt he couldn’t do anything – because it was not his property, and I could see that he felt somehow unmanned by the situation. And I felt very sorry for them both – because they were total prisoners of the system.”

That remains the reality. It is no solution to make speeches about how “social housing is a force for good.” Overall it has been disastrous – although much of the early Housing Association building was attractive, thanks to philanthropists with a sense of pride in the legacy they were providing. Nor is it much use to patronisingly tell people trapped in the system that they simply mustn’t feel any stigma about such tenure. People tend to spot that Conservative politicians telling them how splendid social housing is, have generally taken the opportunity of home ownership for themselves and their families.

So we should not despair. Home ownership is not a lost cause. It should be embraced by Conservatives as a moral as well as a political mission. The young are just as ambitious to achieve it as were previous generations.

Read More

Each household may be required to have a row of specialist dustbins

In a Simpsons episode, Ned Flanders is extolling the merits of recycling “just our way of giving Mother Earth a great big hug.” Montgomery Burns responds sarcastically: “Yes, well, it does sound delightful. I can’t wait to start rummaging  through the trash like some half-starved raccoon.”

It sounds as though the rummaging involved is to become more onerous. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has been investigating the Waste Strategy for local authorities. It is published by the Environment Department and includes plenty of positive and interesting points. Chapter 7 considers innovation and new technology. What can be done to encourage switching to plastic that is made of starch and thus biodegradable?

Other points seem less sensible. I am usually suspicious that imposing greater complexity ends up being counterproductive. It sounds as though the Government wants each household to have its own row of specialist dustbins. Clive Betts, the Committee’s Chairman and a Labour MP, asks Therese Coffey, an Environment Minister, about it:

Chair: Is it not the case that although you have given a range of options for councils, every householder will end up with at least four bins outside their front door?

Dr Coffey: Not necessarily. I have seen good development down in Canterbury City Council; they have done designs for their bins. I have seen other places where, in effect, they have one bin but inside they have different caddies. It will vary according to demographics and the type of housing stock that is there. I have seen it differentiate within a council area as well, though I cannot recall where off the top of my head.

Chair: We will come on to garden waste; I do not want to go into that specifically. You have asked for food, garden waste, general waste and recyclables, as a minimum, to be collected separately. That is four containers of some kind.

Dr Coffey: Yes. It is not necessarily four bins, but potentially four containers, yes.

Chair: I would be interested to see the containers that contain four different types of refuse to be taken away.

Dr Coffey: As I indicated earlier, it will vary from area to area. If you look across the border to Wales, there are some places that have nine bins for people to do the separating. Some of this will vary by council. The MRFs and the SMRFs are able to do the separation. In other areas they have asked householders to do more of the separation at the collection point, so that it makes it easier for the recycling to happen. Again, it will, to some extent, vary by area.

Chair: That explains the difference between four and six, in terms of how you do recyclables and whether you do it through a SMRF or separately. It does not explain the difference in terms of at least having a minimum of four.

Dr Coffey: Indeed. I can think of people having a food caddy; I have seen that quite a lot in people’s homes, which either then can be put in with the garden waste or collected separately. I have seen different things on paper. I have seen it vary around the country. There is good practice out there and councils are learning from each other. They still are well placed to make the decision, but we do have to have these overall attempts to try to reach our statutory targets. MHCLG, contrary to Wales, absolutely did not want councils to have individual statutory targets. It felt that was too far in our Government thinking, whereas in Defra—I am not pretending otherwise—I was quite keen to press minimum targets for councils. I think that we will see a different way that evolves, not necessarily in statutory targets but in how councils then respond to domestic pressure on why perhaps their recycling rate is so low in a particular area when it could be a lot higher, when their neighbours are a lot higher.

Unsurprisingly the European Union has a lot to do with it. Apparently, the imperative is to follow something called the “Circular Economy Directive”. For instance, here is Teresa Pearce, a Labour MP, asking about garden waste:

Teresa Pearce: Good afternoon. Could you explain why the Government are proposing that local authorities provide free garden waste collections despite local authorities seeming to oppose this?

Dr Coffey: When it comes down to it, the way the targets and the EU law are written is all about weight. It is not necessarily about the value of recycling products; it is all about weight.

Teresa Pearce: So it is about chasing tonnage.

Dr Coffey: It is about chasing tonnage; there is no doubt about that. The other thing that is important about garden waste is that it can also help with the reduction of carbon emissions. It depends on how people process their garden waste. If they decide to compost at home that is one way they can help to do that, but garden waste can just be put into the landfill bin and then into landfill, and that is bad for carbon emissions. There is an argument, absolutely, about tonnage, in trying to make sure that councils collect as much weight as possible.

Teresa Pearce: Do you think the Government would not meet their target of 65 per cent recycling in 2035 without free garden waste? Is that what you are saying?

Dr Coffey: The “free” bit is to try to maximise that as much as possible, but I have to say that the EU are now trying to change the basis on which the 65 per cent measure is calculated, though it is all weight still. Yes, we will struggle if we do not collect food and garden waste.

Teresa Pearce: You mentioned home composting; would it not be better to encourage that rather than a free service for garden waste?

Dr Coffey: It is certainly higher up the waste hierarchy than landfill, but composting itself needs to be done properly, again for it not to then create carbon emission problems. It is easier said than done, and I am conscious that there is that element. It definitely helps percentage-wise. I should say “percentage” rather than “tonnage”, coming back to what I said earlier. It certainly helps if you can recycle garden waste.

Teresa Pearce: We took some evidence from Somerset Waste Partnership, which told us that garden waste was one of the top two reasons people use recycling centres. Having spent most of Sunday morning at one myself with a car full of garden waste, I know that that is true. Have you looked at all at whether, if there was free garden waste collection, that would risk the long‑term viability of recycling centres? Have you done any work on that at all?

Dr Coffey: I do not believe that that is the case. I do not know what size your garden is at home, but mine is probably about half the size of this room and I can assure you that it relies on more than a fortnightly collection when I need to make sure I am processing my garden waste. I think people will continue to use that anyway. It will vary around the country.

Free garden waste collections are popular as they are perceived to be environmentally beneficial. That perception is probably false – see here and here. If, perhaps through technological advances, that equation changes, then so should the policy.

Might not having all these extra containers result in more contamination and thus disrupt the recycling process? It would be pretty frustrating if after the higher cost to the taxpayer and extra time spent by the householder, all this unsightly clutter failed in its objective.

The point is that Ministers should have to justify these decisions entirely on merit. It should no longer be justified with a shrug and a remark about meeting EU requirements. Nothing in this Waste Strategy should be imposed on that basis. From November we should start lifting bad rules that the EU forced us to adopt. That will be a big task. But we surely should not press ahead with those that are in the pipeline.

Read More

Free schools must be set free

Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, has pledged that free schools will be at the heart of education policy. In terms of the numbers, the growth of free schools has been strong. There are now 444 of them. There are hundreds more in the pipeline.

But the mission to provide innovation and wider choice is not just about numbers. Do free schools have enough freedom? A recent report from the New Schools Network suggests they could and should have more:

“The free schools programme must now return to its original purpose and mission. Recent narrow restrictions on the types of schools that can be approved and the bureaucracy of the application process have hampered the growth of the programme. Innovation and community led schools, which were the driver behind the free schools concept, are completely absent in recent waves. Where highly successful free schools already exist, they are struggling to expand and spread excellence. There is a risk the system is becoming dominated by a few big regional players, creating barriers to unleashing the next wave of innovation in education. In recent years, the policy has continued to see success in niche areas, such as the approval of four new university sponsored 16-19 maths schools and the growth in the number of special school places. Yet the original vision of the mainstream programme, which brought so many benefits to the thousands of children, has disappeared.”

