Queen’s speech

The Liberal Democrats have strongly influenced the following measures announced in the Queen’s speech:

  • Lords Reform
  • Green Investment Bank
  • Libel Reform
  • Giving shareholders a vote on directors’ remuneration
  • Flexible parental leave – the measure Nick Clegg’s championed to give families the choices that work for them by allowing parents to divide leave entitlements between them whereas now the mother is entitled to a year’s leave, the father just two weeks.
  • Meeting the 0.7% target for overseas aid
  • Reform of the State Pension, driven by Steve Webb
  • Establishing a Groceries Adjudicator to ensure the big supermarkets treat their suppliers fairly
  • Banking reform as championed by Vince Cable
  • Reform of electricity markets – especially on fair pricing
  • Continued progress towards reforming succession so that girls have equal rights to boys, as championed by Lynne Featherstone

See the full article in Liberal Democrat Voice

The Big Brother state won’t happen on the Liberal Democrat watch

Cambridge Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert has launched a petition to stop Theresa May’s plans to create a snoopers charter.
Julian said “Liberal Democrats – in Cambridge and elsewhere – will always fight for the basic right of every single resident to have a private life. I’ve already forced the Government to publish the new bill in draft form so it can be amended. This petition will help force the Government to create new safeguards to protect against state surveillance. We will do whatever it takes to protect our most basic civil liberties.

Labour supporters please note

Neal Lawson has argued in a blog post that:

The Lib Dems

“The Lib Dems went into coalition with the Tories, backed the cuts and broke their promise on tuition fees. But back in May 2010 it wasn’t so simple. Then the greatest fear was that the Tories would go to the country again with a huge war chest and win outright, meaning no-one holding the right in check. It was a real fear.

And in a voting system in which the electoral odds are stacked against you, what is the point of being the third party if you don’t take a chance influencing government when it so rarely comes along? And with Labour looking tired, seemingly longing for the opposition benches, no real counter offer was made. Of course it’s a case of be careful what you wish for, but you can at least understand why they made the choice they did.

And remember this in our fury against the Lib Dems. It was Labour that started the commercialization of the NHS and education and tried to privatise the Post Office. It was Labour that pioneered welfare-to-work schemes and brought in A4e. And it was Labour that gave knighthoods to out of control bankers and promised cuts deeper than Thatcher. Oh and it was Labour that reneged on tuition fees and today backs them at £6000 per year. We should be careful about our fury just in case it smacks of hypocrisy.

Is there any downside to ensuring that if there is another hung parliament, ideas and relationships tilt the balance to the left and not again to the right? Many in Labour would have much in common with Simon Hughes, Charles Kennedy, Shirley Williams and Tim Farron. The growing Social Liberal Forum and the new Liberal Left provide fertile ground for talks.

Even if your only hope is to persuade as many Lib Dems as possible to vote Labour, then is that best achieved by attacking them remorselessly and relentlessly?”

It is worth reading his whole piece and considering whether alienating most Lib Dems while winning back the most left leaning supporters we borrowed because they were so disgusted with New Labour, is a sensible strategy for a party that will only win if it builds a social democratic consensus.

Dirty deceit


Contact: Bob Barr (01925 751817)

Date:              14 July 2011


“Labour have sunk to the dirty trick of a deceitful leaflet, rather than telling the electorate what their young, inexperienced and absent candidate has to offer Poulton North.” says Bob Barr the Liberal Democrat spokesman on planning matters on Warrington Borough Council.

Writing about the potential development of open land at Peel Hall, not even in the contested Poulton North ward, Labour say “No secret deals.” they are right, there are no secret deals, but that is not what the leaflet implies.

They describe the outrage of Cinnamon Brow residents at council officers having talks with a developer. Officers held a routine meeting with a developer two days before the May elections to discuss a proposal to fund football fields if some housing was allowed. Not the 1000 houses mentioned in the leaflet but no more than 150. The developer was told that it was not Council policy to build in this area in the foreseeable future.

Ashley Pemberton, the Labour candidate, is then credited with a slur against the Liberal Democrats. “These discussions have been taking place for some time..” he says, “they must have been taking place when the Lib Dems were running the Council”. True, two days before the election. No Liberal Democrat was told about these discussions.

