Thursday, 23 December 2010

Yes to AV: Where are we now?

Yes to Fairer Votes
We have been working hard over the last months to make the UK say Yes in next May's referendum, and let me thank you for everything you have done.

So far, over 150,000 Yes campaigners like you, MPs from all parties, and even Kevin Webster from Corrie have all spoken out and said Yes to AV.

It's great that so many politicians are supporting this campaign, but this change in voting is about people rather than politicians.

It is about what we the people want, not what the politicians tell us we should have.

And in the New Year you will see a step change in our campaign.

Watch my video to see how far we have come, and an outline for what we have to do over the next four months.

You've made a great start - the latest polls show that we are in the lead with voters who have already decided.

But with over a third of voters yet to decide, there's still a long way to go.

I look forward to working with you in 2011 to achieve a fairer way of doing politics in the UK. Together we can win this referendum.

This is our chance to change our politics. Be part of the change.

Thank you and Merry Christmas,

Jonathan Bartley

P.S. Don't forget to keep up the campaigning over Christmas. Let your family know why they should say Yes on 5 May!

On behalf of Cambridgeshire Road Safety Partnership...

It’s here, the Christmas office party, the firm’s “do”. Traditionally it’s a time to have a great time with your work mates and give the boss some gentle stick. It’s also the time for some to lose their driving licence, get a huge fine and possibly a prison sentence. Now there’s a party they’ll never forget. 

Everyone likes a good time at Christmas and New Year. It’s the party season. The only safe course of action is not to drink and drive. Not only on the day of the office party but also on the day after it. (Don’t think that the morning after provides your body with an instant all clear. It doesn’t). So on the day and the day after take the bus, a taxi or arrange to have a non-drinking designated driver. But do not drink and drive.
Alcohol severely impairs the driver
Alcohol tends to make you feel over confident and more likely to take risks when driving. This false confidence increases the danger to all road users, including you. The legal limit in the UK is 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. But any amount of alcohol affects your ability to drive safely. The effects include
  • Slower reactions
  • Reduced co-ordination
  • Loss of ability to judge speed, time and distance
  • Diminished concentration
There is absolutely no failsafe method of how to stay under the legal limit. Nor is there a magic formula to employ that allows you to drink and drive safely. Many elements have to be taken into account, including your weight, age, sex and metabolism; your stress levels; the amount and type of alcohol; and an empty stomach. The only safe option is not to drink if you plan to drive. And never offer a drink to someone else who is driving.

A driver will be found guilty of drink driving if he or she has more than:

  • 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath
  • 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood
  • 107 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of urine

Drinking and driving does not mix and the law is very clear on how it deals with it:

  • Driving or attempting to drive whilst above the legal limit (or unfit through drink) carries a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment, a fine of up to £5,000 and a minimum 12 months driving ban.
  • An endorsement for a drink-driving offence remains on a driving licence for 11 years. That means 11 years before a convicted driver will have a clean licence again.
  • Being in charge of a vehicle whilst over the legal limit or unfit through drink could result in three months imprisonment plus a fine of up to £2,500 and a driving ban.
  • Should a driver refuse to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine for analysis the penalty is a maximum six months imprisonment, up to £5000 fine and a driving ban of at least 12 months.
  • Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison; a minimum two year driving ban; and a requirement to pass an extended driving test before being able to   rive again legally.

Think before drinking and driving, is it worth:
  • The humungous taxi bill resulting from say a three year ban
  • Being separated from family and friends whist serving up to 14 years in prison
  • Your savings being frittered away paying a fine (typically £5000)
  • Being forced to sit an extended driving test
  • Getting a criminal record that could also make you unemployable
  • Having your insurance costs go through the roof
  • Experiencing a real problem hiring a car for the next 10 years
Even on the morning after you’re still not safe
On the morning after you’ve been out drinking you may still be affected by the alcohol you’ve consumed. You could feel fine but in reality be unfit to drive or be over the legal alcohol limit. Showering, drinking coffee, or other ways of sobering up will not help. It is impossible to get rid of alcohol from your body other than through time. You could still lose your licence if you drive the day after your party.

Any amount of alcohol will affect your judgement. Starting with your judgement about whether you should have another drink or not. And if you think you won’t get caught, think again. More than half a million breath tests are carried out each year and on average 100,000 are found to be positive. Take the bus. 