It offers the following recommendations:

  • Open 100 new free schools each year, concentrated in areas that have been left behind
  • Expand the policy to ensure there is a free school in every local authority
  • Encourage new providers to enter the schools system by allowing new single academy trusts to be established, and placing innovation at the heart of the free school assessment process
  • Legislate to compel local authorities to set aside land for new free schools and remove the barriers to opening new schools
  • A new sponsorship model which brings the benefits of a track record of improvement, new leadership and capital funding to schools which have been stuck in a pattern of underperformance
  • Support for small, highly successful free schools to grow their academy trust, sharing their Outstanding practice
  • A new, dedicated, AP free school wave to deliver places for vulnerable pupils at risk of gang violence.

It is undeniable that community-led academy trusts have provided some of the most successful free schools. One of them is Michaela, the secondary school in Brent. The founder and headmistress is Katharine Birbalsingh who is an inspirational figure. Boris Johnson is among the visitors who were impressed.

So it is very welcome that the latest batch of approvals, which was for 22 new free schools, included the following:

“Michaela Community School Stevenage- a mixed, non-faith secondary providing 1260 school places for 11-18 year old pupils and will be part of a newly formed multi-academy trust, including Michaela Community School in Brent, judged Outstanding by Ofsted in 2017.”

Other new schools that were announced included Edgar Wood Academy in Rochdale, one of the most deprived areas of the country. The school will be part of the Altus Education Partnership. Its founding school, Rochdale Sixth Form College, has been named as the highest ranked college for value added performance in the country for the past five years.

Newcastle-Upon-Tyne will have the Callerton Academy. This will be led by Gosforth Federated Academies trust, which since 2010 has run the popular and over-subscribed Gosforth Academy, rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

BOA Stage and Screen Production will be a new 16-19 specialist college in central Birmingham. An offshoot of the successful Birmingham Ormiston Academy, it will offer a highly specialised education in the technical and production side of the performing arts for pupils in the West Midlands.

Looking down the full list we can see that other ones will be opening in Barnsley, Doncaster, Oldham, Liverpool, Salford and St Helens. This is where the greater opportunity is needed the most. These are the areas where all too often parents are not happy with the choices currently available. For many children, these new schools will be transformational for their life chances. Will the local MPs welcome their arrival? Or demand they be closed down?

Boosting free schools is not the only answer. Just as important is to speed along with the forced takeovers of failing schools which are then reborn under new management as “sponsored academies.” The challenges are great in turning round a school.  Reputations takes time to recover even if the name is changed and a new head and governing body brought in. On the other hand, at least the building is already there. Finding premises for new schools is the hardest part, which is why the recommendation noted above to force councils to release sites is very sensible. I would also like to see independent schools give a bigger role. The Assisted Places Scheme should be revived. It should also be made easier for new independent schools to start up, which would result in downward pressure on school fees.

The moral and political imperative is to be bold with school reform. Labour, the “enemies of promise”, threatens church schools, free schools, academies, grammar schools and independent schools. The Conservative reply should be to back all these schools. They should be given more freedom and more chance to expand. Then Jeremy Corbyn will find there are plenty of parents, teachers and pupils willing to defend their schools from his attack.

Read More

Brexit will mean that local government loses an alibi for red tape

When I was a local councillor, the council officers often came up with a cunning ruse to block one of my bright ideas. They would say it was illegal. Often this excuse would unravel. This is because “my” bright idea would be really to copy something that was being done in Wandsworth. Why should something be banned (or compulsory) in Hammersmith and Fulham, but not in Wandsworth? Another response I would come up with, was to ask which law they were referring to – then a bod from the Legal Department would respond to “clarify” that the initial claim of illegality was nonsense.

But at other times the objection was valid. It might well be explained that it was due to a requirement from the European Union. Or perhaps the details went beyond the demands of the EU as a result of being embellished in Whitehall. This is the practice known as “gold-plating”. One begins to see how freedom is unduly constrained. The EU makes a demand, the law that ends up being passed goes further, then local government pretends the law goes further than it does. The ban on using imperial measures is an example. Planning rules are another. Also bin collections.

From time to time a deregulation initiative will be announced but overall the burden grows each year. Apart from the EU, we have all these domestic agencies with a vested interest in widening the scope of regulation. They charge registration and licensing fees and impose fines. The more revenue they gather in, the higher the salaries of their officials.

This is not a new problem. The other day I was rereading The Mad Officials by Christopher Booker, a volume which was first published in 1994. Here is just one of the many examples he included:

“The Abbeyfield Society is a Christian housing association with 1,000 independent houses all over the country, where small groups of people can live together in a homely setting sharing domestic chores. In 1991, Environmental Health Officers began calling on a number of these virtually private homes, announcing that, under the Food Safety Act 1990, they must now be treated as ‘food businesses’ and are therefore subject to all the regulations applying to restaurants and other catering establishments.

“When an EHO from Salford City Council walked into the kitchen of a home in Walkden, run by the Abbeyfield Worsley Society, his first action was to throw a wooden cutting board and rolling pin into the bin saying ‘these aren’t allowed’ – despite protests from the owner that they had been a wedding present many years before. What followed was a battery of statutory Improvement Notices served on the home by the council, including a ruling that residents could not work in the kitchen without special protective clothing…”

So far as I can gather, some of the provisions in the Food Safety Act 1990 were at the behest of the European Union, others were not. It is even possible that some of them may have been of some genuine benefit. But as with so much legislation, we can see that it passed without enough regard to the cost or the unintended consequences. Far from being modified, it has got worse. Subsequent changes have added further layers of complexity.

Often it is local government that is supposed to enforce all these laws. So it would be useful to know which ones the Government plans to scrap. Councils are also keen to discover the new regime for procurement. The present arrangements imposed by the EU are highly cumbersome and greatly increase costs. What will the new rules be?

What is truth? Defenders of the EU are fond of declaring it to be “myth” that some new directive from Brussels is to blame for some threatened absurdity. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. But often the truth is hard to discover as lawyers and bureaucrats wade through the paperwork as baffled as the rest of us. What of the decision by Cardiff Council to ban the recycling of teabags? The Council claimed it was due to the EU. The EU gave a sort of non-denial denial. It was listed as a myth but the EU said:

“Whilst household catering waste – including teabags – falls within the scope of the EU Animal By-Products Regulation 2002, national rules may still be applied to its composting.”

Leaving the EU should allow some of that fog to clear. It will remove the alibi for poor decision-making, not just in Parliament, but in our Council chambers.

Read More

James Palmer: Devolving adult education is helping to give the young the skills they need

James Palmer is the directly elected Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

With the creation of the Combined Authority in 2017 and the devolving of power, a budget for Adult Education initially seemed a surprising addition coming alongside our primary responsibilities of Transport and Housing. Unlike secondary level education or post-16 skills, the adult education budget had not been a famous topic for national discussion. However, in the short two years I have been Mayor of Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, the skills agenda has increased the pace of progress more rapidly than anyone had previously anticipated.

Being given a budget of £11.3 million, we were keen to cut the red tape attached to Adult Education as soon possible. The previously centralised direction of spending was unimaginative to say the least. Time and money were being spent on ‘leisure and pleasure’ courses such as basket weaving, bridge playing, and language teaching – prepping people for their holidays. Not only that, but these were being used largely by people already equipped with high-level qualifications; that is not the priority of a budget for Adult Education and it has taken the creation of further devolved government to recognise this and to bring immediate change. Of course, there will always be a welcome role for community learning as it does much to tackle social isolation for the elderly – and yet the balance of this with skills is something that needed immediate revision.