The Lib Dem policy was clear; there is no need to build at Peel Hall that is why the Lib Dem administration fought all the way to the High Court to keep Peel Hall in the Green Belt. It was Labour Government policy that defeated that effort and the threat of Labour Government intervention that put the Peel Hall land at risk.

The words put into Pemberton’s mouth bear a striking similarity to words previously attributed to, and then denied by, Helen Jones MP. Nothing is being sold off for a “fast buck”, none of this land is in Council ownership. “What have they got to hide?” Labour ask, knowing perfectly well that the answer is “Nothing!”

Warrington North Labour’s deceitful smear machine is in full flow as they fear that Colin Oliver, a popular, effective and well liked local candidate will take this seat for the Lib Dems. Having failed to find their own local or experienced candidate Labour are sinking to their usual dirty tricks.

Beware of hidden energy price rises

Last year I wrote about the substantial discount that I was able to get from my existing energy supplier (both gas and electricity) simply by ringing them up and asking for it. I had completely forgotten that my deal expired on 31st March, and my energy supplier didn’t think of reminding me.

Instead they sent me a bill where the expiry date for the tariff I was on, just two weeks on from the date of the bill, was deeply hidden. However what was not hidden was a very misleading page of ‘Predicted’ costs for energy gas for the coming year. The problem with the ‘Predictions’ was that they were based on the tariff expiring in a few days.

I would have expected to have been reminded that the discount tariff was expiring and offered a similar tariff to roll-over on to. But no, not a word, instead I was placed on the ‘standard’ tariff – for ‘standard’ read the highest amount we think we can get away with charging, which would cost me a couple of hundred pounds more than the previous tariff.

It was only when I got one of my regular emails from u-switch that I realised my predicament. I have since phoned my energy supplier, been put on to a new discount tariff for 14 months and been offered both an apology and a refund of the overpayment since the end of March.

This is a completely unacceptable state of affairs. I suspect that most households, in particular the elderly or those not paying close attention to their bills, are spending far more on energy than they need to and it is not a trivial saving, £200 – £500 a year is common. Loyal customers are fleeced while ‘new’ customers are given sweetheart bills. This has become the normal way of doing business for energy, phone and insurance companies all of whom have a convenient hand in your pocket because they supply essential services and are not adequately regulated.

I know it takes time and is boring and annoying, but if you don’t shop around for essential utilities and services you will be taken for granted and overcharged.

Labour’s smokescreen


Contact: Ian Marks (01925 753051)

Date: 1 May 2011


Town Hall bosses have hit back at Labour claims that their comment on the stinging Local Government Ombudsman’s report is just a ‘political stunt’.

Labour opposition leader Cllr Terry O’Neill has criticised the Lib Dem / Conservative administration for laying the blame with the previous Labour ruling group at the Town Hall.

Council leader Ian Marks says, “This is no stunt. For Warrington Borough Council to be described as having suffered ‘a significant and very serious failure of corporate governance’, and that ‘the destruction of the Council’s statutory records was an extraordinary and inexcusable act of maladministration’, is a very serious matter. This action by a trusted senior planning officer must have been planned. The report says ‘It must have involved a considerable administrative effort and a number of staff’.

It is possible that the illegal act of destroying the archive of planning records contrary to planning law was simply an isolated act of incompetence by a senior officer. Nevertheless the destruction of records raises speculation about other possible reasons for their removal which brings the Council into serious disrepute.

The timing of the report, and its release to the press immediately prior to an election, was an entirely independent decision by the Ombudsman. Once the report was published, we had no option but to comment.

Cllr O’Neill’s ill-tempered response is an attempt to write off evidence of the failure of his administration to manage Warrington Council properly. His statement must be seen as the smoke-screen that it is.”

Deputy leader Keith Bland added, “Cllr O’Neill refers to the need for a full enquiry. The Council’s Internal Audit team has already been asked to undertake the investigation and they started the process promptly on Thursday. I would expect the Council’s Monitoring Officer to consider preparing a report as part of any governance response, depending on the conclusions of the Audit investigation. All planning records are now kept in digital form but Internal Audit will check and confirm that the way we now keep planning records is up to the required standard.”


The original BBC item.

