New Year present

Thank you nPower! I have just had my monthly combined electricity and gas charges reduced by almost a quarter.

What is shocking however, is the fact that I had to gather my bills and current meter readings then check the u-switch web site to find out that my own energy provider, nPower, offers a tariff which is almost 25% cheaper than the tariff I was on and that switching to that tariff will save me over £400 per year. Of course it wasn’t in their interests to let me know that I was paying them a lot more than I needed to. It was only when I contacted them, threatened to leave and was put through to their charming “customer retention” branch in Durham did I get the help I needed to reduce my bill.

This is all part of the botched privatisation of the utilities, which put the interests of shareholders above those of energy consumers.

The consumers who suffer most are the poorest members of the community who often rely on pre-payment meters and pay considerably more for their power than  better off people who can set up direct debits.

There is also the counter intuitive higher charge for the first units consumed, which replaced standing charges, with additional power costing less. If we had tariffs that made the first units cheapest and put up prices as we consume more energy it would provide a much higher incentive to conserve energy and reduce CO2 emissions.

Former Tory minister David “Two Brains” Willetts, has conceded that the privatisation of water was a “privatisation too far”. Perhaps he should concede that the energy privatisations have been badly handled too.

In Lymm we are suffering unnecessary additional disruption because recently reconstructed roads are to be dug up again by Network Gas, because the utility companies were unable to coordinate their service replacements with the major road works that closed off access to the village centre for over 6 months.

At a more trivial level n-Power still can’t manage to send a single meter reader to read my gas and electricity meters even though both readings appear on the same bill paid by a single direct debit. How is that efficient?

n-Power have also got into trouble for sending a packet of energy efficient light bulbs to every customer at the very last moment before an already discredited scheme for reducing CO2 emissions comes to an end, rather than putting the money into other, more effective, measures for reducing their customers’ bills.

Happy New Year everyone – and see if you can make it even happier by reducing your utility bills.

Lymm street scene – update

On New Year’s Eve, David Boyer, Warrington’s head of sustainable transport responsible for our roads, spent a couple of hours looking around Lymm with me.

He has promised to look into a wide range of issues, which I raised with him. Like all Warrington Directorates, his is under very severe financial pressures. There simply isn’t enough money in our budgets to satisfy all legitimate residents’ expectations. In the current financial climate this isn’t going to change in the near future. So we concentrated on things that can be done with relatively little money, many of which involve better joined up working, redeployment of existing staff or can be funded out of external sources.

We looked at the parking situation opposite the Coop convenience store in Cherry Lane to make sure it is improved when the site opposite is redeveloped.

There are many signs around the village, including road nameplates and traffic signs that need to be removed, improved, mended or cleaned

On some of the newer developments including, Cherry Fields, Heatley Mere and Longbutt Lane, there are parking and adoption issues that need to be resolved with the developers.

Much of our street lighting is worn out damaged or just patched up. A Borough Wide scheme to improve street lighting is being considered since I have campaigned on this issue over the last two years. We may be able to get substantial government assistance if we consider a PFI (Private Finance Initiative) scheme to install modern highly energy efficient lighting across the Borough. I don’t like PFI because it offloads problems onto future tax payers, and is often an expensive way of doing things. However if this is the only way to stop Warrington’s lights going out we must consider it.

We also looked at some of the speed and traffic calming issues along the A56 which will be considered in the current speed limit review and the planned work on Higher Lane next fiancial year.

I will let you know what emerges from my discussions with David. Please let me know what your priorities would be for improving the street scene in Lymm.

What the Conservatives don’t want you to know

As the New Year rolls in, and we enter what could be one of the longest election campaigns in my lifetime, you can expect to be bombarded with figures.

David Cameron will behave as though he is the Prime Minister elect, though he will be careful to always add that the electorate must have its say. David Mowat will try to convince you, similarly, that he is the next MP for Warrington South.