This September will be the first year that the Combined Authority will be delivering a revitalised budget. The last two years have been spent working with the educational providers and hearing from local businesses to ascertain the demand of skills required in our job-laden area. As a result, we are placing a far greater emphasis on those with lower level qualifications and on courses that meet the skills needs of the area. Running closely alongside our work for Adult Education has been the development of our Local Industrial Strategy in which we see education playing a key role. In pooling two separate spheres of research, we have chosen educational courses that will actually enable students to get on and grow in skills, confidence, and ability; thereby improving the spread of employment throughout the area.

Previously, the Whitehall approach placed a large onus on getting ‘bums on seats’, regardless of what course or what qualification the students were entering in on. With our new approach, we are able to ensure that this budget is benefiting those with little or no qualifications first and foremost.

This again signals the wonder of devolution. As here in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough our economic backdrop contains a mixture of agri-tech, manufacturing, and engineering companies requiring more skilled workers. Whereas in Andy Burnham’s region of Greater Manchester, the skills needed will no doubt be different from ours and in Andy Street’s West Midlands, different again. Regardless of the differences, we can now be more confident that local people relying on these services will be provided with the opportunities to get on in life, right where they are.

My driving vision is to ensure that more people across my region can benefit from the strong economic growth that is taking place across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. In focusing our budget with a localised view, areas such as Fenland are seeing record amounts of spending on the Adult Education services.

Building on our new approach to adult education, our programme to provide additional skills is being continued with the creation of the University of Peterborough – a uniquely technical and skills based university that will serve the needs of the local economy. With this skills based university, we are wanting to do something completely new. To enable this, we have been working closely with the business community of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire and the surrounding areas where the need for skills-based work is high. We carried out a survey of local businesses to help us shape the University’s curriculum and over 60 per cent of local businesses who were contacted responded, demonstrating the clear appetite and support from local business to this kind of approach to higher education.

Those that will attend Peterborough University will have an opportunity to undertake a vocational course whilst also gaining the socially developmental experience of studying at university. Many young people today are weighing up the cost benefits of a university education as the cost of tuition fees can be off-putting for many; this project can be used to encourage further education that is future focussed and vocationally driven. By tailoring the courses to the needs of the local economy, the skills demanded by local employers can be met in a self-sustaining fashion, thereby furthering the economic success of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Degree apprenticeships will be based upon training students for the needs of prominent local businesses such as agricultural technology. Resultantly, the supply demands of businesses and services in the area can be met by those local to them; as well as attracting others to enter in to work in the area.This will help our young people into well-paid secure jobs fit for the rapidly evolving 21st Century workplace. The university is on course to open in September 2022 to its first 2,000 students on the embankment site in what is planned to be an iconic building for Peterborough.

By continuing to streamline the Adult Education budget and making a success of the University of Peterborough project, I believe a strong case can be made for further devolution of Education. This could pave the way to see the overall transformation to regional Education that people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have been longing for. In order to unleash the potential of this area we will continue to focus on stream-lining Adult Education, building momentum for the inclusion of post-16 skills.

Read More

Matthew Barber: The police need proper powers to deal with illegal encampments

Matthew Barber is the Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for the Thames Valley. He is currently the Deputy PCC for that area.

Dealing with illegal (or unauthorised) encampments is not about stigmatising a nomadic way of life or criminalising a section of the population. It is about dealing with a serious problem of anti-social behaviour and criminality that in some quarters is overlooked or downplayed for fear of being accused of discrimination.

Nevertheless, if you are a teacher organising a sports day on the school field, or the volunteer helping with the village fete, the arrival (illegally) of several vehicles in the area allocated for the coconut shy is a real problem that people expect the police to deal with.

The law, as it stands, is not on the side of the police in meeting the public’s expectations. The powers that police officers have to move unauthorised encampments are limited and responsibility often falls to the landowner. If that is the local authority, they may have the resources to deal with the problem, but often it is a private landowner who cannot afford or is intimidated to go to court. It’s perfectly likely that criminal damage may have occurred, perhaps cutting a lock to enter the site, but there is often no evidence about which individual is responsible to justify an arrest. There may be numerous other reports of crimes or anti-social behaviour in the area. Undoubtedly some will be exaggerated or repeated rumour, but genuine victims will also be scared to give evidence to the police to progress action. After a few days of apparent inactivity by the authorities, the current residents of the village green will move on, leaving behind a costly clean up and a bitter memory within the settled community.

All of this may sound like a reiteration of the excuses used time and again, but it is really the diagnosis of the problem for which we must find a solution.

Like our new Prime Minister, I am an optimist, and once the more immediate challenges facing the Government are dealt with, I hope that he will enthusiastically throw his full and energetic weight behind changes to the law in this area. Following a consultation the Government had earlier this year, they promised to amend the legislation relating to illegal encampments. This is a real opportunity to get the balance right and to deliver the powers that are needed. I have been talking to local authorities across the country who have been taking different approaches to the problem. I have also been in contact with the Garda in the Republic of Ireland who work under a very different legal framework to see what lessons can be learned.

Some of the changes outlined by the Government should be welcomed, but I believe the changes can go further. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to tackle an issue which is a persistent complaint from residents across the Thames Valley and I am sure across the country. Currently, the police have to rely on loosely framed powers (Sections 61 and 62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) or hope that there are other criminal offences that can be used. This is inadequate – and stronger powers are needed both for land-owners and the police. I have no desire to prevent people from having a perfectly legal nomadic lifestyle, but the law must apply to all, equally and fairly.

As with all sections of the community, there are criminal elements within groups of travellers but the police cannot and should not tar everyone with the same brush. In the same way that if there is some criminal damage in my road, I would not expect a whole family to be arrested if one member of that family is suspected, the travelling community should expect fair and equal treatment.

Until the law is changed the police will continue to fail in meeting the public’s expectations, not through lack of endeavour but through inadequate powers. The solution isn’t limited to the criminal law; housing authorities have a role to play as well, as is apparent in Ireland.

I am a pragmatist, rather than an ideological politician, but if the Conservative Party believes in anything it should be private property and the liberty of the individual. It is perfectly possible to frame the law so that it respects the freedom of individuals to move around the country freely, whilst respecting the rights of landowners. The right to roam is not the right to occupy any piece of land you choose.

This is a problem for police forces up and down the country and Police and Crime Commissioners will be at the forefront of ensuring the law is changed where needed. There is a solution to balance the needs of all communities and it is a solution that a Conservative Government can deliver.

Read More

Tim Passmore: Joint working is the way to fight crime in Suffolk

Tim Passmore is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk.

This November I will have had the privilege of being Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for seven years. As you probably know, this important public service role replaced the former Police Authority, with a single person democratically elected to act in the public interest, and to try and ensure the delivery of an effective and efficient police force in their area. The Chief Constable has operational independence, whilst at the same time the PCC sets and agrees the budget. With that comes the responsibility of setting the level of Council Tax in the force area.

Personally, I find one of the biggest challenges in this role is drawing the line between operational independence and upholding the public interest and accountability, bearing in mind the PCC is overall responsible for the budget– I’m still trying to optimise the balance but I am getting there…

The 43 PCCs in England and Wales are also responsible for commissioning victim services, which is largely funded with a grant direct from the Ministry of Justice. This is a credit to the coalition government who recognised the need to place the victims of crime at the focal point of the whole criminal justice system. An excellent start has been made, but there is still some way to go.

To make your tenure a success, it is crucial to have meaningful and regular engagement with the public and with all sectors of the economy. In Suffolk I am particularly fortunate to have an excellent team that works with me (as opposed to for me) including our head of public affairs and engagement. Her commitment to the role has made an enormous contribution to raising the profile of what policing and victims work we undertake and its relevance to the local taxpayer. The cornerstone of this success is a detailed series of public engagement events and discussions blended with a mix of media columns and interviews, websites, social media, and online surveys. The essential nature of sound internal communication programmes must not be overlooked either.