Leader’s announcements

At the beginning of each Council meeting the Leader of the Council goes through the significant events since the previous meeting. This weeks announcements cover the three week period since the last full Council:


Correspondence with Government Ministers

  • Letter sent by three party leaders to Michael Gove MP inviting him to visit William Beamont High School and the Orford Park Project
  • Letter sent to George Osborne MP and Vince Cable MP expressing the Council’s interest in establishing an Enterprise Zone on the Winwick Road Corridor
  • The first wave of Vanguard Zones was announced in the Budget on 23 March
  • Letter received from Tim Loughton MP in response to our letter regarding the Children’s Services assessment
  • The letter confirms that the Government is looking closely at the future of Ofsted


  • The three party leaders and the unions are issuing a joint statement on academies
  • This will be circulated to all members but confirms that none of us has ‘an appetite’ for academies in Warrington
  • We believe our schools perform at a high standard and that collaboration between them works well
  • The provision of education within Warrington is carefully balanced and would be disrupted by conversion of schools to academy status


  • I am delighted to note that the Chancellor did not increase the fuel duty in his budget last week and listened to the advice the Deputy Leader and I gave him!
  • I am also delighted that the Chancellor is giving an additional £100m to councils for dealing with potholes following the winter problems.  This is in addition to the £100m announced in February
  • I have a letter from Philip Hammond, the Secretary of State, to tell us Warrington will be receiving an extra £555,292 to be paid on 28 March as our share
  • This is most welcome because the state of our roads is something residents are very concerned about and is one of our priorities for action
  • We also welcome the intent to simplify the bureaucracy in the planning system
  • Finally a few comments on our own budget which we debated at the last Council
  • On behalf of the Administration I would like to thank all the officers in the Council for their work on the budget.  The service challenge process we conducted was extremely thorough and businesslike
  • The work we started last year in preparation has proved extremely beneficial and enabled us to declare less redundancies and less cuts to frontline services than many other councils in the region
  • There has been excellent co-operation with staff and unions and we are very grateful for this

Warrington Market

  • There has been widespread indignation at the proposal to increase the business rates on our 750 year old award winning market by 79%
  • The proper title is National Non Domestic Rates which are collected by the Council but passed directly to national government
  • The rate is assessed, calculated and set by the Valuation Office Agency which is part of HM Revenue and Customs
  • At present the market has one rateable value as a whole and the NNDR is paid by the Council as the landlord
  • The Valuation Office has embarked on a national review of all seventy covered markets
  • It is proposing to charge each of the 136 businesses separately and we were informed of this in February with the change to be made from April 2011 – about one month’s notice
  • The current £440,000 would go up by 79% to £789,000
  • Small  business relief for some may be available but there is no certainty
  • In the current economic climate, not many businesses can sustain such an increase in outgoings
  • If businesses quit or fail due to this change, this will have a significant impact on the market – not only in vacant stalls and loss of licence fee income but the general vitality of the market and the town centre
  • Currently 600 people are employed in the 230 stalls and shops in the market
  • There will be a huge increase in administration and bureaucracy – 136 assessments, invoices and collections rather than one, with a greater risk of non-payment of NNDR
  • We feel it destroys opportunities for enterprise and small businesses to start, grow and develop
  • So what are we doing?
  • We are appealing but this may take twelve months or more
  • We are co-ordinating objections with other markets in the region
  • We have jointly appointed a national NNDR expert to advise us
  • We are proposing to reduce licence fees by the amount that traders have to pay for the new NNDR liability from 1 April
  • We are meeting frequently with traders to co-ordinate activity

Health and Wellbeing Board

  • Following interviews held on 9 March, I am pleased to inform you that Professor Steven Broomhead has been appointed the Independent Chairperson of the Health and Wellbeing Board
  • The board’s remit will include agreeing priorities to address health and social care needs, to work with the new Warrington Health Consortium, to improve health in general and to oversee arrangements for the transfer of public health to the Council
  • The board will be made up of councillors, GPs, members of the patient involvement organisation Health Watch, the directors of public health, adult social care and children’s services, neighbourhood representatives and the voluntary sector
  • Warrington is one of the local authorities that have been granted ‘early implementer status’ for setting up this board

Olympics Event / Time Capsule Project

  • Olympics Day was held on 15 March  – 500 days from the start of the 2012 games
  • The event involved approximately 300 children from Year 5 of the seven William Beamont feeder primary schools
  • The schools took part in activities to celebrate the Olympic and Paralympic values, relating these to their own lives in Orford
  • The best pieces generated from the activities are to be put into individual schools’ time capsules which will be buried on site towards the end of 2011


