Liberal Democrat conference agrees to oppose Fracking

Liberal Democrat members voted to ban fracking in England and Wales at the party’s Spring Conference in York today, the mainstream party in England to do this. (Policy on this issue in Scotland is made separately as a devolved issue.)

The party called for further investment in renewable energy production and action to meet climate change targets.

 

Liberal Democrat Energy and Climate Change spokesperson Lynne Featherstone said:

“We need energy security. We need sustainable energy. We need to meet our legally binding targets. Fracking will not deliver any of these. But it will deliver greenhouse gases.

It is not logical or sensible to develop fracking at the very moment we have signed up to the Paris agreement on climate change, and announced the end of coal. By the time fracking becomes a significant force – 2030 – Britain must already be very low-carbon”.

Previously the Liberal Democrats had discussed fracking in 2013, when coniditions were set in the coalition government. Our view is that these conditions have been broken. We were promised that our national areas of exceptional beauty would be protected. We were promised local people would hold sway. We were promised Carbon Capture and Storage to lessen the effects. These conditions have gone.

Fracking is not the solution to the country’s energy problems. The Conservatives are now rolling back the green agenda which Liberal Democrats fought hard for in government. We need to focus on long term sustainable goals like achieving a zero carbon Britain by 2050, not carving up the countryside for short term gains.

House of Lords Votes to allow unaccompanied Children Refugees

The Government is under pressure to take in 3,000 unaccompanied Syrian child refugees after a combination of Labour, Lib Dem and Crossbench peers backed the amendment to the Immigration Bill, defeating the Government by 306 votes to 204.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: “The House of Lords this evening have shown themselves to be more in touch with public opinion than our own Prime Minister. “The Government must stop ignoring the British people and the thousands of orphaned children languishing across Europe. Cameron should show some humanity. A small sacrifice from a large nation would turn these kids’ lives around. The Government must listen to this strong message from the Lords, it is time he stopped making excuses and did the right thing.”

Save the Children estimate there are 26,000 lone children across Europe, 400 of which are living the Calais ‘jungle’.

The UK has committed to taking 20,000 refugees from Syria by 2020, but the Prime Minister has repeatedly claimed offering sanctuary in the UK to refugees already in Europe could encourage more to make the often perilous journey to the continent.

George Osborne’s Secret Cuts to the NHS and Public Services

Hidden amongst the tax-cuts and other announcements in last week’s budget, was a significant reduction in funding for some important public services, particularly the NHS.

An investigation by Liberal Democrat MPs has found that changes hidden in the Budget will mean the NHS has £650m less to spend on front line services. The research on the budget, based on analysis from the House of Commons Library, reveals hidden changes to public sector pensions, passing the cost directly to the health service and other public sector bodies.

Plans to reduce the public service pension scheme discount rate will raise the Treasury around £2bn from 2019/20, but passes the cost directly to the employers. The NHS is one such employer and their share is estimated to be around £650m.

The changes will also see teachers’ pension contributions rise by £426m, the armed forces by £314m and police forces by more than £100m. This is an unbudgeted cost will take money away from front line services to pick up the bill.

Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron said:
“Even by George Osborne’s standards, this is a vicious attack on our health service, schools and public services. He made grand promises about funding the NHS and is now making secret cuts by the back door.

“George Osborne cannot pull the wool over people’s eyes. Choosing to ask schools, hospitals, and forces to pay £2bn extra in pension contributions has a real cost, and vital services will have to pick up the bill.

Watch Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron’s reponse to the budget here.

Tim Farron at Conference: “We can win anywhere.”

If you are a liberal then you will walk the walk, committed to your community.

Your community. The place you live. The experiences and identities you share. The people with whom you feel you belong.

Community is what you make it, and where we – where you – make a difference.

We say we care about people, and we prove it by serving people, empowering people, getting things done.

And it is what makes us liberals.

We stand for election not to be something, but because we want to do something. We campaign not to be grand, but to do grand things – make a difference. It is what makes us different.

LONDON - MARCH 05: Liberal Democrat MP for West Morland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron looks on whilst posing for media on March 5, 2008 in London, England. A number of Liberal Democrat Leaders are preparing to defy the order to abstain in the vote on whether there should be a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

I joined the Liberal Party at 16.

Now, you may be surprised to discover this, but this was not a carefully calculated career move. Not a career move, but not a cop-out either.

I didn’t join a pressure group. I joined a movement.

Determined to use power to make a difference – and give people opportunities.

Because every family, every small business, everyone in Britain deserves a clear path to fulfil their own ambition.