In my view, any aspiring PCC must have the best public engagement colleague possible and one you can trust completely and rely on for their advice – even if it seems at times to be difficult to accept.

Amongst other notable achievements I was particularly proud to veto a proposal to close our control room and hive the service off to Norfolk. I could not see how this would have improved policing in Suffolk and there was little evidence to support this proposition. That said, you can sometimes be placed in an uncomfortable position when you are in a minority of one.

By supporting the collaborative moves with policing colleagues in Norfolk the two forces have yielded annual savings on a recurring basis of over £37 million, sufficient to employ around 750 police officers. This has enabled us to meet the huge reductions in funding from the Home Office with some confidence and has enabled further investment in better response: a state of the art cyber-crime unit and increased capacity in crucial areas such as roads policing and detective work.

Significant improvements has been made to help victims of domestic abuse (mostly women), sexual abuse (predominantly children), and coercive control. In Suffolk, there is now a properly funded IDVA service (Independent Domestic Violence Adviser) which did not exist when I was first elected. Our commissioning work with crime disorder reduction grants has assisted many disadvantaged people in the county – this included a large fund (£100k) to support the voluntary sector in keeping young children safe online. Over 10,000 school children benefited from this work. I was delighted to announce that a £50,000 fund of public money I had made available to help young people specifically has been very generously matched with a further one hundred thousand pounds from philanthropic donations.

For the future, there is still a great deal to achieve. We must continue to develop the Suffolk “One Public Sector Estate” programme as this provides far better value for money for the taxpayer. In many cases the co-location of the workforce has significant operational benefits for all organisations. This includes local government, fire and rescue, local authorities, and the health sectors – what I have termed a “Suffolk plc” process.

The upholding of the law and support for good policing should be in our Conservative DNA and there have been times when this has been questionable during the last few years. I do not agree with ring-fencing foreign aid when policing has been under enormous pressure due to increased demand and a rapidly changing pattern of crime. Who would have thought that slavery still exists and the appalling rise in violence, much of which is driven by the gang culture and drugs would now be of concern to us all?

We need to remind the government that policing is an important indirect economic driver since there is a very clear link between low levels of inward investment and poor economic growth with high levels of crime, anti-social behaviour, and corruption. Therefore policing must be properly resourced and managed – and this includes having the political will to reform the current police funding formula, which discriminates against the largely rural areas in favour of the urban forces.

More work is urgently required to reduce re-offending rates. This is not about adopting some wet liberal set of proposals but making sure there is a sensible approach to prison reform to provide homes and employment coupled with proper training before prisoners are released back into civilian life. I visited the military correction centre in Colchester last year and was particularly impressed with their successful reform for individuals. We need more of this ‘Carrot and Stick’ approach – Churchill once famously stated there is a jewel in the heart of every man if only you can find it. That’s what the criminal justice system must focus on.

Public sector procurement should do a great deal more to support local business by assessing more clearly the social and economic impact of what is purchased with taxpayers’ money. I for one will be delighted when the EU shackles on procurement are completely ditched – in Suffolk we spend £1.8 billion of yours and my money on goods and services across the public sector and barely 50 per cent is spent with local businesses. An eleven per cent increase could boost the local economy by 200 million – so let us get on with it.

Overall, after a troubled gestation period, PCCs are making a positive contribution to society but there is some way to go. I hope I will be fortunate enough to be re-elected next May to help carry our Conservative values forward.

Read More

Rob Lee: A business-friendly Council would let Hastings meet its potential

Cllr Rob Lee is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Hastings Borough Council.

Nestled on the south-east coast, Hastings makes up about four-fifths of the marginal Hastings and Rye constituency. Hastings Borough Council (HBC) has been under Labour control since 2010 when they narrowly won control. Hoping to win back control in 2012, the Conservatives slipped further behind in what was a disappointing set of local election results for many people around the country, in the wake of the ‘omnishambles‘ budget.

There the Conservatives have stayed. Currently, the makeup of the council is eight Conservative seats to Labour’s 23. There are no Lib Dems or Greens but there is a single independent – who I will get to later. The council is split into 16 two-member wards and, slightly unusually, we go up for election in halves. Only a handful of councils still go up in halves and it is an example of Labour not wishing to save money by going for four-yearly elections.

There have been some good signs in recent years that electorally things might be changing. We held on to the parliamentary constituency with an increased majority in 2015 and narrowly held on in 2017 when similar seats were lost elsewhere. In the county elections, just before that General Election, we made big gains in the borough divisions, gaining three seats off Labour, leaving the split at county level for the Hastings seats being four all. Last year we held our own at Borough and swapped a seat with Labour, only losing in St Helens Ward by nine votes, but winning convincingly in the traditionally marginal West St Leonards Ward by 56.

The Council’s performance is less than impressive however and the last few years have been marred by poor leadership and bad decisions. The Harold Place toilets in the town centre were earmarked for destruction and plans (but no secured funding) were in place to turn the site into a restaurant. With public outcry locally, and a campaign led by the Conservatives to save them, the Labour administration panicked and accelerated the time table for demolition. The grant they had applied for to build a restaurant was not given and the high street chain they had lined up to install into the site didn’t return their calls. Over a year later and there is just a big ugly hole in the middle of the town centre surrounded by hoarding. The public loses again. They have lost the use of a central public amenity and have paid over £100,000 to have it taken away from them.

After many years and several false starts, work has begun on the new visitors centre in Hastings country park. A modest size building that will be partly constructed using straw. An EU grant was available for the project. Despite that, spiralling costs and delays have meant that the council has put £367,000 of money into the project that it first approved in 2014. With the EU grant this brings the total build costs to over £770,000. This equates to over £3,400 per square metre (£318 per square foot) to construct (out of straw) making it one of (if not the) most expensive buildings in the Borough.

Despite the faltering performance of the retail sector nationally, the Labour administration has decided to borrow heavily so that they can buy up retail units within the town. The units are, at best, second rate cast-offs from larger portfolio holders who are quite wisely discarding the riskier end of their property collections to naïve local councils – and Hastings, it appears, is one of those naïve councils. Quite a large collection of units has now been bought with borrowed money, tiny margins are forecast, and no preparations have been made for contingencies such as void periods. The tens of millions borrowed are on terms of up to fifty years, long after the nature of retail shopping may have changed and the future of the units have become unsure, leaving us with a debt time bomb for further generations.

One of the most troubling things about the modern Labour Party is the racism – and Hastings Labour is complicit in it. The independent Councillor I mentioned at the beginning of this article was elected as Labour in 2018 and is Jewish. She has left the party due to the racism she has encountered within the local party. The situation is heightened by the joint chair of the JVL (Jewish Voice for Labour) being a Labour councillor in Hastings.

Despite the gloom over its failing council, Hastings is an exciting and beautiful town with much to offer young families (including my own) and it remains a popular tourist destination for day-trippers and weekend visitors. There has been some good economic improvement since 2010 but it still has some distance left to travel. There is great potential in Hastings which needs to be unlocked and it needs a business-friendly Conservative Council to do that. This is part of the offer that we will put forward next year to residents, along with more focus on homelessness and rough sleeping, and ensuring that Hastings becomes a cleaner and greener town.