  • The Omega Steering Group met with representatives from Millers on 10 March
  • Later on Millers also met with the local ward councillors
  • At last things are starting to happen and I am very confident that at last we will soon be having some activity on the site
  • My colleague Bob Barr will say more on this when he answers a question later on

First Time Buyer Mortgage Initiative

  • A pioneering scheme to help first time buyers who can afford mortgage repayments but not a large deposit, get onto the housing ladder is being piloted by five local authorities including Warrington
  • The scheme has been developed with Sector Treasury Services, part of the Capita Group
  • We will provide financial assistance to fund up to 20% of a first time buyer’s mortgage, by lodging the funds with the lender
  • Lloyds TSB is the first high-street bank to join the scheme as a mortgage provider but we hope others will follow
  • Local authorities will only incur actual costs if a loss is incurred by the mortgage lender further down the line
  • This should help 250 local people become first time buyers and at the same time generate a return for the council of up to 4.25% over the five-year period
  • This scheme will not only help first time buyers, but also stimulate the local housing economy, freeing up rented accommodation and helping those trying to sell their properties to move on

Earth Hour – Saturday, 26 March

  • The Council is due to part in the World Wildlife Fund’s ‘Earth Hour’ on Saturday 26 March 2011 from 8.30-9.30pm
  • During Earth Hour people all over the world will turn off their lights to show they care about protecting the natural world and to urge world leaders to take action to tackle climate change
  • Last year over 120 local authorities in the UK took part and this year is the fourth year running for Warrington
  • The Council is working hard to tackle climate change on a number of fronts and is proud to be involved with ‘Earth Hour’

Local Enterprise Partnership

  • The inaugural meeting of the Cheshire and Warrington LEP Board was held on Saturday, 12 March
  • The Board appointed Christine Gaskell who is a member of the Board of Bentley Motors in Crewe as its first chairperson
  • Members of the Board have already met Mark Prisk MP. Business and Enterprise Minister, to discuss the way forward
  • On 25 March they are also meeting here in this chamber with senior civil servants from CLG and BIS
  • These meetings are all designed to continue to increase the profile and visibility of Warrington and our sub-region with government

Marketing Cheshire

  • ‘Visit Chester and Cheshire’, the tourism body for Cheshire and Warrington, is set to reshape its role in April
  • It will be renamed as ‘Marketing Cheshire’ and be responsible for place marketing and promotion, as well as the traditional support to the visitor economy
  • The organisation will switch from a reliance on public sector funding to a model based on private sector support from members and commercial partners
  • The new organisation will work closely with local authority partners and the LEP and its formation demonstrates our confidence in the future prosperity of our sub-region

Business Forum

  • Following on from the success of our autumn Business Conference, we are proposing to set up a Business Forum to develop the relationships between the council and businesses in the town
  • A preliminary meeting has been held and the Forum will be set up in the near future

New funding for the former coalfields

  • The government announced on 10 March that there will be new funding to promote regeneration in England’s former coalfields
  • The Coalfields Regeneration Trust which mainly provides support to community-based initiatives, will receive £30m for the period to March 2013, with the prospect of additional funding, probably £22m, for the following two years
  • A further £150m has been earmarked to honour existing commitments within the coalfield site reclamation programme run by the Homes and Communities Agency

Warrington Baths

  • The sale of the former Warrington Baths site has just been completed
  • The NHS developer will now demolish the buildings and build a new town centre clinic to replace Garven Place
  • The Council will get the cleared site of the present Garven Place clinic in twelve months time

New Council Houses

  • The first council houses built in the borough for more than twenty years were officially opened on 23 March
  • The new homes are in Charnock Road Culcheth and will help alleviate a shortage of affordable homes in the area
  • The £3.5 million scheme was built by main contractor Bullock Construction and funded by the Council and the Homes and Community Agency
  • It consists of three two bed bungalows and is the first of seven sites to be completed across Warrington.  There will eventually be thirty-two two bed bungalows for rent
  • Other build locations include Poplars and Hulme and Poulton with Fearnhead
  • They will enable people to downsize whilst staying in the same community