Now, as well as Stylist, I’ve also made the hallowed feature pages of Autocar magazine.

They had heard that my car had been written off in the floods. They were impressed by my dedication and commitment to something so battered and beaten up…

They also wanted to know about my Volvo…

It was early December and I had agreed to do an interview with BBC News about the floods. Half an hour before I was on air, I was in the car with my kids and the river wall in front of me broke. In two seconds flat the car had filled up to our waists…

We had to bail out and do it quickly. We were a few miles from the nearest village, stranded, and completely soaked by the side of the road… and then the phone went, it was the BBC. So, John Simpson style, me and the kids reported live from the scene while my Volvo, and a very large number of precious Prefab Sprout CDs disappeared from view.

Now, we lost a car. That’s nothing. I lost my beloved Prefab Sprout CDs. Even they can be replaced, but friends of mine lost their homes, their businesses.

And here in York more than six hundred homes and businesses, some just a couple of hundred yards from where we are today, were under water. Many are yet to recover. And yet, when I look around York, as I did on Friday, I see the same tremendous spirit I see at home in Cumbria – testament to the determination of people who come together and support one another.

When a community is tested, you see it’s true character. And as we can see by being here for Conference, York is open for business – Cumbria, the Scottish borders, the north, we’re all open for business.

Even when this Government is barely lifting a finger to help, the spirit of the people is the real Northern Powerhouse.

Within a few weeks of my birth in 1970, two disastrous things happened.

1. England got knocked out of the World Cup by West Germany
2. The Liberals had an electoral disaster that made last May look quite good by comparison.

We almost disappeared altogether. But we fought back. Not by accident, but by careful design.

Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron speaks during the opening night rally of the party's annual conference at the Bournemouth International Centre.

And we fought back by making a virtue of the fact that there is more to life than Westminster.

Young Liberals led the rebuild of our party by taking our philosophy and our ideals into their communities and putting them into practice.

They got their hands well and truly dirty, turning a belief in the individual into action, galvanising communities, winning change, challenging the self-satisfied power of the town hall and Whitehall.

In 2016 let us choose that path back to power. Community Politics is what we are for.

The establishment is increasingly out of reach and out of touch, locally and nationally, it is down to us to make the difference.

In every community I want us to be the antidote to the kind of politics that makes people go off politics altogether.

In 1997 The Liberal Democrats made a tremendous leap forward, securing 46 MPs. One of those MPs was our excellent Chief Whip Tom Brake. I recently found out that Tom has also been a magazine star. It was an interview that had originally been offered to me, but without me knowing, my team decided Tom was much better suited for such a challenge. So you all have the press office to thank for the fact that last April’s centrefold in Men’s Health magazine, was not this gut on stage before you, but the rather more toned one of the Chief Whip.

The feature involved posing without a shirt on, exercising every day for seven weeks, and eating healthily. Alistair was devastated not to have been asked.

In 2001 and 2005 our numbers increased to 52 and 62. We got to 63 when Willie won Dunfermline.

Indeed we reached that peak at a point when we didn’t even have a leader… Don’t go getting any ideas.

 

We must return to our roots. No matter the office, always remaining true to our instincts. It’s time to focus not on Parliamentary games, but on real life. It’s time we got back to community politics.

It’s about making a difference to people’s lives.

key_Tim_Farron

 

Lives across the country and across the globe are better because of the work we do. The work that you do.

 

Just this week they voted through plans to cut £30 a week from the benefits of sick and disabled people. They are pushing ahead with cuts to Universal Credit, so low income working families will lose on average £1,000 a year. And they still plan to exclude youngsters from being able to claim housing benefit, leaving vulnerable young people with nowhere else to go.

Their benefit cuts are a calculated political choice – hurting millions of people. And their latest move is to cut Personal Independence Payments, by more than £1 billion.
640,000 people with disabilities are set to lose vital support that helps them live truly independent lives.

As is his style, this Chancellor uses smoke and mirrors to distort the truth. His clever accounting and theatrical budgets mask the true scale of what he has planned. His agenda isn’t just a Parliamentary game, it strikes right at the heart of the communities we represent. And we will not stand for it.

We start, not with politics but with people, with communities. But the Chancellor is currently placing the very foundations of a happy and healthy community – under threat. Our schools, our homes, our environment, even our health. The basic building blocks for life that can have the biggest impact.

 

 

 

Communities thrive when enterprise and small business can thrive. But far too often the cards are stacked against them.