LibDems in Government: ID cards abolished

Just in case you missed it on the 22nd December 2010 Identity cards, the failed "Database State" project left behind by New Labour, were finally  scrapped when the "Identity Documents Bill" was granted Royal Assent.

Both locally and nationally Liberal Democrats have consistently campaigned against ID cards and having them finally killed off is a major victory.

All existing ID cards will be cancelled within one month, and the National Identity Register will be destroyed within two months.

Scrapping this unwelcome invasion of personal liberty will save £845m in planned future government expenditure supporting the system over the next ten years. Just to put that number in perspective it's a little under 150 years worth of Council tax for the whole of South Cambridgeshire*!

* - For which figures are available.

Sarah Teather MP - The Pupil Premium in your area

Today the government unveiled further details of the Pupil Premium – a key Liberal Democrat policy which will ensure the most disadvantaged children in our country get the help they need.
From April next year every school in England will get £430 for each child in their school on Free School Meals. Based on latest estimates this will mean at least an extra £415,810 for schools to spend on the students who need it most in South Cambridgeshire.
Please let friends and parents know how the Pupil Premium will help children in South Cambridgeshire.
Each year between now and 2015 the amount spent in your constituency will rise – by 2015 we will be spending a total of £2.5bn nationally on the pupil premium.

This is money on top of what is already being allocated for schoolchildren – no school will lose money as result of the Pupil Premium. And it will be given to Head Teachers to spend at their discretion on what they think works best for their school – be it extra one to one classes, breakfast clubs or after-school clubs.

The Pupil Premium was one of four key front page manifesto commitments on which we fought the last General Election. Making it a reality will help improve the social mobility and life chances of hundreds of thousands of children from less privileged backgrounds over the coming years.

That is the real difference our party is making in government.

Best wishes,
Sarah Teather MP
Minister of State, Department for Education

Monday, 13 December 2010

Cambridgeshire County Council "Vision for the Future"

The County Council has decided to make public some of it's spending plans for the future. A communication has been sent to Parish and District Councils to allow them to start to plan for the future.

The text of the message sent by the County Council is below;

"The County Council is very keen to engage with town and parish councils, as we make some difficult decisions about providing services for local communities in the future.  You will have hopefully received an email from me earlier this month, outlining our broad budget plans and likely decisions about council tax in 2011/12. 

We understand the need to provide you with more detail in order to inform your precepting decisions.  However, we are still at the stage of developing proposals and are not yet in a position to share extensive detail.  Indeed, it was only just over a week ago that we shared outline proposals with all our Members for the first time. 

I can reassure you though that we are committed to working with you over the next few months and beyond.  I have attached a version of the Members seminar on 3rd December, which will provide you with an overview of our vision for the future. 

I have also provided a link to the paper for our forthcoming Cabinet meeting this week, which provides an update on the budget:

And a link to a press release at the end of last week giving further information on our future plans: 

You are also invited to participate in our online budget consultation, which can be found here: 

In the New Year, we will be finalising detailed plans in time for our Cabinet meeting on 25th January, and then full Council meeting on 15th February. During January and February, we will be sharing as much detail as possible with you, as soon as we can.

We are also more than happy to answer any queries you might have, now or in the future.  Please contact Nick Dawe, our Director of Finance, on, or 01223 699236.

Very best wishes

Mark Lloyd  
Chief Executive
Cambridgeshire County Council"

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Faulty Street Light Reporting (via FixMyStreet)

As the nights get darker and the cold weather returns it's work reporting to the County Council any faulty street lights you may spot as you walk around.

For example I spotted this light which was on during the day next to a path just off the spine in Bar Hill.

I reported this issue here (via FixMyStreet).

The County Council can only fix issues it's aware of - don't assume someone else will report it!

University funding: Full length interview with Nick Clegg

On YouTube here below (in three parts) is a 30 minute interview with Nick Clegg on University funding. The interviewer is Dr Evan Harris, this interview was originally published on the Liberal Burblings Blog (here).

Like them I thoroughly recommend viewing the interview. It covers an enormous amount of detail on the controversy.

A transcript is available here.

Liberal Democrat Executive for South Cambridgeshire

The executive committee of the Liberal Democrats in South Cambridgeshire was elected at the AGM and I was fortunate enough to secure a place as the Data Officer, my fellow County Councillors Sue Gymer (Chair), and Belinda Brooks-Gordon were also elected and Susan Van de Ven will continue as the County Council representative to the executive.