If Warrington South was such a safe bet for the Tories in the coming election Fiona Bruce wouldn’t have opted for the safer seat of Congleton rather than fighting the constituency she fought before and where her business is based. The truth is that she performed very poorly in Warrington in the last election and the Tories have been flat lining here since 1997. The real battle has been between the Liberal Democrats and Labour, with the Liberal Democrats consistently taking Labour wards and benefiting from the Labour decline.

This is why I keep saying that Warrington South is a three way marginal. The Conservatives don’t want you to know this, they and Labour prefer you to think it is a two horse race between the two old discredited parties. A message that would be more convincing if the Conservatives had managed to achieve as little as a third of the vote in any of the last three elections in Warrington South.

 In fact since 1997 it is the Liberal Democrats who have been taking votes and Council seats from Labour in Warrington. This graph shows the results of the last three General Election campaigns in Warrington South and projects the probable position in 2010:

ws-1997-2010.JPG

It is clear that the votes of the three major parties are converging. If you extend the trend lines to 2010 you will see that the result here is likely to be too close to call. So with both the Conservatives and the Labour previous candidates having run away, to another constituency or from Parliament altogether, neither of those parties is at all confident that they can take the seat.

By contrast the Liberal Democrats have been working hard in Warrington for a very long time and have the confidence of many voters. The voters keep confirming that confidence, most recently in Whittle Hall. We are now only one seat away from overall control of the Council and we know that Jo Crotty has as good a chance of representing Warrington South at Westminster as any of the other candidates, she will do an excellent job there and she deserves your support.

David Cameron’s New Year overtures

David Cameron has said some nice things about the Liberal Democrats and the decreasing policy gap between us and the Tories. Beware!

“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.” Preamble to the Federal Constitution

I have no doubt that David Cameron believes in all of these, but I have serious doubts about his party. The Tories have always been late converts to progressive politics. If they had had their way in history there would be no National Health Service, the BBC may not exist in its present form and we would not see the degree of equality of opportunity in education that so many benefit from today.

Labour by contrast have believed in progressive politics and have historically brought about many of the social reforms we value. However neither Labour nor the Tories have managed to run the country effectively for more than a few years.

This has been due to the contradictions in the two parties, one funded by the Unions, the other by offshore billionaires and home grown millionaires. The extreme views of some of their back benchers, MEPs and supporters leave me in no doubt that neither currently deserves unfettered power.

If you believe in the values in the LibDem constitution, the most effective way to ensure that those values are reflected by the next government will be to back us in the General Election, whenever it comes.

As I have said before, in the three way marginal, which Warrington South now is, the voters will have the opportunity of voting for real change at the general election by returning Jo Crotty to Parliament to help ensure that neither of the old and compromised parties can carry on with the same old politics.

Christmas and the community

I hope you all had a happy Christmas day. We enjoyed a traditional family Christmas made all the better with blue skies and picturesque snow on the ground.

Lymm’s Christmas includes two of the biggest community events of the year, Dickensian and Carols around the Cross. Both of these bring us together and remind us that one of Lymm’s great strengths as a place to live is the large number of community organisations which rely on the work of many volunteers. Those who simply see the village as a place to live are left well alone. But, those who want to get involved, either passively, by just attending events, or, more actively, by helping to organise them, get the opportunity to do so.

Over the last year Oughtrington Community Centre has renewed its committee and the new members are tackling the work necessary to take advantage of the completion of the first phase West End project. The youth club building is being brought back into use by a very practically oriented set of volunteers and the Lymm Traders group continues to look after the interests of the Village Centre.

These are just three examples of the dozens of organizations that make life in Lymm so much better than in many anonymous suburbs or dormitory towns.

I would like to wish all of you a very happy New Year and thank personally all of those who have volunteered and worked for the community to make Lymm the place it is.

Good news for young people

Figures just released show Cheshire and Warrington to have one of the lowest numbers of young people not in employment education or training (NEET) in the country according to Connexions reported in ChesterFirst.

In Warrington, this October, only 6.4% of young people aged 16-18 are NEET, In Cheshire West and Chester it is 6.3% compared to 7.1% for England and 7.7% for the North West.

