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.

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

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.

Bury Courts to Close – Threat to Local Justice

The Government has confirmed that the Magistrates Court in Bury is to close, alongside a large number of other courts across the country.

In the North West the following courts will be closing:
Accrington County Court
Accrington Magistrates’ Court
Bolton County Court and Family Court
Bury Magistrates’ Court and County Court
Kendal Magistrates’ Court and County Court
Macclesfield County Court
Macclesfield Magistrates’ Court
Oldham County Court
Oldham Magistrates’ Court
Ormskirk Magistrates’ Court and Family Court
Runcorn (Halton) Magistrates’ Court
Tameside County Court Closing
Trafford Magistrates’ Court and Altrincham County Court
Warrington County Court

Liberal Democrats have warned the closure of so many local courts threatens to undermine access to justice for local people. Victims and witnesses will have to travel, sometimes a significant distance, to attend their nearest court or tribunal proceedings rather than going to their local magistrates’ court.
We support any attempts to upgrade our legal system but this should be done while maintaining a high functioning and local justice system.

In Bury we were strong supporters of the all-party council motion and camapaign to save the court in Bury during the Government’s consultation period, and it is a shame the Government has not listened to local people.

CourtClosed

 

Liberal Democrats Justice Spokesperson Jonathan Marks QC said:
“Publishing the Government’s response to the consultation on court closures as Parliament rises for recess is a sneaky move to prevent debate on an issue fundamental to British justice.

“The closure of courts, particularly in rural areas, threatens access to local justice. There are clear savings to be made in the Court system, but simply shutting courts at the expense of the communities they serve is not the right approach.

“Courts should only be closed where it can be demonstrated that local communities will not lose out. Greater efficiency cannot always be achieved by a ‘digital by default’ approach.”

Standing Up for Private Renters

At the most recent meeting of Bury Council, the team of Lib Dem councillors were successful in getting the Council to agree to take more action to stand up for private renters.

Across Bury around 14% of all housing is private rented housing, meaning private landlords are a major provider of housing in the Borough. Our view is that it is great that people wish to invest in housing in the Borough and provide options for housing in the area.

The vast majority of private landlords are good and responsible landlords, but many people get in touch with us with concerns about the minority who might treat tenants badly and leave houses in a poor state of upkeep which can bring down a local neighbourhood.

A motion brought to Bury Council by Lib Dem Councillors, supported by other parties and now the policy of the Council called for:

– the Government to take more action, and take further the powers to tackle ‘rogue landlords’ and ‘revenge evictions’
– lobby the Government to move towards a compulsory licensing scheme for private landlords.
– Bury Council to extend its own Landlord Accreditation Scheme – currently only 1.5% of properties are part of the scheme – we would like to see accreditation as the ‘norm’ so that tenants know that a house they are renting is part of an approved scheme
– look at extending the ‘paperless bond’ deposit support scheme, which is currently only available to people in certain circumstances and eligible for Housing Benefit.

Lib Dem Group Leader Cllr Tim Pickstone said:
“Although the vast majority of rented accommodation is great, there are examples everywhere of houses that are badly kept and where landlords are exploiting their tenants. What we would like to see is a much more professional system where private landlords need a kind of license. Local government also needs to be adequately resourced to provide advice to private tenants.”

The Bury Times wrote up the debate here.

Trades Union Condemns 15 Minute Care Slots

The local government trades union, UNISON, has condemned local councils who insist on providing 15-minute homecare visits for elderly and disabled people.

Research last year by the local Lib Dems found that Bury provided 200,000 home care visits of 15 minutes or less in a year. The research showed that on average 549,000 home care visits were provided – 37% were of 15 minutes or under and 4% 5 minutes or under.

Sign our Petition to end 15 Minute Care Visits in Bury here.

Find out more about UNISON’s Save Care Now campaign here.

(c) UNISON

A new report by UNISON reveals that 74% of councils are still commissioning 15-minute homeware visits. The union says that these councils are acting against National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines on homecare.