 

That is why I am delighted to announce that Vince Cable has agreed to chair an expert panel for me to look at how we radically reform the way we tax businesses. Over the next year, Vince’s team will come forward with a new approach, that’s fit for the future. Because when the system is broken, we Liberal Democrats will not defend it, we should fix it.

Britain's Liberal Democrat party leader, Tim Farron, waves after making his keynote speech on the final day of the party's conference in Bournemouth, Britain September 23, 2015. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

 

 

We will be the beacon of tolerance and acceptance. Standing for what unites us, not the differences that divide us.

So, when you are a new leader, you fight to get attention, to make a mark. A journalist said to me the other day ‘all I know about you is that you’re that bloke who keeps banging on about refugees’. He meant it as a rebuke. I took it as badge of honour.

The biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe for 70 years, with no sign of this tragedy coming to an end. 190,000 refugees entered Europe in 2014, a post war record. Last year that number increased to 1 million. This year, the UN thinks there could be 3 million.

And most refugees aren’t even coming to Europe. There’s a million in Lebanon, 700,000 in Jordan, 2.7 million in Turkey.

So many facts and figures. Such big numbers. Every one of them an individual, a person.

In Calais, Cologne, Lesbos and in refugee centres here in the UK I’ve only met a hundred or so of them. But they are meetings I cannot forget. I will not forget.

I confess that I am personally affected by every one of them. And so I feel personally ashamed by our Government’s response to this crisis.

Because this is not about statistics. This is about people just like you and me. This is about dignity and decency. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

On the morning of October 27th last year, I stood on the beach on the island of Lesbos and I met a couple in their thirties: a carpenter and a nursery teacher from the Daesh occupied region of Iraq. With them, still in their flimsy life jackets, they had their two little girls, aged three and five. To distract them from the terror of the journey over the sea to Europe they’d sung songs to the girls and told them stories for hours and hours.

Why did they put them through this? They love their children as much as I love mine yet they risked their daughters’ lives…why? Because the bigger risk was to stay and not to flee. And the Britain I believe in, offers that family sanctuary, hope and a future.

David Cameron has gone through Calais plenty of times recently on his way to Brussels. But he’s never got off the train there. He’s never seen for himself the heartbreak of those who have had to leave everything, to flee towards a country and a continent that you thought represented peace and security but got there only to be treated like dirt. He’s refused to meet the proud people, broken by the wickedness of those who sought to kill them at home, and broken again by the callous indifference of those to whom they looked for sanctuary.

Being 12 and alone in a camp thousands of miles from home. Being in a boat tossed to and fro as you sought land in the darkness, hearing the screams of the people in the neighbouring vessel as it went down. Having to leave your town at night, the town you grew up in, the only home you ever knew.

 

Refugees in Germany, welcomed, trained, empowered – transformed into enthusiastic, tax-paying Germans. Refugees in Britain, held in contempt, trapped, their talents wasted, and let down by people who act in our name.

Britain is better than that. And so I will continue bang on about it.

To speak for British values, for common sense, for action to help the desperate, for fear to give way to opportunity.

tim-farron-meeting-refugees-in-lesbos

 

And our national security is being challenged by more than the referendum. Right now the Government are using it as an excuse to extend snooping powers. Theresa May won’t just have access to your Facebook messages, but to everything from your medical records to your child’s baby monitor. And it’s not just MI5 and MI6 – your local council will be able to know where you’ve been and who you’ve spoken to, as will the tax office. Not even the Home Office can pretend that this is purely about keeping people safe.

Trying to fight terrorism by gathering more and more irrelevant information is illiberal and totally counterproductive. The haystacks of information will become so huge that finding the needle will be near impossible. No matter what the government calls it, don’t make any mistake – this is the Snoopers’ Charter back again and we won’t have it.

Even if you are a hardened Tory, you should be appalled by what this Government is doing to our democracy.

And you know what? It makes me unbelievably angry…. with Labour.

Let me be clear about this. I’m not angry because Labour is now run by the kind of people who used to try and sell me tedious newspapers outside the Students’ Union. That’s their funeral.

I am angry with Labour because their internal chaos is letting this government off the hook. The Corbyn agenda is about taking over the Labour party, not rescuing Britain.

12670779_10154672871155760_8728037648628289573_n

I will not stand by while the Tories dig in for a generation. We can be, we must be, what stands in their way. We have to build that force.

Ward by ward, house by house, issue by issue.

Pick a ward and win it.

This May, next May, all year round.

We can win anywhere, you can win anywhere if you immerse yourself in your community.

You keep in touch, you get things done.

We know, that no matter where you’re from, your parents’ wealth, the colour of your skin, your gender, your faith, or who you love, you must have every opportunity to succeed. And you have a home with us.