This reflects well on the town and its schools which have been recording some of the best results in the country. It also shows that, despite the recession, Warrington continues to be one of the best places to live and work.

We are also talking to developers who are planning first homes for young people which will be available to buy for a total monthly outlay comparable to the cost of a student room.

Warrington also remains a destination of choice for big employers. The latest announcement is that the Home Office is to take a major office site near to the M6 and close to Birchwood as a major regional hub.

Lymm street scene

Over the last few days I have had a lot of calls about parking, speed limits, street lighting and pot holes.

I am pleased to say that the Head of Service in Warrington who deals with these issues has agreed to visit Lymm between Christmas and the New Year to see for himself. I will be showing him some of the problems, though there isn’t that much he may be able to do given the very tight budget we have for next year.

What is really galling is the fact the Helen Jones, Labour MP  for Warrington North, constantly accuses the three Lymm Councillors, all of whom are on the Executive Board, of neglecting the deprived areas of Warrington to favour Lymm. Fat chance!

Even if we could do that, Ian Marks and I were elected on a platform of One Warrington, reducing inequalities. The recent very harsh assessment of Warrington’s administration has criticised us for failing to improve employment prospects and health in the deprived areas fast enough. We are doing our best to be fair to the wards south of the ship canal, Lymm in particular, while not neglecting the areas that really need help.

Unfortunately Warrington is funded as a prosperous area rather, than an area of contrasts. This means that business rates raised in Warrington are taken away and distributed mainly to other parts of the country. This has made it very difficult for both the Labour administration before us, and the current LibDem and Conservative led Council, to deal with the needs of areas like Lymm.

So I will be pressing the Head of Service to ensure that Lymm is getting its fair share of resources and that these are applied to the problems that residents tell me are most important to them. I am also working on the South Neighbourhood Board to ensure that even smaller bodies, such as the Parish Councils, can direct services to where they are most needed.

By improving efficiency and directing services better we will be able to resolve some of the issues that residents are calling me about. Unfortunately money is going to be very tight over the next few years so we do need to look at more inventive ways of solving some of these problems.

Liberal Democrat success in Whittle Hall by-election

A Parish Council by-election in Whittle Hall was won resoundingly tonight by Matt Newton (LibDem) in a straight fight with the Conservatives by 573 votes to 336. This in a ward next to the one currently being abandoned by Fiona Bruce (Con), who is off to fight the general election in Congleton, and an area where the Conservatives have to advance if they are to have any chance of winning Warrington South in the general election.

So why should Lymm residents care about a minor election in a far flung ward at the other end of the Borough?

It is because it is a real pointer to the opportunity you will have at the General Election. Warrington South is a three way marginal constituency. The other parties will try hard to persuade you otherwise, yet Labour has given up all hope of a win here and don’t even have an official candidate yet, following Helen Southworth MP’s announcement that she wouldn’t stand again, probably because she preferred to stand down than lose.

The Conservatives are smugly expecting victory and writing us off, because they know they have had more money to spend than anyone else and they feel that all they need to secure victory is to write off the LibDem challenge. A big mistake that takes the electorate for granted.

You will have the opportunity at the general election to decide whether you want more of the ding-dong of the two big parties that have landed us with the current economic catastrophe. Or, whether the time has come for a more consensual politics in Westminster where everyone works together to get us out of this mess.

Only additional LibDem MPs will achieve that and you will have a real opportunity to elect one here next year. Jo Crotty is an outstanding candidate and will make a brilliant MP.

Bob’s blog

Welcome to my blog. This is where you will find out about what the Liberal Democrats are doing in Warrington and Lymm to improve life for our residents.

The blog will allow me to be in touch more often than our FOCUS newsletters do, to cover more issues, sometimes at greater length, and for you to be able to reply to posts.

I will also write about national issues and why I am a Liberal Democrat. I hope you enjoy visiting this site and come back often. I will do my best to make it worth your while!