And UNISON believes that the lack of time homecare workers are given to provide care symbolises an “escalating crisis” in the homecare system.

A report “Suffering Alone At Home“, published by the union in January, contains a number of personal experiences of homecare workers, which help to illustrate the human cost of the cuts.

It also includes a new survey of 1,102 homecare workers. Of these:
– 58% have been given just 15 minutes or less to deliver personal care for homecare users;
– 57% have been given just 15 minutes or less to deliver personal care for somebody they have never met before
;
– 61% have not had enough time to provide a dignified level of personal care to a homecare user aged over 90 years;
– 74% believe they do not have enough time to provide dignified care for their homecare users.

UNISON gleaned its information about local authority operations under the Freedom of Information Act. It found no improvement in the attitude to 15-minute homecare visits in the past year, with councils ignoring the recent NICE guidelines – among these, that care workers should spend at least 30 minutes on home visits to older people in England.

Homecare workers speak out
“It makes me feel angry, ashamed and embarrassed…. Service users feel let down by workers constantly changing, coming at different times every day and being in a rush to do the job and move on because of their time constraints.”

“I hate not having enough time with dementia clients, because they tend to be very lonely.”

“Not being able to spend longer with clients who are terminally ill makes me feel as if I’m shortchanging them – and makes it seem as if I don’t care about them.”

“A lot of the elderly are lonely, and if we have to leave early you are taking away one of their few opportunities for some company.”

“It’s disrespectful. These people have lived through wars to become reliant on help. It feels like you’re abusing them or their rights.”

“In the past I have been the only person to see a service user on Christmas day and their birthday. It makes you feel very sad and you just try to do your best to make it a bit more special.”

“12 years experience didn’t prepare me for the feeling of failing a person.”

“Guilt, that is what you feel. I am not in this type of work just for a wage. I want to make a difference to people, more so to those who have no-one. I want to let them know there are people who care.”

Lib Dems call for fair funding for Mental Health Services

The Lib Dem’s shadow Health Spokesperson has called for fair funding for mental health services following research that showed that mental health trusts continue to be under significant pressure, including a rise in the number of unexpected deaths and suicide.

Norman Lamb MP

The figures from NHS England were unearthed after an FOI request from the Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson Norman Lamb, and cover serious incidents reported between 2012-2013 and 2014-2015.

Health spokesperson Norman Lamb said:

“The Clinical Commissioning groups should be equally focussed on mental health as well as physical health.

“At the moment whenever they feel under pressure to cut budgets, it’s the unprotected mental health services that get sliced.

“Year after year the problem occurs, and year after year the problem gets worse.

“This cannot continue any longer. People are literally dying as a result of the horrific under funding. People are losing their lives as a consequence of the institutional discrimination of mental health.

“The way that funding gets allocated to mental health always means that it loses out.”

Help us keep Bury Fracking Free

In the ‘media quiet’ days before Christmas, the Government awarded an additional set of Fracking licenses to private companies. Threes of these license blocks cover the Bury area, including one which covers parts of Prestwich.

License areas 70, 80 and 81, which includes a part of Prestwich, Whitefield, Bury, Radcliffe, Ramsbottom, Tottington and and then right across towards  Bolton have been awarded to Hutton Energy Ltd for exploration.

Screenshot 2016-01-20 09.34.31

Fracking, or ‘Hydraulic Fracturing’ is where underground rock is fractured by the high pressure injection of ‘fracking fluid’ to create cracks underground where natural gas can be released.

Residents will be aware of campaigners in many other parts of the country (e.g. in Lancashire) being very opposed to fracking sites near them.

Many of the areas covered by the Fracking License in our Green Belt – land which has been left as green and recreational land
Many of the areas covered are in former mining areas with old mining shafts and diggings, and areas have suffered from subsidence in the past.

Fracking is a controversial subject – there is more information about the environmental impact that Fracking can have at the Greenpeace website here.
http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/climate/fracking

You can help us campaign to Bury Fracking Free by signing our online petition here.