Together we can show a liberal vision for Britain that isn’t obsessed with self interest, or the here and now, but the long term future of our country.

With strategic capital investment.

Strong, local public services.

And a well paid public sector.

Where enterprise is encouraged.

Where clean energy creates jobs.

And where everyone has the right to a decent home.

And where desperate people fleeing war and persecution are not demonised, they are welcomed.

We are the opposition that will talk to our country about our country.

A champion for communities when they need it.

The voice for junior doctors.

Standing by our teachers.

Backing innovation.

A movement.

We can be the voice that Britain needs, and become the movement to make that difference.

Find your community, and make that difference.

Liberal Democrats. This is our vision for Britain.

Thank you.

T4GM Budget Report Back

Like all public bodies, Transport for Greater Manchester has recently been setting its budget for 2016-17. Stockport Councillor Iain Roberts is the Lib Dem’s group leader on Transport for Greater Manchester Committee reports back:

“The total day-to-day spending budget (i.e. not the big investment projects) for TfGM comes to a little over £270 million for 2016/17. Most of that money comes from the ten local councils, some from the Government and a little from other sources. That’s the same as the current year, and follows 3% cuts in each of the last two.

TfGM has no influence on about 70% of that money. Rail payments from the Government of £49m get passed straight onto the Northern franchise holder. £47m funds the English national concessions for bus travel (such as the free pass for pensioners) and £90m goes on financing capital expenditure – repaying loans on money TfGM has borrowed.

On top of that there are other costs – rent, rates and energy – that TfGM has little control over.

Metrolink spending is ring-fenced – profits made from Metrolink are fed back into the tram network for future improvements and expansion.

So what can TfGM influence?

There are local bus concessions – cheap tickets we fund in GM for child travel, people with certain disabilities and tram and train concessions. That comes to £19m. The supported bus services – funding bus services that wouldn’t be commercially viable on their own – costs £27.1m. Ring & Ride costs £4.6m. And finally operational costs – operating bus stations, travel shops, bus shelters, traffic signals and passenger information boards plus a few other things – comes in at £37m.

TfGM faces a number of cost pressures: local authority cuts, increased employers’ NI and higher pension fund costs will be met from efficiencies. There are also new responsibilities coming with devolution (we hope!). The big two are for TfGM to take ownership of the 97 stations across Greater Manchester and bus franchising. The initial costs of those will be met from reserves – money that’s been put aside for the job.

TfGM say there are no plans to further reduce the bus network from 2016/17 onwards – good news, as we’ve seen too many services cut in the last couple of years.”

Tim Farron MP consultation on Unaccompanied Children Refugees

The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron MP, has launched an open consultation on ways Britain can support unaccompanied refugee children.

It is estimated there are more than 20,000 unaccompanied refugee children amongst those who have reached Europe, many of whom are at risk from being trafficked into prostitution or child labour. Liberal Democrats have repeatedly backed Save the Children’s call for the government to offer safe haven to 3,000 of these children, the UK’s fair share.

Tim Farron hosted a cross party roundtable which looked at how the Government and communities could welcome these children and what resources, support and tools are needed. The meeting was attended by over 20 experts and organisations working with refugees, vulnerable children and foster carers.

Tim Farron MP said:
“These children have fled desperate situations, are now vulnerable and at risk from traffickers. I have repeatedly called for the government to take, 3,000 children, which is Britain’s fair share. We recognise communities will need support to meet this challenge, which is why we’re inviting everyone to be a part of this consultation process to set out how we can meet this moral obligation and pressure the government to do the right thing.”

Liberal Democrats have launched an online consultation based on the outcome of this meeting and are inviting experts and any member of the public to submit proposals to form a blueprint of how Britain can accept the unaccompanied minors who have arrived in Europe.

The consultation document can be read here

Consultation responses should be sent to 3000@libdems.org.uk by the 18th March 2016

Tim Farron comments on EU summit:

“It is absolutely critical this summit is used to establish safe and legal routes for refugees, routes that do not mean risky journeys in dangerous dinghies.

“Search and rescue, as well as the targeting of smugglers, is only one part of the solution.  We need clear answers on where any refugees rescued from boats will be returned to, and how they can apply for asylum.

hqdefault

“It is clear that Turkey and other countries which border Syria cannot bear the burden of this crisis alone, and they deserve our help and support.

“What we cannot allow is for the Turkey to use crisis as a shield for criticism of their increasingly authoritarian state. The Prime Minister must not back down from calling out Turkey on these issues, and force the EU at all times to stand up for the rights and values which underpin democracies across the continent.”

