Tuesday, 24 February 2015

New competition launched to encourage students to register to vote

A package of measures worth £530,000 will be invested in encouraging students to register to vote, the government has revealed.

The National Union of Students will be allocated funding to run national competition for student unions to find the best ideas to get students to sign up to the electoral register.

The best ideas will receive up to £10,000 to fund events or other projects proposed by student unions across the country.

There will also be funding to boost campaigns to help ensure every student has the information they need to register.

Investments will also be made across the Further Education sector to encourage young people in schools and further education colleges to get involved in the campaign.

Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:

“This year will be the first time many students get to vote in a general election.

Like going to University, it’s a vital rite of passage that I believe everyone should be proud to be part of. But to have your say, you have to register.

"You may already be registered at your parents’ address, but if you want to vote in the constituency where you study, you will have to register there.

“It only takes a few minutes with our new online system, and I am delighted that the NUS and other student organisations will be working with us to make sure everyone has the opportunity to get on the register and take part.”

To find out more about registering to vote and to sign up to the electoral register, click here.

MEP calls for EU ban on battery caged rabbits

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder is calling on the EU to outlaw battery caged rabbits, following an investigation by Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) which found millions of rabbits being kept in horrendous conditions across Europe.

Approximately 330 million rabbits are reared for meat every year in the EU, making them the second most farmed species in the EU. The vast majority of these rabbits are factory farmed in small wire cages that severely limit movement, causing high levels of injury, stress and disease.

EU laws have been put in place to uphold animal welfare standards for farmed animals such as pigs, calves and poultry - including a ban on battery-caged hens - but as of yet there is no species-specific legislation for farmed rabbits.

Catherine Bearder tabled a parliamentary question to the European Commission calling on it to come forward with animal welfare legislation on rabbits, including a ban on the use of barren cages. However, EU Health Commissioner Andriukaitis has responded that the Commission is not considering proposing any new legislation and is instead focusing on enforcing existing EU animal welfare laws.

Mrs Bearder commented:

"Many people will no doubt be appalled to find out that the majority of rabbit meat sold in Europe comes from animals raised in such cruel conditions.

"The EU has already banned battery-cage hens. Now it needs to put in place strong standards to protect farmed rabbits and ensure they are raised in decent conditions."

Dil Peeling, Director of Campaigns for Compassion in World Farming, said:

"It is an outrage that there is no legislation in place to protect rabbits' basic welfare needs.

"As the second most farmed species in the EU, we need to protect these rabbits.

"The EU Commission has introduced species-specific legislation for minimum welfare standards for pigs, calves and poultry. Why will they not speak up for rabbits?"

Foreign drivers to be forced to pay up for speeding offences

Police forces across the UK are being urged to make use of a new EU law that will make it easier to track down and fine foreign nationals who commit speeding and other traffic offences in the UK.

Currently most foreign drivers detected by speed cameras are not registered with the DVLA and so avoid paying speeding fines. Last year 3,580 speeding offences were committed by foreign motorists in Thames Valley alone, more than anywhere else in the UK.

In addition 1,954 were committed in Kent, 994 in Hampshire, 741 in Sussex and 541 in Surrey.

Across the country figures show foreign drivers committed over 23,000 speeding offences and avoided £2.3 million in fines.

Under new rules voted in the European Parliament today, police will be able to use a shared database of car registration numbers to pursue offenders and send out fines for speeding and other offences across Europe.

The UK has up to 2 years to fully implement the new law. Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder has written a letter to South East police forces urging them to make use of the new rules to pursue foreign drivers who commit speeding offences in the area.

Mrs Bearder commented:
"Thousandss of speeding offences are going unpunished every year in the South East, leading to dangerous driving on our roads and thousands of pounds worth of unpaid fines. 
"Local police are now set to be given the tools to go after foreign drivers who commit traffic offences and make sure they pay up. 
"I want them to make the most of these changes to ensure that no-one is above the law and that anyone who breaks the rules is made to face the consequences. 
"This is great example of how by cooperating across Europe we can make our roads safer and bring criminals to justice."

Monday, 23 February 2015

Vince Cable announces the Low Pay Commission's recommendations for the National Minimum Wage

Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable has today announced that the Low Pay Commission's recommendations to government for the 2015 rates are as follows:

Adult rate - £6.70 
18-20 rate - £5.30
16-17 rate - £3.87
Apprenticeship rate - £2.80

Commenting Vince said:

“Today the Low Pay Commission have made their recommendations to government that the adult national minimum wage should rise by just over 3 per cent to £6.70 an hour from October 2015 .

"This would represent  an annual pay rise of £416 for a full time worker on the minimum wage.

"If this recommendation were accepted, the value of the minimum wage would be higher than when we came to office  in 2010 and we are now making good progress towards restoring the value it lost during the financial crisis.

"I will now study these recommendations and consult my Cabinet colleagues with a view to announcing the final rates in the next few weeks.            

"The Low Pay Commission strike a delicate balance between what is fair for workers and what is affordable for employers, without costing jobs.

"It does so impartially and without political interference. No government has ever rejected the main rates since it was established fifteen years ago.It is important that it is able to continue to do its work ten weeks before a general election.”

Exciting opportunities for businesses at Cambridge Park & Ride sites ** TOMORROW **

Just a quick reminder for tomorrows event at Shire Hall for local businesses.

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Cambridgeshire County Council is inviting people to talk to them about business opportunities at the counties park & Ride sites.

Businesses are being invited to look for opportunities to use Cambridgeshire County Council’s seven Park and Ride sites which are visited by 3.3 million customers annually.

Cambridgeshire County Council is keen to develop proposals that enhance the facilities, support business and broaden the range of commercial activities at the Park and Ride sites.

The Council is holding a Supplier Open half-day on 24 February 2015 between 10am – 11am at Shire Hall, Cambridge, followed by a visit to Trumpington Park & Ride. Local, national and international businesses of all sizes are welcome to attend.

This event is the first step in mapping out the potential benefits of commercial development to both existing and new customers using these sites. Cambridgeshire County Council officers will be on hand to offer guidance and advice to all attendees.

Joseph Whelan, Head of Passenger Transport for Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “This is a real opportunity for businesses to step forward with ideas that will create commercial opportunities and added benefits for our millions of passengers. The move is part of the Council’s policy of supporting business, providing high quality services and looking for income to help support frontline services. We have already been contacted by a number of businesses who will be attending and look forward to hearing from more.”

Following the supplier event, development of viable commercial options will take place.  A formal procurement process will follow. The tenders will be advertised on Source Cambridgeshire http://www.sourcecambridgeshire.co.uk/ according to current procurement thresholds and interested businesses will be invited to bid.

Representatives from businesses wishing to attend the open day can register by contacting Elizabeth Sayers, Public Transport Business Manager. Anyone who is unable to attend this session can contact Elizabeth Sayers for an informal discussion.

Please contact her by email at elizabeth.sayers@cambridgeshire.gov.uk

Nick Clegg's speech on Liberal Democrat justice policy

In a speech on Liberal Democrat justice policy Nick Clegg will say that a rising prison population is a sign of "failure not success."

Nick will make the case that too many abused and vulnerable women, drug addicts and people with mental health problems are currently locked up behind bars.

Nick will call for an evidence-based approach to do "what works" to cut crime, not just "to sound tough" or "play to the gallery."

In his speech, Nick will cite a range of policies implemented by Liberal Democrats in Government to cut re-offending, halve the number of young offenders in custody and allow female offenders to be held in custody closer to their homes and families.