Military ID / Cheers for Heroes

  • The Ministry of Defence has announced that in future pubs and clubs must accept military ID as proof of age
  • David Mowat MP has been lobbying hard to get the rules changed since being elected to Parliament after the issue was brought to his attention when a local soldier was refused entry into a bar in the town centre
  • Councillors have also been lobbying officers to work with local licensed premises to recognise the special circumstances of serving soldiers
  • At present licensed premises have a specific list of acceptable forms of ID but this does not include an Armed Forces ID card.  Soldiers on leave often have their passports held at  barracks leaving them without any form of ID

Supporting Veterans in Warrington

  • A new group is being set up in Warrington to help returning former veterans and their families rejoin civilian life
  • A number of partners are already involved and the group aims to provide a single point of contact for veterans to access all the information and services they might need
  • This may include signposting to the medical help available, finding a new job, new home, school, or simply understanding which benefits they are entitled to
  • Partners currently include the Council, NHS Warrington, Golden Gates Housing, Job Centre Plus, Cheshire Probation Service, Help for Heroes, Royal British Legion, Veteran Coldstream Guards and the Citizens Advice Bureau
  • This is an excellent example of partnership working and I commend all those involved in  this initiative

Hospital Discharge

  • A new Hospital Discharge Team has been established with staff from Halton and Warrington Councils, Warrington and Halton Hospital Foundation Trust and other Health partners
  • It is a multi disciplinary team managed by an integrated manager jointly funded by all partner agencies
  • The aim is to provide a consistent, high quality discharge process for all patients in need of ongoing support after discharge
  • The service will be launched on 1 April and all hospital discharges will be facilitated by the new team rather than community teams

Participatory Appraisal Warrington Group

  • 1800 interviews have been undertaken at the Job Centre so that targeted activity around improving health and getting people back to work in the Coalfields area can be achieved from the insight gained
  • The results are expected at the beginning of April and will be the basis on which work clubs and pre-work activities are delivered in the area

Lavender Hill Project

  • This scheme to promote and support Older People into training and employment will be included in a Panorama Special on older people’s issues on 4 April 2011
  • The title of the programme is ‘Finished at 50?’

Positive Futures

  • We welcome the news that a programme to help prevent young people becoming involved in crime will continue to receive £10m of Home Office funding
  • This means that the ninety-one national ‘Positive Futures’ projects including the one based in Warrington, will be able to continue
  • The Warrington project works with young people and volunteers throughout the town and is expanding its provision. It runs 12 weekly sessions, with over 250 places available free of charge
  • Activities range from community sports clubs, street dancing and volunteer training to intergenerational sports sessions
  • It works with individuals aged from five to seventeen and encourages adult participation and volunteering
  • Its multi agency approach has meant that the impact on specific communities has been substantial.  Targeted work in some of the neediest areas of the town means that young people from deprived backgrounds get the opportunity to fulfill their potential

Inclusion Matters

  • ‘Inclusion Matters’ started as a holiday childcare project for disabled children and young people in Warrington in April 2010
  • Over its first year it has developed an ethos and set of principles with the aim of using what is already available to improve quality and practice with regards to inclusion
  • Warrington was allocated £154,800 for the project from the DFE but this will finish on  31 March 2011
  • The ‘Inclusion Matters’ fund has been able to support 31 young disabled people and 47 groups with grants. This far outreaches the original targets of 15 personal grants and 30 group / childminder grants
  • Although the grants may have finished the ethos and the principles used within ‘Inclusion Matters’ will carry on and the Council will continue this important work

V Talent

  • An event to celebrate the success of this project was held on 2 March for the 15 successful volunteers, their families and the placement providers
  • V Talent is a full-time volunteering programme for young people aged 16-25
  • The idea behind the programme is for V Talent to work with the Council to deliver a compelling, highly visible youth volunteering programme which will be recognised by young people and employers
  • It covers training in drugs and alcohol, safeguarding, and health and safety
  • It also involves an NVQ level 2 in sports and activity leadership
  • As well as giving young people opportunities and qualifications it has helped towards building skills, knowledge, confidence and understanding