Read More

Abi Brown and Dan Jellyman: We are witnessing the Conservative urban revival in Stoke

Cllr Abi Brown is the Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council. Cllr Dan Jellyman is the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Infrastructure & Heritage on Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Not so many years ago, Labour held all 60 council seats, alongside three rock-solid parliamentary constituencies. Today, Stoke-on-Trent has a Conservative council leader, a Conservative-Independent coalition starting its second term, a Conservative MP, and a threatened insurgency into a second parliamentary seat, where the sitting Labour MP defends a majority of just over 2,000.

This isn’t so much a story of the 2019 local elections, but as a lesson in how to win long-term, in Labour’s urban heartlands. Abi has blogged before on the Conservative successes in Stoke-on-Trent, and since 2015, our presence has been boosted by taking the Stoke South seat in the snap general election. However, our performance in May, underscores what has been a ten-year plan to turn this Labour ‘people’s republic’ into one of the hotbeds of Conservative urban revival.

Long term plan

The number of Conservative councillors in Stoke-on-Trent have fluctuated over the years, but remained focused in particular areas. The city moved to all-out elections in 2011, ending the tiring practice of elections by thirds, although disappointingly, we only returned two councillors to a newly-reduced 44 seat council. However, these were the early years of our Conservative Federation – one of the first in the country – and gave us the opportunity to really consider how we grew, and where to target. The 2015 local elections coincided with a general election, and our parliamentary candidates immediately bought into our long term vision, and shared our success when we increased councillor numbers and ate into Labour’s parliamentary majorities.

Labour’s local complacency allowed us to form a coalition with the independents to run the council from 2015, enabling us to both campaign and deliver. For four years, we spent significant amounts of time honing what we do and applying those lessons across other wards. With more councillors, came more activists and more activity.

And of course, 2019 we more than doubled our number, just two seats from being bigger than the Labour group. We have resumed our successful partnership with the independents and now have the leader of the council in Abi.

Federation, without doubt, saved Stoke-on-Trent Conservatives, bringing us together as one unit with one plan. Our ten year plan started in 2008, with a focus on strengthening our city base and growing representation and membership. Like many urban areas, our officer team has often overlapped with our councillors, but with a shared focus on outcomes, we ensured strength in our achievements.

Plan well

Every election needs a good campaign plan, but ensuring your campaign is responsive to your local environment is key. Like most cities, Stoke-on-Trent has a range of different wards and communities, which respond in different ways to different approaches. In 2011, our resources were minimum and our expertise only developing – a thinly spread resource in a one-size-fits-all campaign, focusing more on seats we wanted to take rather than hold wasn’t the right mix.

Experience has helped us evolve – no one knows their patch better than hardworking local councillors, and long term campaigning stability allows you to try new campaigning techniques. Every ward is different, but you can often apply the same methods in similar areas. We have used this to give us a head start in new target wards, alongside an open and constructive dialogue with residents. People love to be asked their opinion – but you also need to use your data and common sense.

Social media is now a part of our plan too. It complements our doorstep activity and we recognise it’s a growing part of engaging with people, but has a long way to go to replace traditional methods.

Grow your own people

So you have got a plan and you spend time focusing on how to deliver it – but you need more people. Activity attracts activity, and the more you do, the greater your chances of finding people, but in cities you need to plan to promote. One of our local strap-lines is “working for residents all year round not just at election time”, and we live by that. For residents to trust you, they need to see you – and that is the first step you need to secure before they’ll ever think of standing for us as a candidate.

Most of our candidates have started out as people who were friends of friends, who came along just to help out. So you need regular campaigning sessions that you promote, and you also need a sense of fun. We also make sure we take up all offers of help – when your numbers are small, you can’t afford to let enthusiastic people walk away.

Today, we are back on the campaign trail in Stoke-on-Trent. There are no local elections now until 2023, but there is a general election coming – however, one thing we know in Stoke-on-Trent is that winning is about campaigning all year round, regardless.

Read More

Mark Hook: One size does not fit all when it comes to planning

Cllr Mark Hook is the Leader of Gosport Borough Council.

Let me congratulate our newly elected leader, Boris Johnson, with his energetic style of management, along with the many new faces in the cabinet looking to bring in additional successful measures beyond what have achieved to date.

From a local Government perspective, there are many things I and my colleagues would like to see happen. We are told the times of austerity are over, yet the shackles and financial burdens we find ourselves under make it difficult day by day to deliver the ever-increasing demands placed on us by central Government and to meet the expectations of the public. Much has already been said and written, issues such as care of the elderly, education, education, education, combating crime and disorder, employing 20,000 new police officers, the work carried out by the NHS and its funding streams. Yet there are many other topics which need careful consideration.

One concern is the National Planning Policy Framework.

The NPPF contains all the matters of Standard Methodology, Affordability Uplift, and the Housing Delivery Test, and is used to determine how many residential dwellings each local authority will have to deliver over a given period to meet the Government’s housing target – currently set at 300,000 dwellings per year. That Standard Methodology is largely based upon household and population projections.

When first devised, these projections generally supported house building approaching the Government’s 300,000 annual target.  However, things have changed following the result of the EU Referendum and those projections have substantially reduced the required number of additional houses needed using the Standard Methodology. Some have suggested the number could even be as low as 159,000 per year. The Government has thus far wanted to stick with the 300,000 target, irrespective of what their own Standard Methodology says.  I believe this has put the Planning Inspectorate in a bit of quandary.  On the one hand they have the Government telling them to allow development, and on the other they are obliged to take account of Local Plans that have the backing of communities through statutory consultation and approved by the Secretary of State.

However, when we look at my district, Gosport, which is currently 72 per cent built on, 12 times the national average, it is unsurprising we have very little available space left. We can help deliver housing numbers through the many brownfield sites left vacant through the reduction in the Armed Forces over the past four decades but what we need is to bring prosperity back into the Borough.

Regarding the remaining areas we have, we need to ensure there is sufficient green open spaces and strategic gaps between settlements. What we do have left, we need for employment as we have a job density of only 0.51, the seventh-lowest in the country. Yet the people of Gosport have a great work ethic with over 20,000 people out commuting daily to work with a struggling road network trying to cope to meet the demand.

With what little space we have available to build on, I would like to see jobs being created and delivered, bringing with it the economic prosperity to our town. People should be able to live, work and play to give them a better quality of life instead of the need to commute, spending hours on the roads adding to congestion, pollution, and poor air quality. People are reliant on the motor car as we don’t have a railway station, although there is heavy investment in public infrastructure through bus transport which helps. You see one size does not fit all.

These problems are not ours alone. Neighbouring authorities are having to look at where they can build houses, even suggesting building in strategic gaps creating urban sprawl, which should be resisted at all costs to ensure we keep the identity and sovereignty of our own communities. However, under the current NPPF it is extremely difficult to meet the demands placed upon us.

So what is it that we would like our Government to do? What is it that we would say to our new energetic leader? We would say please be understanding that some authorities’ needs are different from others. Some authorities are full to capacity and need to deliver improved services for the residents already living there.

In looking for a way through this, we might be able to offer the new Prime Minister with a fragile minority administration a possible way out. The NPPF provision contains, I would contend, unintended consequences. In places like Gosport, and other similar local authorities where there are unique and peculiar circumstances, local considerations are such that the Standard Methodology involving top-down housing targets is counter-productive.  What we therefore need is some flexibility from the Government that will allow local authorities more discretion over housing numbers provided they have a robust case.

Read More

Council by-election results from yesterday

Cambridge – Newnham

Lib Dems 774 (59.5 per cent, +16.3 from May) Labour 235 (18.1 per cent, -18.1) Green Party 149 (11.5 per cent, +1.5) Conservatives 143 (11.0 per cent, +0.2)

Lib Dems hold

East Northamptonshire – Irthlingborough Waterloo 

Figures to follow.

