European Union Referendum – Make Sure You Can Vote

Voting takes places across the country on Thursday 23 June 2016 in the important referendum to determine whether the country will remain in, or leave the European Union.

Many people may be on holiday or other commitments on this additional polling day.

Anyone can sign up for a postal vote. The votes arrive in the post for you just under two weeks before the election and you just need to return them in postage paid envelope.

The deadline for applying for a postal vote for the EU Referendum is Wednesday 8 June 2016, so you don’t have that long.

You can do this online, by filling in and printing out this form and sending it to the Town Hall. If you would like a form but cannot print one out please just let us know and we will drop one round.

Please note that if you have already signed up for a postal vote, you don’t need to re-register again. 

 

Local Elections – Thank you for your Support

Just to thank residents across Bury for their support in the local elections last week.

Our two best results were in Holyrood Ward, where we took a seat from Labour:

Steve Wright (LIB DEM)1,733
Labour 1,463
Conservative 280
UKIP 229
Green 139

and in St Mary’s Ward where we lost by 19, but cut Labour’s majority down from 892 last year:

Labour 1,349
Michael Powell (LIB DEM)1,330
Conservative 463
Green 126

Lib Dem Group Leader, Cllr Tim Pickstone said:
“A huge thank you to voters in Prestwich, who have sent a very clear message that we are fed up with the way we are treated by the Labour-run Council. We’re gutted we didn’t quite make it in St Mary’s Ward, but coming so close is a great foundation for the future. We will continue to be working hard for local residents, all-year-round.”

Results for the whole of Bury are here.

Petition to Save the HomeStart Charity

Local campaigners have launched a petition to save the local charity ‘Home-Start Bury’. This is a charity which supports local families by offering support, friendship and practical help to parents with young children.

Bury Council funded Home-Start thorugh it’s ‘Commissioning Fund’ for a period of three years starting in 2013/14. That came to an end on 31 March 2016. During this period Homestart received a total of £69,000 from the Commissioning Fund.

This is the statement from the Trustees of Home-Start from their Facebook Page”
“It is with much sadness that the Board of Trustees has taken the difficult decision to close Home-Start Bury. This is due to a 100% cut to zero in our funding by Bury MBC.
The Impact is 70 families lose vital support, 3 staff loses their jobs, and 50 highly trained volunteers lost to the community.
When Home-Start Bury closes, there will be no other early intervention services to support families in the same way that Home-Start does: offering personalised parent-to-parent support in the confidential environment of the family home during weekly visits for as long as the family needs support for. This early intervention approach stops many families from reaching crisis point and needing costly statutory support.
The Staff and Board have exhausted every possible avenue for funding, but to no avail. External grant makers like BBC Children in Need, Big Lottery and Lloyds TSB prefer to have some reassurance that there is at least some commitment from Statutory services…so in effect, the cut in our funding is preventing us from bringing £££££ in to the Borough.
Our hearts goes out to those families as well as our brilliant staff and volunteers.
All families and volunteers are aware of the situation and support is being offered to signpost families to other local facilities like the children’s centers.
We have written to the relevant officers within the Local Authority and elected members of the council. As yet, we have not had any responses.
If you are a council tax payer in Bury, please write to your local councillor if you think this is wrong.
You can also follow us on twitter @homestartbury
Thank you for all the messages of support we have had so far, we are overwhelmed with peoples kindness x”

Online Petition
An online petition has been set up to support the charity. If enough people sign the petition it will trigger a formal debate on the issue at the Town Hall.

You can read the petition and add your support here.

Reporting Back – Full Council, Answers to Questions

Earlier in the month was the regular meeting of Bury’s ‘Full Council’. The Lib Dem Group asked our full allocation of four questions: (summaries below – full answers here)

– Children in Residential Care
Mary D’ALbert asked about the recent report that “Thousands of police visits ‘criminalise’ children in care homes”, and could we be assured that children from Bury that are placed in residential care homes outside of the Borough are monitored, and are not the subject of such action.
Answer: We currently have 23 young people in residential care out of approximately 300 children and young people in our care, so they are a very small, but important, part of our group of young people in care. The children are closely monitored through placement’ visits and social workers consultations with other professionals. The children have all been informed regarding Bury’s advocacy service and majority are accessing this service.

– Staff Bullying
Tim Pickstone asked about the recent report that 10% of Council staff reported bullying in the last year:
Answer: The Council takes any allegation of bullying and harassment very seriously and we place the utmost importance on dignity and respect for all our employees which is why we already have a number of key policies and practices in place to prevent and deal with incidences.
In response to this question26 Dignity at Work complaints have been investigated in the past three years (6 since April 2015) and there have been 18 cases which have been handled via the mediation route (4 since April 2015).
There have been 7 whistleblowing cases in this timescale.