Primary Arts Network

  • Performances were given at the Parr Hall on 21 and 23 March by schools which are involved with the Primary Arts Network
  • This is a group of fifty six schools which come together and plan arts activities throughout the year to raise standards in all areas of the curriculum
  • They have a theme each year which is ‘Faces in the Crowd’
  • Children have produced art work which is will be exhibited at the Gateway and Pyramid until May
  • The concerts represent a performing arts opportunity where children explore the ‘Faces in the Crowd’ theme through music, dance and drama
  • Approximately 18 schools took part in the concerts which involved over 600 children
  • Both concerts were paid for by the Warrington Schools’ Arts and Culture Service

Closing the Gap Peer Assessment

  • Last time I briefly reported on the findings from the Local Government Improvement & Development Agency’s Peer Assessment of the ‘Closing the Gap’ programme commissioned by the Warrington Partnership
  • The focus of the assessment was to assess how the Partnership had responded to the two red flags from the Comprehensive Area Assessment for health inequalities and prospects for employment and to review the effectiveness of the programme to ensure real outcomes for residents who live within our most deprived communities
  • The Partnership demonstrated good evidence of improvements across the Closing the Gap framework, evidence of practical local initiatives being delivered, a strong desire and enthusiasm within Warrington to ‘Closing the Gap’ and strong links with the voluntary sector
  • They suggested we consider how we can further improve communication and shared understanding of both the Partnership and our neighbourhood model, review how we engage with our local communities to ensure they all have the chance to participate and simplify our strategies, plans, processes and review the number of meetings we hold
  • On 10 March, the Warrington Partnership approved an improvement plan to deliver the actions identified
  • Overall, the message from the review is very positive in that they recognise we have made significant progress and are delivering improvements on the ground
  • The Council and the Wolves are working with others to submit a bid to host part of the 2013 World Cup
  • Towns across the country will be hoping to be chosen to host games, provide training camps and accommodate teams from around the world
  • To have the World Cup in Warrington would be a huge boost not only for the local economy but also for our sense of community pride
  • We need as many people as possible to get behind the bid and show their support by adding their name to the e-campaign
  • The bid needs to be submitted on 15 April so there’s not much time to sign up
  • Pledging your support is easy, just visit www.warrington.gov.uk/rugby and add your name

Rugby League World Cup bid

Council Group of the Year

  • The Lib Dem Group has been successful in winning a national party award in one of the categories at their annual ‘council of the year’ ceremony
  • The award was for ‘Strengthening Communities’ and was based on our work in Stronger Together and neighbourhood working
  • Congratulations to all involved

Councillor Ian Marks

25 March 2011

Labour offer nothing to the people of Warrington


Contact: Ian Marks (01925 753051)

Date:              30 March 2011


The Leader of the Liberal Democrats on the Council has hit back at claims by Labour that the last Council meeting was a ‘political sham’.

Cllr Ian Marks says, “I would call it a shambles rather than a sham and I have never seen the Labour Party so rattled.  Their contribution to the meeting was virtually non-existent.  They submitted no motions and no questions.  Their problem is that there is plenty of in-fighting in their party between the different factions although this has yet to fully surface in public.

At the previous Council meeting they failed to come up with an alternative budget.   Before we took control in 2006, we prepared a proper alternative budget which is what you would expect from any responsible party that aspired to take power.  All they produced on the night, were a few examples of where they would spend money but with no indication of where it would come from.  They oppose every saving we make but give no indication what they would do if they were in control.  They are still in denial that their government caused the financial mess we are having to deal with because of their reckless spending.  They ignore the fact that had Labour won the election they had planned cuts of £72billion to the Coalition Government’s £83billion.

On Monday Labour didn’t like all the positive achievements I announced.  To talk of a failed administration is sheer nonsense and flies in the face of reality.  They didn’t like it when we exposed that £33m of council tax rents had left Warrington to prop up other councils because of their failure to transfer our council houses years ago.  They didn’t like it when we brought into the open the appalling deal they made on the Hatters Row shopping mall nor the delay to the Omega development because of their dilly dallying on the original planning application.  How disappointing for them when we categorically stated that there would be no incinerator in Warrington so putting an end to their shameful scare campaign.  And finally they didn’t like it when we pointed out that for the last five years of their rule, council tax went up on average nearly 7% a year whereas under our watch it has only gone up 3% a year, including a nil increase for next year.”


Health Policy

I have had two emails about LibDem support for the Coalition’s Health Policy, here is my response:

Thank you for your observations, you will be aware that your concerns were addressed at our Spring Conference in Sheffield.