Nick will also outline a number of Liberal Democrat proposals to reduce re-offending, divert people with drug and mental health problems away from the criminal justice system and reduce the number of women behind bars.

A full transcript of Nick's speech is below.

When a police officer investigates a crime, they examine the evidence.

When a prosecutor is building a case, they examine the evidence.

When a jury decides whether someone is innocent or guilty, they examine the evidence.

But when a politician bangs their fist on the lectern and announces that 'prison works' and that we need to lock up more and more people for more and more time, are they following the evidence?

We all want dangerous people off the street. We all want hardened criminals to pay for their actions.

That means, for tens of thousands of criminals, prison is the answer.

But it is not the answer for every offender.

There are more than 85,000 people in prison in England and Wales today. In 1994, there were fewer than 49,000.

I don’t believe there are 36,000 more dangerous people now than then. We have not become a more vicious or sinister society.

If you want to understand who these people are, look at the facts.

Most prisoners serve short sentences.

Nearly half say they have no qualifications.

A quarter were taken into care as a child.

Two thirds have tried class A drugs. A third of male and two thirds of female prisoners admitted to committing their crimes to get money to buy drugs.

The number of women in prison has doubled since the mid-90s, leaving thousands of children separated from their mothers every year.

Half of those women have suffered domestic abuse and one in three has suffered sexual abuse.

Half suffer from anxiety or depression and a quarter have reported symptoms of psychosis.

Nearly half of all women prisoners, and one in five men, have tried to kill themselves at some point in their lives.

Abused and vulnerable women. People with serious mental health issues. Drug users and addicts. All crammed like sardines into crowded prisons.

That is not proof that prison is ‘working’. It’s a litany of despair.

'Prison works' is a slogan, not a solution.

It is not working when it routinely turns first time offenders into hardened criminals.

Too often, for too many offenders, prison is not the answer.

It is not the answer for every mother left sobbing in her cell.

It is not the answer for every drug addict whose dependency dragged them down.

And it is not the answer for every mentally ill inmate whose problem is health not habit.

Simply locking up more and more people is not a sign of success, it's a sign of failure.

It's easy to sound tough.

It's easy to play to the gallery.

But it is not always that easy to follow the evidence.

We all want the same things:

To feel safe in our homes and communities;

To keep our family, our loved ones and our property protected;

To keep predators and dangerous, violent criminals off the streets;

To support victims of crime and make offenders face up to the wrong they have done;

And to stop people committing crimes in the first place.

You don't do those things just by sounding tough. You do those things by following the evidence of what works.

That's what I believe and that is what has driven Liberal Democrat attitudes and policies on crime and justice for decades.

But if prison doesn't always work, what does?

Preventing offending, tackling its causes, breaking the cycle of crime – these are deeply complex areas that do not easily lend themselves to neat solutions.

Perhaps the biggest success of recent years has been with young offenders, where we have halved the number of young people in custody, thanks to a shift in police behaviour and the great work of Tom McNally and the Youth Justice Board.

We are starting to see the number of women in prison come down too, with the female prison population staying below 4,000 for the last two years.

But there is a lot of work to be done.

That’s why I am so grateful to my Liberal Democrat colleague Simon Hughes for his work in the Ministry of Justice with female offenders.

We are keeping women closer to where they will live when they are released, making it easier to maintain contact with their children and families, and helping them to get the skills they need to find a job.

If we can help to prevent the family breakdown so often associated with mothers being parted from their children during a stretch behind bars, then we can help to prevent another known driver of criminality.

The vast majority of offenders – 97% - express a desire to stop offending. Yet 45% of adults are reconvicted within a year of being released.

That’s why my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I have focused relentlessly on transforming rehabilitation to try and jam shut that revolving door.

So, for the first time, we have introduced a mandatory requirement for offenders on short sentences of 12 months or less – those most likely to reoffend – to receive targeted support to help turn their lives around when they re-enter society.

That’s 45,000 offenders a year who used to be sent back on to the streets with nothing more than a few quid and the clothes on their back, including the vast majority of female offenders. Hopefully from now on that number will be smaller every year.

We are also seeing innovative approaches to those with mental health and drugs problems that are starting to see real success.

A host of liaison and diversion services are now operating across the country, intervening at the early stages when vulnerable offenders are first identified.

They can help them to get suitable support and treatment, and can communicate with courts so that an offender’s circumstances are understood when sentenced.

In some cases they are able to divert vulnerable offenders away from the criminal justice system entirely.

These pilots have been so promising that from April this year we will be expanding them to 22 police force areas covering half the population of England.

And today I can announce that if the Liberal Democrats are in Government again we want to see liaison and diversion services rolled out to cover the whole of England by the end of next year.

Through the Mental Health Taskforce, which I set up to bring together ministers from across Government whose departments impact on mental health policy, we are also looking at the use of Mental Health Treatment Requirements, or MHTRs.

These can be given by a court as part of a community sentence so that the offender can receive a course of treatment for their illness.

These have been under-used in recent years, but the evidence from a pilot in Milton Keynes has demonstrated how their use can be increased dramatically. In 2013/14 just one MHTR was made in Milton Keynes and 14 in the wider Thames Valley. But in just six months last year, that number rose to 40.

I want to see these used more widely, diverting more vulnerable people away from prison.

So Norman Lamb will be working with NHS England to encourage Liaison and Diversion areas to learn from Milton Keynes and adopt their model.

We are developing and testing the effectiveness of GPS tagging – a new type of electronic tag that can be much more effective at letting us know exactly where an offender has been at any given time.

That means if an offence takes place, we know if a tagged offender was there.

This has great potential to reduce reoffending and if the evidence bears that out I want to see GPS tagging used much more widely.

Where Liberal Democrats see pockets of success, we want that best practice rolled out across the whole country.

We want to see liaison and diversion services expanded.

We want to extend the role of the Youth Justice Board to everyone aged under 21.

And we would also like it to have the power to commission mental health services as an alternative to custody for troubled young offenders.

The Youth Justice Board has been an instrumental part of our success in reducing the number of young offenders and I want to see the same principles now applied to bringing down the number of women in prison too.

That’s why, in Government again, Liberal Democrats will establish a Women’s Justice Board.

We will do more to promote restorative justice for children raised in care, so they are not dragged into the criminal justice system for behaviour that, for other children, would have been dealt with in the family home.

We want more prisoners to receive meaningful rehabilitation, with better and earlier education and skills assessment and a focus on making prisons places where lives are turned around, not where criminals are hardened.

And I would like to see more community payback sentences given where, instead of being slung in jail, offenders are made to carry out unpaid work to pay back their community for their crime.

Make no mistake: if you are a dangerous, serious criminal, you're going to jail. You are going to be punished and you are going to serve your time.

But for thousands of vulnerable women, addicts and people with mental health problems, prison isn’t working. It’s making their problems worse and making us less safe.

When prison doesn't work, society suffers.

We want to end the revolving door that sees offenders leave prison with no help and no hope, only to return to their cell a few weeks later.

We need to end the culture in prisons that makes them colleges of crime where first time offenders become hardened criminals.

We want fewer women behind bars and fewer children growing up in broken homes.

We want to make sure that if your crimes were driven by drug addiction or mental illness, you get the treatment you need to turn your life around.

And if your only crime is possession of drugs for personal use, we want to see you in treatment or education, not a prison cell.

This is not some ideological crusade. The Liberal Democrats want these things because they work, because they will make us safer.

We want a justice system that is based on the same thing that we ask our police officers, prosecutors and juries to base their judgements on: evidence.