The new executive will meet informally for the first time on the 17th December, in the new year we'll each be picking up our roles and going forward.

Given the elections next May 5th and the (critical) AV referendum 2011 will certainly be a busy year in South Cambridgeshire!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Cuts to Services Across Cambridgeshire - Have Your Say!

On Thursday the County Council released some preliminary information of the spending cuts it is currently planning in response to the financial mess the Labour party left this Country in. The really surprising thing was that only on Tuesday, at Full Council, the Conservative Administration was refusing to release details of the cuts - turns out a lot can change in two days*.

A few days earlier the Conservative administration briefed County Councillors (including Liberal Democrats) regarding the scope of the cuts. Those attending this briefing were sworn to secrecy regarding the changes - we are *still* unable to discuss specific areas of the cuts that have not yet been "leaked" by the administration into the public domain.

The BBC News covered the story here (with an interview with John Reynolds your local County Councillor and the cabinet member responsible).

One of the interesting things about the review is that the County Council is asking residents across Cambridgeshire to prioritise the services the County offers (i.e. say which areas should be cut and which should not). 

The survey is available hereI'd urge as many local residents and residents groups as possible to complete this survey - the County Council will be using it to "justify" the areas they are planning to cut (for example one of the "options" on the Survey is to close 19 libraries across Cambridgeshire - almost certainly including some in the city - if you think this is a bad idea let them know!)

*- The slightly more cynical amongst you will probably be thinking that, given the tuition fees debate and vote taking place on that date, it was "a good day to bury bad news".

Street Parties & The Royal Wedding (29 April 2011)

It might be a long time away but the County Council Traffic Management Team have put together some guidance regarding "Street Parties" should members of the public want to arrange one. 
I've included that guidance, as well as contact details, in this article to keep you informed.


The UK has a history of arranging street parties for historic events, the image to the left shows a street party celebrating the Queens Silver Jubilee in 1977. In 1981 street parties were held across the country to celebrate the marriage of the Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer. 

The County Council Traffic Management Team recognise that many may also wish to celebrate the wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton in a similar fashion. This is especially true now that the government has declared 29 April 2011 as a Bank Holiday. 

Given the likelihood of one-off events the County Councils Traffic Management Team have published the following guidance for street party organisers.


If at all possible, events should be held off road. Street parties should be held on residential roads with no through traffic e.g. a cul-de-sac. In which case;
  • A traffic management company or trained person will not be required to put out signage or traffic management.
  • Chapter 8 Traffic Signs Manual signage will not be necessary, but the road will need to be blocked off.
  • Public liability insurance will not be essential, but is recommended.
  • All residents affected by the closure will need to be asked and most will have to agree to it.
  • An application for a road closure will be needed and will have to be submitted at least 12 weeks prior to the event.
If residents wish to have a street party on a route with through traffic then they will be subject to the usual criteria for a road closure. Applicants will have to seek permission from the Local Highways Authority and;
  • Use a traffic management company or persons trained under the New Roads and Street Works Act “Signing, lighting and guarding” to close the road and put out signage.
  • Use Chapter 8 Traffic Signs Manual signage to correctly close the road and provide a diversion route. 
  • Apply for a road closure at least 12 weeks prior to the event.
  • Include mapped plans of the closures with diversion routes and all signage shown.
  • Have public liability insurance of at least £5m.
  • Ensure that the closure is communicated to all affected parties in advance.

Street parties will be classed as community events and therefore the public will not be charged for their Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders (TTRO) if advertising deadlines are met.

For further information please contact the Traffic Manager’s Team;
Tel: 01223 715913
RES1005, The Octagon, Shire Hall, Castle Hill, Cambridge, CB3 0AP.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Student Tuition Fees: A Brief Editorial

As you've no doubt seen both Nationally and Locally students are up in arms about the coalition governments proposed changes to Tuition Fees. The first thing to say that's worth noting is that Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, will be voting *against* raising the cap on Tuition Fees. He signed the Student Pledge during the election campaign and then re-signed it after the Coalition Agreement was signed. Julian *will* be voting against these changes.