The robust debate has made the Party’s position absolutely clear. We will not support the ‘privatisation’ of the National Health Service.

However you should take a few things into account. Tony Blair’s Labour Government presided over the largest ‘privatisation’ of health care since the formation of the NHS. Even Lansley’s plans, which we do not support in full, do not go so far.

Secondly a doubling of NHS expenditure has not coincided with a concomitant improvement in the outcomes delivered or the quality of service. It has not been cost effective, and, even worse, with health expenditure growth halted (in real terms, allowing for inflation) the massive centralised bureaucracy is not delivering. PFI funded hospital building is going to be a drain on NHS resources for the next 30 years and some PCTs and NHS Trusts are already in financial trouble without the budgets available to dig them out. So, no change is not an option.

By making Public Health locally accountable through Local Authorities, and giving GPs a much bigger say in how services are delivered at what cost, there is scope to improve both the quality of the health care provided and health outcomes within existing budgets. I have heard at least one Labour supporting Chairman of a Primary Care Trust expressing the same views.

What the LibDem conference made clear is that WE DO NOT SUPPORT PRIVATISATION or DISMANTLING of the Health Service. However we accept that change is necessary and that it must be carried out with due diligence to ensure it does not have adverse unforeseen outcomes.

Labour piled massive management costs on to the Health Service, made it less democratically accountable and landed it with 30 years of debts. They wasted billions on private providers and management consultants. They left a Health Service which is unsustainable with protected budgets, yet they refused to promise to protect the Health Service from cuts. You may choose to listen to Labour propaganda, that is up to you.

As a Liberal Democrat I want to see a Health Service which is guaranteed to be free at the point of use and need, which is locally accountable, which is more cost effective and which concentrates on prevention rather than picking up the pieces once people fall ill. I want a service which is driven by a passion for better outcomes and better quality, not the pursuit of profit. I, and my LibDem colleagues in Parliament will fight for that.

Council Budget Debate

Here is the text of the speech I gave in the full Council Budget Debate:

I would like to bring the Council’s attention to a particular aspect of this budget. Inward investment into Warrington is at a record high. The Orford park project, an unfunded aspiration of the previous administration, has been turned into a funded reality by us.

Omega, a strategic opportunity since the 1970s, which the previous administration failed to exploit, is getting under way with customers in place who will bring significant numbers of jobs to the site and the town.

 World class development partners are competing keenly to invest £150 – £200 million into the town centre.

By succeeding in securing record amounts of Kick-start funding this administration is delivering record numbers of affordable homes and has provided employment through the downturn.

 Perhaps the greatest success has been the formation of the Golden Gates Housing Trust which has unlocked over £100 million of investment into our social housing stock. Some of the least well off in the town will be getting better homes which cost less to run.

 This is in contrast to the £30 million that was taken from Warrington tenants by the Labour government to be spent in other, predominantly Labour, Boroughs around the country. Newham, for example which then spent its own money on a grandiose new Town Hall.

 Had the previous administration sensibly allowed Golden Gates to become a Housing Association, as St Helens did, by transferring their council housing, the tenants would not have been let down so badly, despite the excellent work done by the Golden Gates ALMO with inadequate resources. It took the current administration to achieve stock transfer which is bringing such benefits and work to the town.

 And now the Labour group will be asking for another chance to let the town down. They criticise this prudent and fair budget, delivered in very difficult circumstances, which are largely the fault of the last Labour Government.

The group opposite repeats the Labour mantra that the cuts are too deep and too fast without mentioning any area that they would be prepared to cut. The difference between Labour’s plans and the coalition’s is to reduce the deficit by £73 billion by the end of this parliament compared to the coalition’s £80 billion. In that case the group opposite must tell us which 90% of our proposed savings do they support and which 10% would they reverse and how they would fund that reverse.

 Are they prepared to do that? No! It is not so much a complaint of too fast and too deep, their mantra is that they would make no cuts, ever; or at least they will not admit to any of any significance. In fact Councillor Carey has given us an extraordinary wish list of additional spending commitments.

This is blatantly dishonest and shows how unfit they are to run this Council and how, if allowed to, they would let the town down again. I call on members to support this budget and to help us in our work to keep Warrington prosperous and to ensure that the burden of cuts falls fairly across the community as a whole.