Conservative plans to ring fence pensioner benefits will hit the working age poor

The working age poor will pay the price under the Conservatives' plans to ring-fence pensioners benefits.

The Conservatives plans include protecting all universal pensioner benefits such as the winter fuel allowance and free TV licences.

Liberal Democrats believe in creating a fairer society. Our plans include removing the winter fuel payments and free TV licences from the wealthiest five per cent of pensioners.

Commenting Liberal Democrat Pensions Minister Steve Webb said:
"The working age poor will pay the price for the Conservative ring fence for the very wealthiest pensioners.  
"The Conservatives are proposing £12bn of welfare cuts which is the equivalent of a £1500 cut for eight million people.  
"By ruling out any changes to benefits of wealthy pensioners they are showing their determination to balance the books solely on the backs of disabled people and the working age poor."

Tim Farron: What diversity means to me

Tim Farron tells the Liberal Democrats' Diversity and Outreach Officer Lucile Kamar about what he feels is his most important work.

Described as “a brave politician” who delivered “the stand out speech out of all the party conferences” by Operation Black Vote, Tim Farron, MP for the constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale is clearly championing diversity.

But what does diversity really mean to Tim? To him, it is very important on an individual, ideological and national level. Diversity is about fostering a society, which enables "people to be who they are" and also about celebrating people for what they can bring to the table. It is this tolerance to the difference of others - whether it is their ethnic group, faith, sexual orientation, part of the country they come from, class or accent, which according to Tim Farron makes Britain ‘a wonderful patchwork of things’.

Tim’s commitment to diversity was recognised late last year when the Patchwork Foundation, an organisation committed to encouraging underrepresented groups to engage and participate in the political process, named him their Liberal Democrat MP of the year. He admitted to being surprised and honoured to have received the award, which was given in primary recognition of the work he has done to reach out to and engage with young people. One of many ways is holding regular football surgeries - and clearly this is working!

Tim joined the Liberal Party, as it was then, when he was 16 years old and to him, young people’s involvement in politics is key to a well-functioning democracy. However, young people’s involvement in party politics is in “massive decline” and Tim stresses that we must “not make the mistake of thinking that young people are only involved in young people’s issues”. He recognises the need to inspire people: “nobody, and that goes for young people too, gets involved in politics unless you inspire them to do so. People vote on the basis of habit or calculation, but they join a party because somebody gets them in their gut”.

Another area that Tim is championing is disability. Before becoming an MP, he was responsible for looking after students with disabilities and special needs at Lancaster University. Finding ways to ensure that those with disabilities “have the same opportunities as everyone else” is a matter close to Tim’s heart. The task of ensuring that those with disabilities were on a ‘level playing field’ to everybody else was ‘a massive honour’ for Tim to carry out during his two years at Lancaster University and, it is a commitment that he has carried forward in his role as a Member of Parliament. One of his most recent success stories was ensuring that, in a new development of twenty homes, two houses were suitable for individuals with disabilities and “multiple needs”. This fight guaranteed that a young man, who was recently disabled as a result of an accident, could move into one of these houses and remain in the village in which he had grown up.

The Liberal Democrats have made big strides forward on this front, not least by electing Baroness Sal Brinton as Party President. She is the first wheelchair user to head up a major political party and her appointment illustrates the party’s commitment to inclusivity, diversity and to ensuring there is opportunity for everyone.

It is his ability to “fight people’s corner”, which Tim finds most rewarding about his job, the thing which gets him out of bed in the morning more than the “glamorous bit, poncing around at Westminster, speaking in the House of Commons and going on telly”. For him the casework, the assistance he and his team provide to help house people, to deal with Government agencies, assisting people who are being wrongly sanctioned with their benefits, people who have disabilities and are being restricted in their work opportunities as a result, is the most important thing he does.



Additional writing by Rachel Haase.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Liberal Democrats are the only party of business and a stable economy

Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, will tomorrow (Monday 23 February) highlight the importance of economic stability and why the Liberal Democrats are the only Party capable of delivering for business in the UK.

Speaking to an audience at the Saïd Business School in Oxford Danny is expected to say:

On the economy:
“We are the only major Party that knows that economic stability is the bedrock that businesses need to start up, to invest and to grow. 
“We are the only Party that will fight to keep our place at the top table in Europe. 
“We are the only Party with a clear commitment to industrial strategy, to infrastructure and to skills. 
“We are the only Party with common-sense policies to balance the books, but to do so fairly. 
“We are the only Party with a plan to eliminate the deficit and then to allow our country to turn the corner, to offer the hope of a more prosperous future. 
“We are the Liberal Democrats – and we will keep Britain on track.” 
And speaking on the Conservatives:
“For all they lay claim to the mantle of economic and business competence, the Conservative Party is riven in two on the issue which will affect British business more than any other single issue: Our continued membership of the European Union. 
“Any Party that, by its actions or deeds, gives more credence to the idea that withdrawal from the EU is in our national interest is, no matter what it claims, working against the national interest. 
“You can’t claim to have a “long term economic plan” if you don’t know where you’ll be in two and a half years’ time!"

Nick Clegg calls for fewer women behind bars

Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is calling for fewer women offenders to be put behind bars.

In a speech on Liberal Democrat justice policy on Monday, Nick will describe the plight of thousands of abused and vulnerable women imprisoned in England and Wales as a "litany of despair."

He will highlight the huge proportion of female offenders who have suffered abuse, drug addiction and mental illness.

Two thirds of women prisoners admitted to committing their crimes so that they could get money to buy drugs, with many suffering from anxiety or depression.

Nick will say:
“Nearly half of all women prisoners, and one in five men, have tried to kill themselves at some point in their lives. 
“Abused and vulnerable women…crammed like sardines into crowded prisons. 
“That is not proof that prison is working. It’s a litany of despair.” 
“Too often, for too many offenders, prison is not the answer. It is not the answer for every mother left sobbing in her cell."
He will also highlight the work of Liberal Democrat Justice Minister Simon Hughes in helping female offenders to stay closer to their children and prepare them for work when they are released.

Nick will say:
“We are keeping women closer to where they will live when they are released, making it easier to maintain contact with their children and families, and helping them to get the skills they need to find a job. 
“If we can help to prevent the family breakdown so often associated with mothers being parted from their children during a stretch behind bars, then we can help to prevent another known driver of criminality.”
Nick will use his speech to set out Liberal Democrat plans to establish a Women's Justice Board based on the same principles as the successful Youth Justice Board to work to reduce the number of women behind bars.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Cambridge MP joins International Development Minister for Camfed visit

MP Julian Huppert, who fought for Britain to lead the way on overseas aid, is visiting a Cambridge charity dedicated to supporting girls and young women in the poorest rural communities of Africa.

Julian will be joined on his visit to Camfed – the Campaign for Female Education – on Monday, February 23 by Liberal Democrat Peer and Minister for International Development, Baroness Lindsay Northover.

Baroness Northover has been a Member of Council of the Overseas Development Institute, Trustee of the Tropical Health and Education Trust and a Trustee of UNICEF UK.

During their visit to Camfed in Castle Street Julian and Baroness Northover will find out more about the charity which tackles poverty and inequality by supporting girls to go to school and empower young women to step up as leaders of change.

Camfed invests in the poorest rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. Its programmes in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi have directly supported more than 1.2 million students to attend primary and secondary school and more than three million children have benefited from an improved learning environment.

“This is an excellent charity giving girls and women the type of opportunities that they wouldn’t have without this help,” said Julian. “It is bringing about much-needed change to deprived areas where in the past girls have been failed by the systems in place.”