Conservatives hold

Worcester – Claines

Lib Dems 1,307 (47.6 per cent, +9.3 from May) Conservatives 1,252 (45.6 per cent, +5.2) Green Party 125 (4.6 per cent, -0.6) Labour 60 (2.2 per cent, -12.4)

Lib Dems gain from Conservatives.

Read More

David Sidwick: The facts show you are safer with a Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner

David Sidwick is the Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset.

I am honoured to be the Conservative PCC candidate to represent the people of Dorset – both the Country and the Coast. When you start on this road you realise something quite alarming right from the start: there is no training course to equip you for the role and you need to acquire knowledge on the hoof. So, after 18 months of research and “seeing practice” with other PCCs, it is clear that knowledge and visibility will be key to getting this done.

There are three questions the electorate wants answers to:

  1. Why have a PCC?
  2. Why a Conservative PCC?
  3. Why David Sidwick?

This first question feeds into voter turnout where the PCC role is poorly misunderstood and its value misrepresented. The PCC in ITV’s Wild Bill is not representative of the Lincolnshire PCC nor is the shady individual in Line of Duty. The answer is to keep repeating what the PCC can do to underpin law and order. The two recent Conservative Home articles by Katy Bourne and Matthew Barber show the value of PCCs as agents of change, as well as their contribution to community representation and accountability.

The third question is for me to address locally in Dorset where the incumbent is an independent.

So I’m going to focus here on the second question. Why have a Conservative PCC? This is the most important question to answer and is particularly relevant in today’s political climate where traditional party loyalties are in a state of some flux. There are four reasons why a Conservative PCC makes sense and we need to keep repeating why these matter:

Conservative Values. The key to a PCC being Conservative lies in our long-term commitment to law and order. We understand how crime impacts people from low level “nuisance” to the more serious offences. We have always stood for aspiration and meritocracy, with individuals having the freedom to live their lives within the law so long as they do not infringe the freedoms of others. This means we Conservative PCCs and candidates take a robust approach – understanding explanations and vulnerability, yet ensuring that these are not excuses and the law is upheld. You may be vulnerable and had a tough upbringing, but that does not give you the right to terrorise your community.

Peelian Principles. It is too often forgotten that the Conservative Party in Sir Robert Peel invented the police force and initiated the nine Peelian Principles. As a Conservative, it’s in our nature to hold these sacrosanct. These have been uniquely constant in defining what a Police Force should do – and inspirational in ensuring success. Bill Bratton – the Commissioner of Police in New York carried them in his pocketbook whilst the NYPD went about fighting crime so successfully. They are all important – but two, I believe, are critical to a modern Conservative view.

Firstly, to reduce Crime and Disorder. This is self-evidently the first clear priority. Secondly, police seek and preserve public approval not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law. Having instigated the principles, the Conservative Party holds them most dear and is most likely to ensure complete independence for the Police from individuals, companies, political parties, and critically, the government.

The Alternatives. Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour believe in removing local need and accountability from the police equation. They prefer moving towards a National Force designed to act on national policing issues directed from the centre. A vote for either means a PCC actively working to make themselves redundant. Whilst there may be a case for reform in some areas to increase efficiency – the removal of a democratic mandate from people is a high price to pay.

Certainly, Labour has a much more insidious agenda – The Shadow Home Secretary is quoted in 2005 as saying: “We are not interested in reforming … the police, armed services, judiciary and monarchy. We are about dismantling them and replacing them with our own machinery of class rule.” This outlook is scary in the extreme. But equally concerning are the libertarian views of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats on drugs policy and the balance between the needs of the victim and community versus those of the perpetrator.

Finally, what of an “independent” – this may be the worst option as they have not faced a rigorous selection process relying instead on a misleading apolitical stance. This means they could display an all things to all men approach whilst following their own or others’ significant agendas. This is not transparent and means they are like a packet of Revels – you think you are getting the yummy orange one but instead you may get the wrinkled raisin at the bottom.

Conservative PCCs – More Effective.

Real data shows that Conservative PCCs are more effective than their counterparts. Having reviewed all 43 forces with both HMICFRS data and Home Office statistics we find the following:

  • Of the 10 best performing forces – nine have a Conservative PCC
  • Of the 10 worst performing forces – only four have a Conservative PCC
  • For total crime rate – seven of the lowest ten are Conservative
  • For Violence Against a Person Rate – seven of the lowest ten are Conservative
  • For Anti-Social Behaviour – six out of the lowest 10 are Conservative
  • In nine out of 11 similar parameters, Conservative PCCs are equal to or better than the opposition.

A Conservative PCC makes sense both philosophically and empirically.

Of course, there are many challenges for all PCC candidates going forward, but we now have a strong case for Conservatism which is far more persuasive than when PCCs first took up office. We need to make the case for why Conservatism should remain at the heart of policing via the PCCs.

Read More

Sean Woodward: How Spitfires are helping the Council Taxpayers of Fareham

Cllr Sean Woodward is the Leader of Fareham Borough Council.

Spitfires have come to the rescue of Fareham Borough Council. Five of the iconic World War Two fighters fly from Solent Airport in Fareham and fuel sales for pleasure flights are reaping thousands of pounds in revenue for the benefit of Fareham council taxpayers. And wise business investment by the Conservatives is sparing Fareham households massive annual council tax rises.

Out of an annual Borough Council spend of £47 million, less than £7 million comes from council tax. So 85 per cent of what we spend includes our trading activities, among them a portfolio of mainly local commercial property that brings in millions of pounds in rent.  For example buildings housing B&Q, Dunelm, Halfords, PC World, etc belong to the Council. Without this income, our council tax, currently almost the lowest in the country, would need to be far higher.

At Solent Airport £30 million has been spent so far on infrastructure and new commercial buildings such as the newly-extended Fareham Innovation Centre, which is already 70 per cent full. Airport operations provide a financial return to the Council, flight movements have increased to 30,000 annually and hundreds of new jobs have been created at what is the Solent Enterprise Zone with many more to come.

I have been Leader of Fareham Borough Council now for 20 years. We have a good record of being a prudent, low taxing Council with excellent services. For the future, we promise more of the same.

Challenges facing the Council include top-down housing figures demanding at least 520 houses per year. I never thought we would see the John Prescott form of meting out housing numbers from a Conservative government.  Something I very much hope the new Johnson team will reverse.  We have never seen much more than half those numbers built in the Borough and they are well above our objectively assessed need.

Ironically while our housing numbers are high our ability to issues planning consents from new homes has been halted by an EU court judgement on nitrates which has stopped any councils in South Hampshire from issuing planning permissions. This is due to the effects of excessive nitrates on the Solent.  Even though some 80 per cent of the issue is run-off from agriculture. Our huge challenge is to develop a mitigation scheme that developers can pay for to reduce the level of nitrates getting into the Solent special protection area. This will require the cooperation of DEFRA (Natural England), the Environment Agency and the water companies. As Fareham is part of the eleven councils forming the Partnership for South Hampshire we are working together to find a solution.

We must deliver a new community called Welborne of 6,000 new homes in North Fareham. As this requires a new motorway junction it is held up by Highways England. We hope to see a planning committee consideration in the autumn.  We have around 3,000 families in need of affordable housing and Welborne will go a significant way over the next 25 years to provide new homes for Fareham people.

As a Council, we will be free of single-use plastics by next year. This is something of great concern to our residents and rightly so having seen the damage caused to our oceans by the fallout from these products.

Town centres are suffering in the light of the switch from conventional retail to online. While Fareham has suffered less than most it is still suffering. We have developed a vision for our town centre to revitalise it with the addition of leisure and housing.  That means us working with the private owners of the shop units to encourage re-use or perhaps conversion to housing.