– Review of Bus Lanes
Tim asked when the promised review of Bus Lanes would happen in the south of Bury (Prestwich, Whitefield and Radcliffe)
Answer: We have been unable to commence work on a wider review due to pressure of work and significantly reduced resources. However it is our intention to commence a wider review later this year and we will be happy to provide Councillor Pickstone with a more detailed time table once it is available.

Missing School Crossing Patrols
– Mary asked about the number of school crossing patrols that are currently without ‘lollypop men or women’:
Answer:There are currently 18 vacant school crossing patrol sites that do not have a permanent member of staff allocated to them. The number of sites that are not operational can change on a daily basis as priority is given to allocating relief/supply staff to cover unassisted crossings.
For the past few weeks there have been 9 crossings left without cover, these have all been assisted crossings (pelican or puffin), all unassisted crossings have been covered using relief staff. The school crossing patrol coordinator assesses the risk when making the decision about which crossings will be left empty and which will be covered with supply staff taking into account road speed and the road layout near/around the school.

Let us know if you have any queries or thoughts on these, or ideas for questions at future meetings.

Lib Dems secure Victory for Vulnerable Tenants

The Government has agreed a Liberal Democrat amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill, which protects vulnerable tenants from being wrongly evicted.Under the Housing & Planning Bill, landlords get faster access to a property if they believe the tenant has abandoned it.

The successful amendment requires a landlord to get in touch with a third party such as a charity, local authority or individual who has helped to pay the tenant’s deposit. If the landlord gets a response that the tenant has not abandoned the property they can’t change the locks and reclaim it.

Screenshot 2016-04-19 09.24.30

Lib Dem peer Baroness Grender, who is a former Director of Communications for Shelter, commented:

“I am pleased that the Government has agreed to this change which I have been raising throughout the committee stages of this Bill. Vulnerable tenants often have huge challenges, such mental health issues, and are often teetering on the brink when it comes to homelessness. This change will ensure the most vulnerable, who are supported by a charity or a local authority, are not evicted but kept housed.

“The section in this Bill on rogue landlords is important, but would have been ruined by the original plans to give landlords greater rights on abandonment.

“This does not mean that the Bill is fixed, far from it, and the damaging measures to sell off affordable homes overshadows it all. But in this area, the Government has agreed a change which is a good compromise on their original plans.

The Liberal Democrats are continuing to focus many aspects of the Housing and Planning Bill, as outlined here.”

Saying ‘No’ to the Snoopers Charter

Liberal Democrats on Bury Council were last week successful in getting Bury Council to take a stand against the Investagatory Powers Bill (sometimes referred to as the ‘Snoopers Charter’).

There are three issues that particularly concern us:

– the Bill would require all communications companies (e.g. Internet Service Providers and telephone companies) too keep a complete record of our electronic communciation for a whole year (email,s instant messages, web browsing history, gaming, etc etc). With something like a mobile phone this effectively means a record of where we are, as this data is being sent continuously to our phone company. It means asking companies like Talk Talk (who lost a large amount of its own customer data not long ago) to keep this information and us trust them that it is secure.

– the Bill gives public bodies the right to have bulk surveillance warrants, which would grant public bodies the right to see the information on everyone with a ‘common interest’ – e.g. everyone who went to a meeting or rally, with just one warrant.

– a lack of properly resourced judicial oversight over the Home Secretary, to make sure that any surveillance that is done is approved in a very and proper legal process.

Lib Dem councillors proposed a motion, which raised serious concerns about the Bill. This was then supported by all Labour and some Conservative councillors and has now been successful in becoming the policy of Bury Council.

You can watch Lib Dem Group Leader Cllr Tim Pickstone speak on the debate here:

 

Saying NO to forced Academies

Liberal Democrat Party leader T m Farron MP has strongly criticised the Government on its priorities for school education, and the decision recently announced that ALL schools must convert to being an ‘Academy’.

Tim wrote an Open letter to teachers at Easter, on the eve of their main teaching union conference. The full letter can be found here.

Ensuring every child has the opportunity to make the most of their talents and be anything they want to be is at the very core of what we believe

The Government think that converting a school to an academy will automatically drive up standards. They’re wrong. What drives up standards is a well-funded education system and a teaching workforce who receive proper support and recognition for their work.

Academies are schools that are run by a private sponsor. They are outside of the local family of schools, not accountable to the local community, allowed to set their own curriculum and terms and conditions for staff.

Our fear is that this policy will be a costly and disruptive process for thousands of schools across the county, most of whom are already facing significant pressures including squeezed budgets and falling teacher morale.

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.

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.”