Lucy Lake, CEO of Camfed said: “While there is growing global awareness of the importance of girls’ education because of its impact on health, population and prosperity, the UK Government has led the way in bringing meaningful commitments to the table that result in genuine and lasting change for girls.”

Julian co-sponsored legislation last year which commits 0.7 per cent of Britain’s gross national income to overseas aid.

Many countries promised to hit this target in 1970 but Britain has been the first G7 country to do so, under this government.

“This new law provides aid and shelter to families fleeing countries torn apart by war and provided nutrition and better health for starving children.”

The aid commitment was a Lib Dem general election manifesto promise and part of the 2010 coalition agreement.

“We have excellent charities like Camfed working hard to improve the lives of people across the world and now our government has become the first to step up and meet an international aid target set 45 years ago. We can be proud of that achievement.”

Quality healthcare for everyone

The Liberal Democrats want to build a fairer society and that’s why we are absolutely committed to the NHS. It is one of the world’s best health services with care based on need, not on your ability to pay.

We have protected the NHS in this parliament while still cutting the deficit and we will back the NHS in the next parliament by providing £8bn per year more by 2020 – the amount the head of the NHS says is needed to keep it sustainable.

We will also hold a review of health and care right after the election so we can keep it fit for the future.

Our top priority is to make sure that mental health is treated equally with physical health.

It is wrong that for decades mental health has been discriminated against in the NHS. We have introduced the first ever access and waiting times standards in mental health and we are pledging £500m a year for better mental health care.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Extending free childcare to help give children the best start in life

Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has set out the Liberal Democrat vision for a world-class early years education system.

In a speech to the Pre-School Learning Alliance, Nick outlined Liberal Democrat plans to provide 15 hours a week of free childcare to all children of working parents aged between 9 months and two years.


This would save the average family £2,670 over the course of a year.

Nick also set out plans to give all two-year olds 15 hours free childcare per week, saving the average family £2,450 over a year.

In his speech Nick restated the Liberal Democrats long-term ambition to increase the provision of free childcare to 20 hours a week for all two, three and four year olds and for children of working parents aged between 9 months and two years.

Nick's comments come as the Family and Childcare Trust survey confirms that with demand increasing, the cost of childcare is rising.

Liberal Democrats recognise that pressure on working parents to budget for their childcare costs doesn’t just start when their child is two years old which is why we plan to introduce measures that will save families money.

Nick also discussed the Liberal Democrat commitment to increase the Early Years Pupil Premium from £300 to £1,000 per child.

He will outline the party's ambition to have a member of staff who holds Qualified Teacher Status in every childcare setting by 2020.

Nick said:
"Over the last five years, we’ve made it one of our biggest priorities in this Government to ensure that every child – whatever their background or circumstances - gets an equal shot at the successful future they deserve. 
"We want to build on that progress. So, in the next parliament, the Liberal Democrats will start by providing 15 hours a week of free early years education to every family with a two year old. 
"We will increase the Early Years Pupil Premium from £300 to £1,000 per child, per year – boosting the support you can give to these children. 
"The Liberal Democrats will make 15 hours of free early years education available to all working parents from the end of their paid parental leave at 9 months right through until their child is 2, and the existing provision begins.

"We are the only party with the clear commitment and plan, backed with the funding needed, to make it happen. We want a stronger economy and fairer society for Britain, where every child – whatever their circumstances or background – gets the best possible start in life. 
"So, keep working with us, and I and my party will continue to do everything we can to build a more successful and more family friendly country fit for our children to grow up in."

Nick Clegg's speech to the Pre-School Learning Alliance

In a speech to the Pre-School Learning Alliance, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg outlined the party's vision for a world-class early years education system.

A transcript of Nick's speech is below.

Today, I want to talk to you about the Liberal Democrats' vision to build a world-class early years education system in Britain.

Over the last five years, we've made it one of our biggest priorities in this Government to ensure that every child – whatever their background or circumstances - gets an equal shot at the successful future they deserve.

That starts with the opportunities we give them to thrive in education.

And, through our investment in the £2.5 billion Pupil Premium and relentless focus on driving up standards in schools across the country, we're starting to see the results of disadvantaged young children improve as they leave primary school. But we know that what happens in school is only part of the picture.

From the moment we're born, we begin to learn and develop.

But what research increasingly shows is just how much these first few months and years will go on to determine how well we do at school and in the rest of our lives.

So much so that, if you're a child born into a poor family in this country, you will already have fallen behind a child with richer parents by the time you're 2 years old.

That's before you step anywhere near a classroom and it has absolutely nothing to do with your talent or potential – just the circumstances of your birth.

Without focused action to change it, that gap between you and your peers will continue to get bigger as you grow up.

So that when you turn up, proudly wearing your new uniform, for your first day of school, you will be well over a year behind your better-off classmates.

Morally and economically, we simply cannot afford for so many children to have their future written off like that in this country.

Especially when we can do something about it by increasing access to high-quality early years education for more families.

Research shows that the children who have attended a high quality pre-school do better in reading and maths aged six than those who have not. And this positive start impacts the whole of their time in school.

Children who receive early years education develop better literacy skills, behaviour and concentration, boosting their exam results and earning potential later.

That's why one of the Coalition Government's first decisions, despite the tough economic climate, was to increase the hours of funded early years education available for every family with a three and four year old from 12.5 to 15 hours a week.

Critically, we then extended this free childcare offer to low-income families with a two year old, making this entitlement available to around 260,000 young toddlers across the country.

Building on the success of the Pupil Premium, we've also created our new £50 million Early Years Pupil Premium. This provides extra support to poorer children to help them catch up with their peers and achieve their full potential.

As the experts, you decide how this money should be spent – with an additional £300 for 3 and 4 year olds from low-income families.

That's not all we have done to support families. In addition, we've overhauled our parental leave system. Modern families come in all shapes and sizes now, and more women have joined the workforce than ever before – helping to drive Britain's recovery.

But, looking at the parental leave system in 2010, you would have thought that very little had changed since the 1950s - with fathers still only allowed to take two weeks off when their baby is first born and mothers up to a year.

Of course, some parents choose to stay at home and they have every right to do so. Yet what about the families where the woman is the main breadwinner; the working fathers who want to spend more time with their children or the couples who want to care for their families and also progress in their careers?

In the Liberal Democrats, we've always believed that the system should support their choices too. So, from April this year, parents will finally be able to share the parental leave available between them, choosing what works best for them.

This also builds on our work with companies to extend the right to request flexible working to every employee.  So, people who want to balance their responsibilities at home and at work more flexibly can do so.

This includes those grandparents, family members and friends who want to help out the parents they know with childcare.

Together, these important first steps add up to what I believe is a better Britain for our children. None of this progress would have been possible without the support of organisations like the PSLA.

It's your members, not us, making these childcare reforms a reality for millions of families every day. Thank you. Your insight, support and expertise is invaluable and I hope your organisation will continue to be the frank, open and honest friend you've always been: pushing us on.

That doesn't mean we will always agree with each other. As Neil said in his speech earlier, it's clear you have reservations about the provision of more early years education in schools.

I want to be equally clear that we are not looking to create a future where every nursery and primary school is filled with rows and rows of toddlers learning their times tables by rote in preparation for splitting the atom at 7. The Liberal Democrats would never sign up to that.

But, with more parents entering the workforce, we need as wide a range of high quality providers available as possible to support families.

We believe that increasing early years provision in schools is one way to do that. And, with a well-qualified workforce, many are already delivering for young children.