The NUS pledge was not merely one against raising the cap, it also committed its signatories to work for a "fairer alternative" to the current system. I think that the government's policy is actually a fairer alternative (though naturally not one that wholly agrees with Lib Dem policy - welcome to coalition government!) for several reasons:
  1. The income threshold to start repayments rises from £15,000 to £21,000. This means all graduates will pay less per month than they do under the current system, and stops them from having to start repayments simply because they've taken up a fairly low-skilled job because there are no graduate jobs available at the moment.
  2. The discrimination of part-time students will be coming to an end. Provided the student is studying at least one third of the time they will now be eligible for student loans on exactly the same basis as full-time students and so will no longer have to pay tuition fees up front. If we are going to deal with skills shortages in the economy and reduce unemployment and underemployment it is vital that people who have started out in working life should be able to improve their qualifications, not just people who are straight out of school or can afford to leave their jobs entirely for three years.
  3. Maintenance grants will be increased and more students will be eligible for them. The current system is simply too miserly, as parents with household incomes above the current cut off often cannot spare any money for children going to university.
  4. The interest rate charged on the debt now varies with the graduate's income. This will mean that richer graduates pay a higher rate and poorer graduates pay a lower rate thus the system will become more progressive.
These last two points were the top two concessions called for by Liberal Democrat members who responded to Lib Dem Voice's survey on the Browne Report.

One of the other things to consider is that student loans are invisible to credit scoring companies because they are repaid entirely through the tax system. This will not change. What the state is doing is not so much lending money to students as taking a form of equity stake in their income for 30 years after graduation.

In addition to the items above, Ewan Hoyle made a good point about what it is that actually prevents poor students from going to university - not the prospect of paying for their tuition after graduating but insufficient maintenance funding while they are at university.  Because of the Lib Dem influence we got the government to change the Browne report's recommendations by making the maintenance grant system more generous (see point 3 above), this helps to deal with that problem.

So my conclusions are that the proposed changes to Student Tuition Fees are;
  1. It's not Lib Dem policy, but it is an improvement on the existing system
  2. Two of the four improvements on the existing system are almost certainly the result of Lib Dem influence in government
  3. The package breaches the NUS pledge by raising the amount graduates have to pay for their education, but it is also a "fairer alternative" to the current system, so it does agree with that part of the pledge.
One thing the Liberal Democrats (specifically David Laws who championed this cause during the coalition negotiations) have achieved in Government is the Pupil Premium. In my opinion by directing extra funding to the poorest children in schools to prevent them from falling behind children from better off families as they currently do. If it succeeds it will do more for fairness and equal access to university than abolishing tuition fees would.

This post is based on an original message on a liberal democrat mailing list by Niklas Smith (reproduced with his permission). If you'd like to read the Liberal Democrat Manifesto for the 2010 Elections it is available online here.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The County's Plans and Budget 2011/12 - 2015/16 - communication for all Parish and Town Councils

The County Council has sent the following communication to all Parish and Town Councils within the County. 

The intention of the communication is to help parish/town councils with their planning as they consider their own tax rates in light of the county (and relevant district) budget cuts, especially given the localism agenda and the decision some parish/town councils may take to invest in their local area.

The communication is reproduced verbatim below:

The County's Plans and Budget 2011/12 - 2015/16

I thought it would be useful to provide you with an initial overview of the County's plan and budget for the coming five years, which may assist you in your own planning and precepting decisions.

The County will need to make some £40m of savings (16% of relevant budget base) in 2011/12 to produce a balanced budget, with the year-on-year savings targets for the next five years amounting to £160 m. These savings requirements take account of Government funding cuts as well as providing for inflation, changes in demand for our care services, and the costs of a limited number of capital projects such as new schools. Details of the impact of these savings on service provision will emerge in the coming months as services finalise their plans and there is a commitment to share these details with you by the end of January.
The County at this moment is not planning for, or assuming, any council tax increase over the next five years, though it is assumed that a grant in lieu of council tax increases will be received from the Department of Communities and Local Government. The County will of course revisit its council tax decisions annually.
The knowledge that the County almost certainly will not increase council tax in 2011/12 may or may not provide an opportunity for parish/town councils and other precepting bodies to raise their own tax rates in 2011/12, especially if you believe local investment may be needed to ameliorate the impact of central government funding cuts impacting on other public bodies.
The Authority will of course be launching its full public consultation in December and, as in previous years, will be holding briefing sessions for other public bodies, the voluntary sector and businesses in January.

If you would like to find out more about our plans and budgets, please do not hesitate to contact in the first instance the County's Director of Finance and Procurement at the address below.

Nick Dawe
Director of Finance, Procurement and Property, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Local Government Shared Services, Res 1106, Shire Hall, Cambridge, CB4 0AP.