We have for many years run one of the country’s largest community gardening competitions – Fareham In Bloom. We are successful in repeatedly winning South and South-East England In Bloom with gold for the best large town/small city. We aim to continue to fill Fareham with flowers and enjoy huge community and business support in this work.

We are providing a £10 million+  refurbishment of Ferneham Hall, our entertainment complex which has served our residents well for over 30 years. This will provide an 800 seat auditorium and community facilities. This comes after the recent completion of a second £9 million leisure centre in the west of our Borough. We are all about providing our people with the highest quality services at the lowest possible cost.

Earlier this year we saw some 1,400 good Conservative Councillors lose their seats through no fault of their own. They were swept away by our government’s failure to deliver an exit from the EU.

We distinguish ourselves from such failure by working locally, delivering InTouch newsletters to all of our residents at least quarterly on local successes and issues and working within our wards helping our constituents.  It is by keeping in touch all year round at not just at election time that we hope we can continue to weather national storms.  But we never take anything for granted especially the electors. We do of course live in hope that our new Prime Minister will help with bringing about national enthusiasm for the Conservative cause again.

Read More

Judy Terry: The lesson of tragic fires are still being ignored

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

Preserving ancient buildings and sites, both in the UK and overseas, is essential to understanding the past, as well as the present, yet my research into fire risks – across all types of property – in the wake of Grenfell indicates that period properties are especially vulnerable.

Despite some high profile disasters in recent years and months, are lessons being learnt? It is too easy to forget that Local authorities are guardians of historic buildings, as well as the National Trust, English Heritage, and the Government, so what measures are they employing to protect these assets, employees and visitors?

Major fires which should be influencing policy include:

  • Windsor Castle in 1992, caused by a faulty temporary spotlight, installed during renovation works, setting light to a curtain in Queen Victoria’s chapel. Despite the fire starting mid-morning and a fire alarm triggering immediate action, 115 rooms, including nine State Rooms, were destroyed, but few artworks, furniture and valuable artefacts were lost due to a rapid response by people on-site and the fire service. It took 5 years and £36.5 million(£70m at today’s values) to restore, with the costs covered, in part, by the Queen opening up parts of Buckingham Palace to the paying public, and her £2m contribution. Although the event raised the importance of having fire precautions in heritage buildings, it didn’t prevent further disasters, which appear to have a common theme: building works and electrical faults. (The Notre Dame Cathedral blaze a few months ago allegedly followed a similar pattern.)
  • In 2018, the iconic Mackintosh building at the Glasgow School of Art was in the process of being restored following a serious fire in 2014, when it was further devastated by fire; this time it looks as if the damage may be terminal, with the shell potentially unsafe. A tragedy for the millions of people across the globe who were inspired by Mackintosh and a loss to Glasgow’s historic fine streetscene.
  • Described as the worst heritage disaster since the Windsor Castle fire, in 2015 Grade I Listed 80 room Georgian mansion, Clandon Park near Guildford in Surrey was completely gutted, and 80% of its treasures lost, in a fire caused by an electrical fault. Donated to the National Trust (NT) by the Earls of Onslow in 1956, Clandon Park was also home to the Surrey Infantry Museum, and a monument to the 15,000 local men who died in two world wars. There were no sprinklers, but the property is believed to have insurance for £50-100 million, and is open for tours until November, with the website rather insensitively picturing visitors smiling as they explore the roofless shell.

With over 300 historic buildings in its care, the public deserves answers on the National Trust’s fire policy and Clandon Park’s future, so I phoned five different NT press officers on the mobile numbers provided but all went to voicemail, so I emailed the following questions. After further chasing, I eventually received a response from Jo Dyson:

What plans are there to restore Clandon Park, or is it to remain a rotting shell?

The Trust’s plans for Clandon Park are to conserve the structure of the house, to restore the most important rooms on the ground floor and to adapt the two upper floors for contemporary uses, in particular as exhibition and learning spaces. The Trust is currently undertaking a feasibility study and master planning process with a world-class design team following a public architectural competition. The remaking of Clandon Park is one of the largest and most complex heritage projects in the UK. Core funding for the project will come from a significant insurance claim.

Why were sprinklers not installed at this property?

The property was fitted with a fire alarm and this was triggered by the fire. The alarm detects both smoke and heat. There were no sprinklers installed.

How many NT properties are not fitted with sprinklers?

Sprinklers are an option and have been installed in some of our places, but this approach isn’t suitable for all properties. The installation of sprinklers, or other fire suppression methods, is something we are considering as part of our review of our historic properties in the light of the fire report.

What is the NT’s policy on retrofitting sprinklers?

We have a planned programme for carrying out fire risk assessments on all of our properties, including annual reviews. Our assessments take into account the life safety of people and property protection, which may lead to passive and active fire safety improvements to be made. Our assessments include consideration being given to suppression systems.

What other fire precautions are policy at the NT?

The NT is a conservation charity which cares for hundreds of historic houses and other buildings across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Trust therefore takes fire safety and the protection of its historic places very seriously. We have a rigorous fire safety strategy in place at all our places. We do a fire risk assessment (FRA) at every property and these are reviewed regularly.

What plans are there for the 20 per cent of artefacts salvaged from the fire: where are they, what condition are they in, what plans are there for future display?

All collection items saved are currently in safe storage amounting to approximately 1200 objects. We’ve finished assessing the significance of each item and their condition, and high level conservation/restoration cost assessments are currently being carried out by specialist conservators. Once we have all potential costs and possibilities, we can make an informed decision on their future, including display in restored rooms, in exhibitions, and to support learning programmes. A small selection of salvaged items is currently displayed at Clandon.

The NT further clarified its actions following the fire:

“Although Clandon’s fire was caused by a very unusual electrical fault, which wasn’t detected by the numerous fixed wire tests which had taken place, we wanted to apply any lessons across all our NT properties. Subsequent to the fire we have audited mansions and key buildings to check that all electrical inspections, fire risk assessments, emergency plans, water supplies and training are up to date. We have also trialled, and subsequently introduced, an ongoing programme of thermographic inspections in our key properties to supplement traditional fixed wire tests.

“Whilst fire alarms were not at fault at Clandon, we have undertaken a specialist survey of fire alarms in order to manage a programme of system replacement. We are currently implementing a Trust-wide programme of works to ensure any existing holes and service penetrations are filled by third party accredited contractors and we have changed our service contracts to require contractors to suitably fire stop any holes or penetrations they make in the course of their works. Additionally, we have developed and introduced bespoke training for Building Surveyors on fire safety and general compliance.”

Unfortunately, the NT provided no clarity on the number of properties potentially at risk, without sprinklers! This was also the case when I contacted English Heritage press office, requesting information on its fire protection policies. Tom Jones, Corporate Affairs Manager, responded with the following assurances:

“English Heritage has a fire risk assessment for each of our buildings. Fire prevention is our priority and we invest in staff training, equipment, inspections and planned maintenance to reduce the risk of a fire starting in the first place. Automatic Fire Detection, compartmentation, suppression and fire fighting equipment is site specific. We work closely with Historic England, the Fire & Rescue Services, our Primary Authority Partner, and industry peers to ensure we are compliant with legislation and industry best practice for fire prevention, detection and fire fighting.”

Both the National Trust and English Heritage are highly valued public institutions, funded and supported by their hard-working members, who deserve to have all the facts – and the ability to question decision-making by the Boards through their elected representatives. With Brexit preoccupying Westminster, this means local authorities using their Scrutiny Committees to collate evidence, challenge and advise, together with regional Fire Services.

First, how are works managed to avoid accidental fire (or other) damage? The NT has addressed this by changing its service contracts; are other organisations adopting similar measures? Is good practice being shared across the public and private sectors? Are local authorities and private owners being encouraged to undertake similar extensive reviews of fire safety and implement new measures to protect people and assets?