Where possible, we want to see them build on this. At the same time, we remain relentlessly focused on ensuring children receive the best standards of care possible and get the chance to play and have fun as they develop in their earliest years.

I also recognise that funding is going to continue to be a big issue for you – especially in the current economic climate. In this Coalition, my party and I have done everything we possibly can to protect Government's investment in childcare.

And by the end of this parliament, funding for childcare will have risen by more than £1 billion to £6 billion a year.

It's one of the reasons why, I believe, we've seen so much growth in this sector over the last few years, with many new early years providers signing up to offer free hours.

As part of that extra investment, the amount we give to Local Authorities to fund our free childcare offers is based on a higher hourly rate than the national average early years providers charge parents.

That's according to the Department for Education's own evidence and the most recent Family and Childcare Trust annual surveys. From the beginning, we've been adamant that this money should be used to help more young children get the best possible start in life. We don't want it spent on anything else.

And we will continue to push Local Authorities to pass on as much of this funding as possible to frontline providers.

In fact, I'm very clear that the only way for us to really shift the dial on this is to focus even more of our efforts and investment on securing our children's future.

That's why the Liberal Democrats are the only party with a long-term plan to create a world-class early years education sector.

Our vision is that every child, whatever their background, will have access to high quality pre-school education; and that every working parent will have the childcare support they need when returning to work.

For us, this means five big things: one, making access to high-quality, funded early years education universal from 2 years old; two, doing more for our most disadvantaged children; three, securing the best-qualified early years workforce possible; four, ensuring our ambitions are properly funded and five, reducing the costs of childcare for all working families.

Firstly, we've already taken some important steps forward to increase the availability of free childcare for thousands more families – extending free early years education for all three and four year olds and introducing 15 hours of funded childcare for 40% of two year olds – those from the most hard pressed homes.

These measures are helping to both ease the pressure of childcare costs for family's household budgets and, critically, boost social mobility.

We want to build on that progress. So, in the next parliament, the Liberal Democrats will start by providing 15 hours a week of free early years education to every family with a two year old.

On average, this will save the families new to this offer the equivalent of £2,540 a year. And when we can, it's ultimately our long-term ambition to increase the number of hours of free childcare Government funds from 15 to 20 hours a week across the board.

Secondly, just like in the schools system where we've pumped in further investment through the Pupil Premium, we will make sure you have the extra resources necessary to make a difference to our most disadvantaged toddlers.

We will increase the Early Years Pupil Premium from £300 to £1,000 per child, per year – boosting the support you can give to these children.

That could be specialist one on one support, bringing in more qualified staff with expertise in particular areas such as speech therapy or training your workforce more widely.

Whatever you think will help that child. This will deliver an Early Years Pupil Premium that is higher pro rata than the primary school Pupil Premium – because we know investing in our youngest children makes the most difference.

Thirdly, all the research shows the incredible impact highly qualified staff can have on childhood development. And, since 2010, we've worked to make this a career of choice for more talented young people.

This includes new bursaries for early years apprentices, extending the Teach First scheme to early years education and simplifying the registration arrangements for new providers.

But we still haven't gone far enough to give early years professionals the same esteem and status as our best teachers.

That's why the Liberal Democrats will create clearer and simpler routes for early years professionals to obtain Qualified Teacher Status and fair pay when you get there.

The Liberal Democrats have already committed to ensuring that every child in school is taught by a qualified teacher. I see no reason why we shouldn't have those same high standards in the early years system too.

It's my ambition that, by 2020, every childcare setting should have a member of staff who holds Qualified Teacher Status.

To help us meet that goal, we will make sure that the qualified professionals working in this sector won't have to restart their training from scratch.

You already have incredible expertise in how to nurture and inspire young minds. And we believe that this professional knowledge, embodied in your existing early years qualifications, should be a stepping-stone towards you achieving full Qualified Teaching Status.

This is about increasing the opportunities both you and the children you care for have to progress.

Fourthly, we're very clear that none of this can be done on the cheap. If you're arguing for a fairer society, then you have to put the necessary financial fuel in the tank to get you there.

It's just not possible if, like the Conservatives, you commit to keep cutting public services for ideological reasons even after the deficit has been reduced. And it's also not possible if you're burning pots of money paying off interest on a growing public debt like Labour.

Unlike the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives have not committed to protecting funding for early years education in the next parliament.

We estimate this could mean budgets being cut by a quarter. Just imagine what that might mean for the services you provide. We estimate it could equate to the loss of almost 290,000 funded child care places or over 140 hours of free childcare per child, per year – the equivalent of around £625 on the childcare bill of every family with a three or four year old in the country.

That's in addition to the £12 billion worth of cuts they plan for welfare, which would cost 8 million low-income families £1,500 a year.

Labour's approach is no less dismal. From what it is possible to decipher of their plans, Labour will not balance the books until the end of the next parliament – that's more years of spending restraint than necessary, supplemented with higher and higher borrowing.

It means borrowing £70 billion more than our plan and wasting around £4 billion more on paying the interest on our debt – money that could be spent on education and hospitals instead.

Only the Liberal Democrats can guarantee stability and fairness.

Only the Liberal Democrats can offer light at the end of the tunnel.

So we'll make the tough decisions necessary to finish the job: taking a balanced approach to cuts, tax and spending that asks the wealthiest in our society to contribute a little more.

It's through that balanced approach that we can invest in the Liberal Democrats' priorities such as education and childcare. And when we've balanced the books – clearing the structural deficit - the Liberal Democrats will increase public spending in line with Britain's economic growth.

We will cut less than the Conservatives and borrow less than Labour. We'll finish the job, but we'll finish it fairly. Our record in Government backs that up.

We worked hard to secure the right amount of funding to support the 2 year-old offer. We fought to secure the £100 million in capital funding needed to help create extra nursery space.

We prevented changes to child-care ratios for young children. And we ensured that funding was maintained at its current levels for the 3 and 4 year-old offer.

In the next parliament, we will do the same again. I want to see early years protected in the same way schools have been protected in this parliament.

That's why the front page of our manifesto states we will protect education funding from cradle to college – including early years, schools and 16-19 education. We're fighting for what's best for Britain's children and families.

This brings me to my final point, giving more help to working families. As today's Family and Childcare Trust Survey confirms, with demand increasing, the cost of childcare is rising.

In the Liberal Democrats, we recognise that pressure on working parents to budget for their childcare costs doesn't just start when their child is two years old, and their entitlement to funded hours kicks in, but when their parental leave ends.

In the next parliament, we are committed to help these families bridge that gap. That's why the Liberal Democrats will make 15 hours of free early years education available to all working parents from the end of their paid parental leave at 9 months right through until their child is 2, and the existing provision begins.

On average, this will save working parents the equivalent of £2,670 a year.

We will also give extra support to those families who need childcare in addition to these funded hours: firstly, by completing the rollout of tax-free childcare.

So that, from autumn this year, if you're a family with children under 12 and you don't receive tax credits, Universal Credit or Employer Supported Childcare, but both parents are working or you're a lone working parent - the government will provide 20% of your child care costs up to £10,000 a year.

This will cover parents working full-time and part-time as well as, for the first time ever, those mums and dads who run their own businesses. It equates to £2,000 per child, per year for every working family - except those on extremely high wages.

And, secondly, in 2016, we will boost the childcare support within Universal Credit by around £350 million, to increase the contribution Government makes to childcare costs from 70% to 85%.