Budget Council Meeting: Reporting Back

Last Wednesday at Bury’s Budget Council Meeting the ruling Labour group of Councillors voted for an increase in Council Tax from 1 April 2016 of 3.8%.

The increase is made up of a basic increase of 1.94%, plus a further 2% social care levy, together with Police and Fire increase of £5 and 1.99%. Council house tenants will see their rents reduced by 1%.

 

The bulk of the extra money raised in this 3.8% increase (£2.7 million) will go towards increasing costs in social care costs, particularly the need to pay staff the Government’s living wage. A smaller amount (£0.6 million) will go towards flood resilience and highways repairs.

The budget has been set with continuing severe reductions in Government funding for local government, meaning that Bury Council has had to make savings or £11.6 million for 2016-17. Bury continues to get a very funding poor deal from central government – £294 per person with the national average being £352 per person.

The most significant savings will be made through working better together with local health services, saving £2.5 million, and making more use of things like Local Authority Trading Companies to save £2 million. The Council will also be looking to increase the other income it receives by £1.6 million by looking at potential for new charges, and ‘more robust enforcement strategy’. Our very significant concern is that there is no read detail given on these savings, which will obviously have a significant impact on residents, and staff, which is not yet clear.

Apparently 230 people across Bury took part in the Council’s consultation on the budget.

New Council Tax Rates are:
Band A – £1,047.52
Band B – £1,222.10
Band C – £1,396.69
Band D – £1,571.29
Band E – £1,920.47
Band F – £2,269.64
Band G – £2,618.81
Band H – £3,142.58

Liberal Democrat Group Proposals

The Liberal Democrat Group’s alternative budget was to:

Spend £2 million of the Council’s spare ‘reserves’ to take urgent action to repair the worst roads and pavements.
All residents will be aware that from decades of poor investment the state of too many of our roads is a disgrace. Over a three-year period the Council spent £3 million paying out compensation or legal costs for claims against poor road surfaces. We wanted to make help redress this issue and think this is a worthwhile use of spare reserves that the Council has.

– Invest more money in Adult Social Care, specifically to end the use of 15 minute home care visits in Bury.
Liberal Democrats would have put up Council Tax by the social care levy only (2%) and spent this money on improving the care we give to the most vulnerable people that the Council helps. Our research has recently shown that Bury provided 200,000 home care visits of 15 minutes or less in a year. Trades Unions, charities, and NICE Guidelines all condemn 15 minute care visits as totally unacceptable as care, except in occasional circumstances as part of a bigger package of support.

More money to improve our local environment.
We wanted to improve our local areas by setting up a small budget of £5,000 for each Council Ward area to spend on local priorities such as: graffiti, alleyways, tree replacement, fly-tipping or dog fouling – whatever the priority is for each local area. We would fund this through spare resources in the New Homes Bonus.

Unfortunately Labour Councillors voted against our alternative budget and these improvements will not happen this year.

The full papers for the Council meeting are here.

Sign our petition to End 15 Minute Care Visits in Bury here.

Lib Dems ask T4GM to Consider a ‘Cycle Alert’ Scheme

The Lib Dems on Bury Council have asked the authority’s representatives on the Transport for Greater Manchester Authority to consider the introduction of a ‘Cycle Alert’ scheme, to reduce the number of cyclist deaths or serious accidents caused by heavy goods vehicles, including buses.

Lib Dem Councillor Mary D’Albert asked what consideration has been given by T4GM to working with bus operators to introduce a ‘CycleAlert’ or similar system in Greater Manchester.

Cycle Alert has been used by Transdev buses in York since 2013 in an important effort to reduce the amount of cycle deaths as a caused by large vehicles. The system alerts HGV drivers if there is a cyclist with a cycle alert installed. A system like this (and there are other schemes from other companies) could reduce cycling deaths in the city region.

Councillors were assured that T4GM is aiming to increase the number of cycle trips across the conurbation, as well as providing improved infrastructure and complementary measures to benefit cyclists.
– Over 2000 cyclists have received bespoke one to one on-road training since our training programme started in 2012.
– Safe Urban Driver Training, accredited training for HGV and bus drivers has been rolled out to almost 500 drivers, and this will continue to educate HGV drivers.
– TfGM have worked with bus drivers to allow them to experience riding a bike, and educating them from a cyclists point of view, at bus depots across Greater Manchester.

It was confirmed that Cycle Alert recently presented at a recent Bus Operators meeting and TfGM are considering options around this.