We cannot afford to lose sight of the fact that local authorities throughout the country are also responsible for historic buildings, so they should be required to publish their fire prevention policies, including retro-fitting sprinklers, and annual safety checks.

In Ipswich, for example, the museum service is in partnership with Colchester: Christchurch Mansion is packed with artworks, including by Constable and Gainsborough, as well as fine furniture and porcelain collections – how are these protected? I discovered that Colchester Castle Museum’s recent £4.2 million refurbishment didn’t include sprinklers.

These assets not only belong to their communities, and the UK population as a whole, but are invaluable tourist attractions, making a vital contribution to the national and regional economy.

Local Authority Scrutiny committees should make this a priority for investigation, holding officers to account before there are further tragedies. It won’t be easy, but the solution could be cross-authority working.

Read More

Alison Hernandez: Joint working is strengthening neighbourhood policing in Devon and Cornwall

Alison Hernandez is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall

Our journey to increase visibility and reassurance in our communities at a time of austerity has led us to be more innovative. We think in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly we’ve invented a new style of neighbourhood policing, this originated in this force when decades ago police chief here invested in neighbourhood teams while elsewhere they were putting money into responsive policing.

Even that has been eroded through the creation of so many specialist teams like armed response and those set up to tackle crimes of terrorism, serious violence, child sexual exploitation and abuse, regional organised crime, I could go on. It’s time we put neighbourhood policing back on the map. Prevention is always better than cure.

So we’ve had to invent new ways to deliver what our communities want and expect.

In Cornwall, we have piloted successfully the Tri-Service Safety Officer role. It’s the embodiment of the blue light services in one role, combining the skills of a trained firefighter, a co-responder paramedic for the ambulance service and having community safety accreditation from the police.

The individuals (and we have ten now) are highly skilled, highly trained, highly professional individuals there to respond to community need and based in our more rural and remote areas where we could never afford a full-time resource from any of the emergency services – even in the good times.

In Devon, we are trialling this year Community Responders. These are trained firefighters who work 21 hours a week for the fire service but will be a Police Special Constable and wear a police uniform, carrying out community policing and fire tasks while awaiting a fire shout. Again, they are being deployed to some of our most rural or coastal communities. This is an example of an exemplary employer-supported volunteering initiative. All we pay for this is a mere £6,000 per officer to support training and equipment while the fire service pays for them to be at its disposal in an emergency.

Many Police and Crime Commissioners backed Boris Johnson tobe our new Leader and Prime Minister. That’s because he’s got a track record of cutting crime and making law and order a priority. He’s the first MP to fully understand the value of Conservative PCCs alongside Kit Malthouse MP, who carried out the policing oversight for Johnson  when Mayor of London.

We would like a strong team in government working with us at a local level to continue this innovation and to show why Conservative Police and Crime Commissioners are our only hope of making our communities safer and offering value for every pound of our hard-working taxpayers’ money.

Read More

Kris Wilson: Labour is seeking to thwart democracy and debate in Nuneaton and Bedworth

Cllr Kris Wilson is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council

Since taking Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council to no overall control in May 2018, local Conservatives have been taking the fight to Labour and promoting the policies that our successful manifesto put forward at the last election.

Unfortunately, Labour can force their will through on the basis of the Mayor’s casting vote, but this hasn’t stopped us. Indeed, we have kept Labour debating for over five and a half hours on one night,

Issues we have championed include:

  • A Local Authority Mortgage Scheme to help young first-time buyers in our area get on the housing ladder
  • A fair and transparent process for developing our local plan, which has been formed in secret and taken an unfair proportion of development from our neighbouring authorities
  • Calling for a Borough-wide injunction against illegal traveller incursions
  • Regenerating our town centres with support for a Business Improvement District for Nuneaton and pledging to fund high street regeneration
  • Challenging a £2 million overspend on a new council depot

Needless to say, local Labour has not taken kindly to being challenged at every available opportunity. When local residents have voiced legitimate concerns over illegal traveller incursions the responsible portfolio holder called then “brain dead”, showing the contempt that they have for hard-working people in Nuneaton and Bedworth.

Their former leader had been in power for over 30 years, almost as long as Mugabe, and now they have resorted to forcing changes to the rules that would not be out of place in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Just because they cannot debate they are amending the rules of debate to suit them.

Changes include:

  • No supplementary questions to portfolio holders
  • No motions following questions to the portfolio holder
  • No recorded votes on attempts to shut down debate
  • Any member who challenges the Mayor’s ruling on points of debate can be barred from speaking or removed

Interpreting rules of debate has never been Labour’s strong point, but a number of mayors we have had would make Speaker Bercow look impartial.

The Town Hall at Nuneaton and Bedworth desperately needs change. We need a new administration with fresh ideas to take our towns forward. We came tantalisingly close last year.

We are already planning our campaign for May 2020 and with one more push, the residents of Nuneaton and Bedworth can finally get the ambitious Conservative council that we so desperately need to take us forward.


Read More

Robert Jenrick: Every council should ready itself for Brexit – deal or no deal – at the end of October

Robert Jenrick is Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and MP for Newark.

In just 89 days, we will be leaving the European Union. We would prefer to leave with a deal, and we will work in an energetic and determined way to get that better deal. This will, of course, require movement from the EU on the anti-democratic backstop. If it is not possible to reach a deal we will still leave on 31st October, which is why we are making all necessary preparations to do so.

Local government has a vital role to play in helping to make Brexit a success so it’s right that as planning for a No Deal Brexit ramps up across central government, we see this replicated at the local level. From Whitehall to the town hall, Brexit preparations must be intensified in every community.

To that end, as Secretary of State for Local Government, I am asking all local councils in England to appoint a Brexit lead, who will work hand in hand with me and my team in central government to plan for our exit on 31st October, with or without a deal. Because taking back control doesn’t just apply to Westminster; we are going to thrive after Brexit and it will mean local people taking more responsibility for their communities.

Councils across the country have already worked hard to prepare for Brexit, and I’m grateful for those efforts, but the appointment of a designated Brexit lead officer in every local area, with clear responsibilities and lines of accountability, marks a shift change in how councils will organise themselves in the coming weeks.

I know the pressures that councils face – they are on the frontline of delivering public services, supporting local businesses and helping vulnerable people, so I will support their extra efforts with £20 million in additional funding. This will allow councils to immediately designate and train staff and update their communications plans, recognising that the nature and scale of the challenges ahead will vary across the country. Councils will work closely with their local resilience forum, which in turn will be updating their plans to prepare for the specific circumstances of Brexit.

Beyond 31st October we will have the opportunity to shape how prosperity is created and shared across the United Kingdom. I stand squarely behind the Prime Minister in his ambition to unite our country and level-up, by ensuring that power, opportunities and wealth aren’t just concentrated in London and the big cities.

We have already dedicated £3.6 billion to improving transport, full-fibre broadband, skills and culture in our towns, we will provide investment for transformative regeneration of our high streets – to give places new energy and life as they evolve to meet changing consumer habits – and we will bring forward plans for a UK-wide Shared Prosperity Fund that will be designed to boost the productivity and economic growth potential of those parts of the country that lag behind in a more focused and imaginative way than that provided by the EU. The benefits of leaving the EU must be felt far and wide.

But the first step in realising this vision must be to fulfil the democratic mandate we were given over three years ago in the referendum. With renewed focus and intensity at every level of government, we will be ready to leave the EU on 31st October.

Councils across the country will be receiving further guidance from me next week and I will be holding regular opportunities to question me on our plans – in person and online. I’m looking forward to working with you.

Read More