This is for lone parents or couples in work who pay income tax and rely on Universal Credit to make childcare affordable or even possible. And we estimate this could help out around 500,000 households by an average of £60 per month.

So, a commitment to universal free early years education from 2 to 4 year olds; extra support for working parents with childcare; a boosted Early Years Pupil Premium; and a highly qualified early years workforce given the status they deserve.

That's the Liberal Democrat's vision for a world-class early years education system.

We are the only party with the clear commitment and plan, backed with the funding needed, to make it happen.

We want a stronger economy and fairer society for Britain, where every child – whatever their circumstances or background – gets the best possible start in life.

So, keep working with us, and I and my party will continue to do everything we can to build a more successful and more family friendly country fit for our children to grow up in.

Thank you.

Nature protected for everyone

Liberal Democrats in government are proud to have kept the environment on the agenda.

In government we have planted a million trees in England and are introducing a 5p plastic bag charge to help clean up our environment and protect Britain's natural habitat.

We want to build on this by bringing forward a Nature Act and prioritising the environment in the next Parliament.

Our plans include a package of measures to protect bees and oceans, and a commitment to put the Natural Capital Committee on a statutory footing so it can provide advice to Government and ensure that nature is at the heart of government decision-making.

We also want to make sure that everyone has access to nature and will do this through measures such as completing the coastal path; extending the Right to Roam; and creating a new public body to protect our forests for future generations.

We plan to fight climate change by introducing Five Green Laws. These are:

  • A Nature Bill: key measures include legal targets for biodiversity, clean air, clean water and access to green space, extending the Right to Roam and establishing new marine and coastal reserves.
  • A Heating and Energy Efficiency Bill: key measures include building on the Green Deal with a national programme to raise the energy efficiency standards for all Britain’s households.  We will legislate to boost renewable and district heating programmes and heat saving standards.
  • A Zero Waste Britain Bill: key measures include establishing a “Stern Report” on resource use, with binding targets and a clear action plan to reduce waste and end biodegradable landfill.
  • A Zero Carbon Britain Bill: key measures include introducing a decarbonisation target for electricity generation, expanding the powers of the Green Investment Bank and banning electricity generated from unabated coal.
  • A Green Transport Bill: key measures include establishing a full network of charging points for electric cars, only allowing low emission vehicles on the roads from 2040 and reforming planning law to ensure new developments are designed around walking, cycling and public transport.

Liberal Democrats childcare policy would save families thousands of pounds

Liberal Democrats plans to extend free childcare will save families thousands of pounds, Liberal Democrats Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said.

Liberal Democrats will provide 15 hours of free childcare to all children of working parents aged between 9 months and 2 years old. Under the policy, the average family will save £2,670 each year.

Speaking on his weekly radio show on LBC, Call Clegg, Nick said:

"One of the things we’ve discovered over time is that the kind of help you give as a society to little children, before they’ve even hung up their coat on their first day of primary school, has as dramatic, if not more dramatic, effect on their subsequent ability to do well in life than actually what happens as teenagers in the classroom."

You can hear more from Nick by watching the video below.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

New campaign to help people save on energy bills by switching suppliers

Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey has launched a new campaign to help people save money on their energy bills.

The Power to Switch campaign encourages people to switch energy supplier and save money by visiting www.beanenergyshopper.com.

Across the UK 13.5m households are missing out on their share of £2.7bn by staying with their energy company.

By shopping around millions of people could save around £200 on their energy bills.

With 26 energy companies on the market and some fixed deals £100 cheaper than they were a year ago, Liberal Democrats are urging people to take a look at what's offer so that they can switch providers and save money.

Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey said:
"When it comes to switching, the power is in people’s hands to get a better deal and save. 
"We’ve reformed the market so that there are more suppliers, more competition, and a much faster and simpler process to switch. 
"That means millions of people can switch supplier and save hundreds of pounds today."
In government, Liberal Democrats have reformed the energy market.

It's now faster to switch energy suppliers than it was a year ago, with the process taking 17 days (down from 5 weeks).

There is now greater competition on the market with 20 independent suppliers.

Prosperity for everyone

Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy and a fairer society.

One of our priorities for the next five years is balancing the books fairly and investing in public services, creating prosperity for everyone.

By finishing the job in 2017/18, Liberal Democrats are showing that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

We are the only party who can commit to investing in public services in the next parliament, while also getting the public finances back under control.

After 2017/18, our new fiscal rules will ensure that debt continues to fall as a share of the economy while allowing us to invest in key infrastructure and vital public services such as schools and hospitals.

Under our plans the end of austerity is in sight – in three years’ time, unlike the other parties who will keep on cutting.

In Labour’s case because they will not have balanced the books and because the Conservatives have an ideological commitment to a smaller state.

We will cut less than the Conservatives and borrow less than Labour.

In 2019/20, we will cut £38bn less from public spending than the Tories.

Over the course of the next parliament, we will borrow £70bn less than Labour, which will lead to £4bn less paid in interest on our debts.

As we finish the job of balancing the books, we will continue to protect NHS funding; education spending from cradle to college; the pensions triple lock and the international aid budget.

Once we have finished the job of balancing the books in 2017/18, we will abide by two new fiscal rules:

  • The Debt Rule: To get debt down to sustainable levels by the mid-2020s.
  • The Balanced Budget Rule: That we will balance the total budget with the exception of productive capital investment.

Taken together, these two rules mean that in the second half of the next parliament spending on public services will be able to rise in line with growth in the economy.

Monday, 16 February 2015

A fair start for every child

Liberal Democrats believe that every child should have the opportunity to reach their full potential, wherever they live and whatever their background.

That’s why, in government, Liberal Democrats have protected school budgets; introduced a £2.5bn pupil premium to get extra money to the children who need the most help; introduced free school meals for infant children, and massively expanded early years education.

In the next parliament we want to go even further.

We will protect the education budget from cradle to college – including early years, schools and 16-19 education.

It’s impossible to raise standards, recruit teachers and help more children succeed if our education system is starved of funds.  All parties will have to make savings in the next parliament: but Liberal Democrats will not cut the money the Department for Education spends on schools, early years and 16-19 education.

We will give every child access to a high quality pre-school education, and we will insist that every child is taught by a qualified teacher.

An outstanding teacher changes children’s lives. It isn’t right that a child taught in a free school or academy doesn’t have the same right to a qualified teacher as other children.  We will require every teacher in a state funded school to hold Qualified Teacher Status or be working towards it.

These changes will mean every child will leave primary school able to read well by 2025.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Continuing to tackle violence against women and girls overseas

Liberal Democrat Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone has called on David Cameron and Ed Miliband to commit to ensuring that the role of the UK Ministerial Champion for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Overseas continues in the next Parliament.

In a letter to the two leaders, Lynne writes of the privilege she had of serving in the role and calls for them to support the continuation of the post, regardless of who forms the next government.

Read Lynne's letter in full below (click to enlarge).


New orchard brings hint of spring to Fulbourn

A hint of spring is coming to Fulbourn this Saturday 14 February as local volunteers plant a new community orchard.

The new orchard on St Vigors Road is being planted by volunteers from Fulbourn Forum, a local environmental group, on land owned by South Cambridgeshire District Council. Local district councillors Neil Scarr and John Williams will also be on hand to help with the planting.

The Council has provided nine cherry and plum trees to establish the community orchard. Part of the site was seeded with wildflowers last year to encourage and support pollinating insects, so by summer it is hoped that the site will be buzzing with wildlife too. And in years to come, residents will be able to pick and enjoy their own fruit.

Cllr Robert Turner, councillor in charge of conservation at South Cambridgeshire District Council, said: “Community orchards have proved very popular in our villages, encouraging local people to come together to transform outdoor spaces and establish something that will be part of their community for many years to come. They’re a great success, and I hope Fulbourn residents enjoy watching their trees grow.”

Wholetime firefighters to be recruited in Cambridgeshire

Wholetime firefighters are to be recruited by Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS).

People interested in becoming a wholetime firefighter will need to ring a dedicated recruitment hotline (01487 830298), which opens at 10am on Saturday, February 21, and then attend one of 10 information events - details of which are on the CFRS website www.cambsfire.gov.uk.

Lines are open 10am to 4pm, Saturday and Sunday, and 8am until 8pm, Monday to Friday, closing at 8pm on Friday, February 27. There is one phone line and if it is engaged, people are encouraged to keep trying. Those interested in applying should only call the dedicated number and should not call outside of these hours. Lines will close when all 500 spaces at the information events have been filled.

Candidates must permanently reside within 10 miles of the boundary of the county of Cambridgeshire, must be 18 on or before September 1, 2015, have five or more A* - C GCSEs or equivalent including maths and English language, be able to swim, hold a full UK driving licence without restrictions and not be subject to any unspent criminal convictions.

The Service recruited wholetime firefighters in 2014 for the first time in eight years and as a result, 10 trainee firefighters swelled the county's ranks in January (2015) after passing their initial training course.

Chris Strickland, Deputy Chief Fire Officer, said: "Being a firefighter isn't about being the biggest, strongest or most brave - there is much more to this career than running head first into a burning building. More and more of the day to day work of a wholetime firefighter is centred around preventing fires and other emergencies, educating people about fire risk and providing advice about keeping safe. We're looking for people from a range of backgrounds who can bring different skills to a crew of firefighters."

Interested candidates will have to attend an information event and undertake a thorough assessment process, including physical assessments and fitness and written tests.

For full details about becoming a wholetime firefighter and the selection process, log on to www.cambsfire.gov.uk and follow the link on the homepage.

Cambridgeshire County Council Bar Hill By-election Results

Conservatives hold Bar Hill Division

Conservative candidate Lynda Harford has been voted as the new Cambridgeshire County Councillor for the Bar Hill Division in yesterday’s (Thursday) by-election.

The by-election was held after the death of Conservative Councillor John Reynolds in December. He was the local councillor for 33 years.

The results were:

Lynda Harford - Conservative – 787 votes
John Hale - UKIP – 251
Fiona Whelan - Liberal Democrat – 238
Alex Smith - Labour – 235
Claudia Roland - Green - 200

Turnout was 23.61 per cent

Exciting opportunities for businesses at Cambridge Park & Ride sites

Cambridgeshire County Council is inviting people to talk to them about business opportunities at the counties park & Ride sites.

Businesses are being invited to look for opportunities to use Cambridgeshire County Council’s seven Park and Ride sites which are visited by 3.3 million customers annually.

Cambridgeshire County Council is keen to develop proposals that enhance the facilities, support business and broaden the range of commercial activities at the Park and Ride sites.

The Council is holding a Supplier Open half-day on 24 February 2015 between 10am – 11am at Shire Hall, Cambridge, followed by a visit to Trumpington Park & Ride. Local, national and international businesses of all sizes are welcome to attend.

This event is the first step in mapping out the potential benefits of commercial development to both existing and new customers using these sites. Cambridgeshire County Council officers will be on hand to offer guidance and advice to all attendees.

Joseph Whelan, Head of Passenger Transport for Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “This is a real opportunity for businesses to step forward with ideas that will create commercial opportunities and added benefits for our millions of passengers. The move is part of the Council’s policy of supporting business, providing high quality services and looking for income to help support frontline services. We have already been contacted by a number of businesses who will be attending and look forward to hearing from more.”

Following the supplier event, development of viable commercial options will take place.  A formal procurement process will follow. The tenders will be advertised on Source Cambridgeshire http://www.sourcecambridgeshire.co.uk/ according to current procurement thresholds and interested businesses will be invited to bid.

Representatives from businesses wishing to attend the open day can register by contacting Elizabeth Sayers, Public Transport Business Manager. Anyone who is unable to attend this session can contact Elizabeth Sayers for an informal discussion.

Please contact her by email at elizabeth.sayers@cambridgeshire.gov.uk

The Votes Have Been Counted ...

... and the results are in.

In yesterday's by-election the results were;

Con Harford 787 (Elected)
UKIP Hale 251
LD Whelan 238
Lab Smith 235
Green Roland 200

The turnout was a very low 23.64%.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Fair taxes for everyone

Liberal Democrats are the party of fair tax, that's why one of our key priorities for the next five years is to cut taxes by an extra £400.

Under our plans we will raise the tax free allowance to £12,500 in the next parliament.

This will put £400 back in the pockets of 30m workers as well as taking a further 1m people out of tax altogether.

Unlike the Conservatives who are want to pay for this tax cut by slashing benefits for 5m of the working poor, we will fully fund this tax cut, by tackling tax avoidance and ensuring the wealthiest pay their fair share.

We want to help people who are struggling with the cost of living and provide an incentive to work. Even though tough decisions will still need to be made in the next Government to finish the job on the deficit, it is right that we reward work and help those on low and middle incomes.

That is why despite the financial crisis it was a Liberal Democrat commitment in 2010 to raise the Personal Allowance to £10,000, which we have delivered.

That is why Liberal Democrats will deliver a further increase in the Personal Allowance to £10,500 next April and that is why only Liberal Democrats can guarantee and further increase to £11,000 in our first year in office.

Increasing the Personal Allowance to £12.5k by the end of the Parliament will deliver a tax cut to over 30m taxpayers including just over 6million pensioners. Everyone earning below £100,000 and below 75 will receive the same cash benefit of £400.

This policy will also take a further 950,000 people out of tax over the next Parliament, including 400,000 pensioners.

Once we achieve our aim of lifting the income tax personal allowance to at least £12,500, we will then look to reduce Employee National Insurance Contributions (NICs).

Cabinet members say innovative investment plan best way to protect services as budget recommended to Council meeting

Leading councillors have backed a bold and ambitious plan to generate income to support Council services ahead of all Government grant funding probably ending in five years time.

At a South Cambridgeshire District Council Cabinet meeting today (Thursday 12 February), senior councillors heard forecasts that all government grant received to deliver services will be cut to zero by 2020 and investing to generate a new way of working must be found.

A 31% reduction to the grant the Council receives to deliver services in 2015/16 means savings in the region of £670,000 are needed to balance the books with councillors warning further reductions to funding are to follow.

To meet the savings target next year Cabinet members backed a proposed budget that would deliver savings equivalent to £11.23 for every band D household next year and agreed that council tax would need to rise by an average of £2.45 a year to protect services.

The proposed charge for an average band D home would increase from £122.86 to £125.31 which equates to an increase of 1.99%.

A reorganisation of waste and recycling rounds at the end of last year helped reduce the efficiency savings needed for 2015/16, which are planned to be delivered through initiatives such as sharing ICT, legal and building control services with neighbouring councils as well as investing to generate an income.

Around 18 months ago the Council set up Ermine Street Housing, a Council led company to purchase homes to rent at market rates. This generates money for the Council to put straight back into core services for local people. So far £4.5 million has been spent on a portfolio of 30 properties, and if successful between £40 million and £50 million could be invested by 2020.

Over the last four years the Council has already delivered efficiency savings of around £5.5 million through cutting senior management costs, bringing its customer contact centre back in-house and changing computer systems which councillors said at the meeting meant delivering further efficiencies even tougher.

Areas of high employment and housing growth, such as South Cambridgeshire, also receive additional funding from Government known as New Homes Bonus. The Council’s budget reaffirms this will be invested in projects to help manage the delivery of growth through the Greater Cambridge City Deal, increase the number of affordable homes and provide a local contribution towards the A14 upgrade.

The Cabinet’s recommendation will now be considered by all councillors at a Council meeting on Thursday 26 February.

The Council’s total budget for 2015/16 is £16 million with a further £29 million ring fenced for providing affordable housing services.

The proposed annual Council tax charge for a band D home in 2015/16 will be £125.31, retaining South Cambridgeshire District Council’s position as one of the lowest charging in the country.

Cllr Simon Edwards, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, said: “Continued reductions to funding means we must be bold and innovative as this is the only way we will be able to continue to provide the best services possible to our residents and businesses. By setting up our housing company around 18 months ago we are already ahead of the game in having a way to generate income that will support the services people need. We will assess the pilot project later this year and aim to invest much more heavily to plug the gap less funding from government will leave now and in the future.

“Of course no one ever wants to put up council tax if at all possible, and we are really proud our charge is one of the lowest in the country, but a freeze this year would store up problems for the future when we would have to either look at a sharper rise or stop doing things people have told us are priorities. There is no doubt our success in delivering savings in the past means we face a tough task to find more savings but remain committed to finding innovative solutions to make sure we retain the quality of services.”

Savings required per average band D home are £13.68. Savings met through £11.23 of Council efficiency savings and a £2.45 rise in council tax.

Members approve council tax freeze for residents

Residents will not pay any more towards their fire service this year after Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority (CPFA) agreed to freeze its council tax precept for 2015/16.

The decision was unanimously approved by members at today's Fire Authority meeting (February 12).

Thanks to careful planning, savings of more than £4 million have already been made by Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS), therefore the Authority can afford to freeze its portion of council tax and instead, accept an additional grant of £185,000 from the Government.

The budget settlement issued to the Authority in December was in line with what was expected and therefore the Service has already implemented changes to make these savings. As a result, no further cuts will need to be made at this time.

Sir Peter Brown, Fire Authority Chairman, said: "I am pleased that yet again we have frozen our part of the council tax precept for the next financial year, and we are proud to continue providing a top quality service that is value for money to the people of Cambridgeshire."

Chief Fire Officer Graham Stagg added: "Over the past three years the Authority and staff have made exceptional efforts to make our Service the best it can be and as efficient as possible. Their hard work means we are able to continue to freeze our portion of the council tax. We will however, continue to seek further cost savings and look at ways to make our Service better to keep the cost to the community as cheap as possible.

"We have a potential change in Government coming in the next few months and we all know the budget deficit is still a long way from being balanced. Therefore, we are expecting further cuts in the future but we are already thinking about how to achieve savings whilst maintaining, as much as possible, the frontline service that we are proud to deliver."

Preventing, Protecting, Responding © Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service Privacy Accessibility

Change of polling station ...

Just a quick note that the polling station for todays election in Bar Hill is at the Bar Hill Church (Hanover Close) by the Parish Council Offices and Maple Surgery.

There is a note on the Village Hall for anyone who ends up there;


Today's Polling Day: Don't Forget To Vote!


UPDATE: The polling station for today is Bar Hill Church, not the village hall. Apologies for confusion!



Today is polling day, and for Bar Hill the polling station is the Village Hall.

All you need to vote is your address, if you have the postcard from South Cambs (with you polling number on it) it makes things slightly quicker but if you don't have that you can just turn up with your address and ask to vote.

Polling takes place up till 10pm tonight.


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Council welcomes move to give communities more say on pubs after lobbying government

Campaigning council bosses have welcomed news that the government is looking to give communities more say before important village pubs are converted into offices and shops.

Just over a year ago councillors began to press the government for change to national planning laws after The Pear Tree pub in Hildersham – which had been listed by local people as an Asset of Community Value – was lawfully closed and converted to a furniture shop without the need to seek further planning permission or consult local people.

In a written statement, Kris Hopkins, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said that “the passion for community pubs as demonstrated by the significant numbers listed as Assets of Community Value highlights the need to enable local communities to consider planning applications for the change of use of a pub of particular value.”

Under current planning legislation a pub can be lawfully converted to a shop without further planning permission. The change can be made under what is known as permitted development rights.

As councillors had campaigned for, the Minister has pledged to bring forward legislation so that listing a pub as an Asset of Community Value will trigger the removal of the national permitted development rights for change of use or demolition of those pubs which local groups have identified as providing the most community benefit.

Councillors had campaigned for the change as the Community Right to Bid, part of the government’s Localism Act, currently gives communities up to six months to table a bid for a listed asset if they are put up for sale. However, it offers no protection if a change of use or demolition allowed by national planning rules is carried out.

Before the government’s announcement the Council had been consulting local communities on the possibility of using an Article 4 Direction – a planning power which could mean pubs would no longer be able to be converted or demolished without the need to submit a new planning application – and are calling on local people to still have their say.

The consultation is considering whether an Article 4 Direction should be implemented to stop specific pubs being demolished without planning consent or their use changed without the need to submit a planning application.

Cllr Nick Wright, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s cabinet member for economic development, said: “I am delighted that our campaigning on this issue has been listened to by the government as pubs are at the heart of many rural communities and we do not want to see them lost without local people having their say. Although the government has made a move in the right direction since we launched our consultation, it is still absolutely vital that everyone takes this opportunity to make their views known. As the government’s move has only just been announced, there is still much more detail to be confirmed. We will of course be keeping a close eye on this and asking them to clarify their plans to make sure they are giving our communities and vital village pubs the right level of safeguarding.”

To have your say visit www.scambs.gov.uk/content/consultation-greater-protection-public-houses. The consultation closes at midnight on Monday 23 February.

Government written statement:
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/coalition-ministers-change-the-law-to-protect-the-great-british-pub

Commissioner encourages domestic abuse victims to seek help

VICTIMS of domestic abuse are being encouraged to come forward during a high profile month-long campaign across Cambridgeshire.

Sir Graham Bright, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire, is endorsing the Constabulary’s ‘Reach Out’ initiative during February which aims to reassure those experiencing domestic abuse that there is help available to them and that the police take the issue incredibly seriously.

Valentines Day often acts as a catalyst for domestic abuse. While many people will receive chocolate and flowers others will receive abuse and intimidation.

Commenting on the campaign, Sir Graham said: “Domestic Abuse is a terrible crime and one that no-one should suffer in silence, especially around Valentine’s Day.  The ‘Reach Out’ awareness campaign is exceptionally important and I urge those suffering domestic violence to take the first step and seek support.  Anyone wanting help should contact 101 or if the abuse is life threatening they should dial 999 straightaway.”

The ‘Reach Out’ campaign is using social media, video content, printed materials and local radio adverts to spread the message.

In January, the police-led Victims’ Hub started supporting people involved in cases of domestic abuse so a wide range of additional support is now in place as the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Constabulary work alongside agencies and charities to offer support across the county.

In 2014, Cambridgeshire Constabulary investigated 4,190 crimes involving domestic abuse across the county.

People can follow the campaign through the police’s social media channels on Twitter (@CambsCops), Facebook, or search for CambsCops on Instagram.

The campaign forms part of the Constabulary’s Get Closer initiative which aims to communicate with the public about key issues in a targeted and creative way.