Where next for society?

We now live in a society in which the only thing almost everyone strives for is to better their own position, as individuals, within our existing society. That can be traced back to the 1970s and Thatcher.

What Britain lacks is a popular movement capable of inspiring people through a vision of how to make society a substantially better place to live for the vast majority of people.

“Without that vision politics will rarely provoke more than a yawn.”

The context here is that rich counties have come to the end of what higher material living standards can offer, and according to Wilkinson and Pickett we are the first generation to have to find other ways of improving the real quality of living. The evidence, they say, points towards greater equality.

However British politics has failed to engage people in a meaningful rhetoric around equality and fairness, and even where these movements exist in British politics, not enough has been done to convince enough people that greater equality is the way forward.

Research in Britain has shown that many people have a strong personal belief in greater equality and fairness but these values “have remained private intuitions which they fear others do not share.”

What’s more is that even people who initially reject appeals for greater fairness and equality (both for those at the bottom and top of society) are in favour of a new vision for improving the quality of everyone’s lives when presented with a story of equality based in evidence.

This is why we need a fairer society if we are to revitalise civic society and boost our economy where everyone benefits, whether that’s through housing, employment, health, or education. Put simply, we need to do more than throw cash at something to deliver improvements.

Whatever the strength of our economy, societies are “social failures” given the level of inequality that still exists in our society despite major improvements in the material standard of living.

One author called the gap between the poor and rich the “moral horror story of our time.”

Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar have shown that the gap between the rich and poor and the enormous disparity in children’s home backgrounds, including the social and cultural capital that they bring to the “educational table” is fundemental in determining the attainment of pupils.

“The term cultural capital refers to non-financial social assets that promote social mobility beyond economic means. Examples can include education, intellect, style of speech, dress, or physical appearance.”

“Social capital is the expected collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups.”

In 2007 a UK nationwide survey found that by the age of 3 children from disadvantaged backgrounds were educationally up to a year behind children from more privileged homes (London Institute for Education).

Additionally, Alan Milburn, a former Labour UK cabinet minister, recently published a report showing that pupils eligible for free school meals in England are 50% more likely to obtain five good GCSEs than their counterparts in Wales.

Fundamentally, a fairer and more equal society will do more for educational attainment than simply improving the material standard of living. Increasing education spending alone will not deliver improvements in attainment. Increasing education spending in itself will not enable education as the great  societal leveller that it should be. Improving the material standard of living will not, in itself, improve social and cultural capital, a key part in delivering educational attainment for children and young people.

Children’s start in life is also incredibly important in underlining their development and their (perceived) success in later life.

Early attachment theory states that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally. Attachment theory explains how much the parents’ relationship with the child influences development.

This has an impact on a child’s start in life, but also the equality in ensuring fairness for both parents and the impact on the household. As attachment theory explains, poor attachment at an early stage in a child’s life can have a detrimental impact on the rest of their childhood and adult life, including educational attainment.

Which is why we cannot continue to allow governments to pit the poor against the rich in creating a stronger economy in a fairer society.

In the past arguments about inequality have centred on the privations of the poor and on what is fair, where reducing inequality depended on scaring the better off into “adopting a more altruistic attitude to the poor”. This has generated a fundemental distrust which contributes to the broken society in which we live.

Greater equality is not, and should not be about lowering standards or levelling to a common mediocrity.

Subramanian and Kawachi (2006) said that “inequality acts like a pollutant spread throughout society.” Research shows that the more unequal a society (the steeper the socio-economic gradient) the worse everybody performes in education, not only those children with less well-educated parents. The UK and USA have worse average literacy scores on national levels of attainment because of the steepness (meaning less equal) of the social gradient

“Greater equality is the gateway to a society improving the quality of life for all of us and an essential step in the development of a sustainable economic system.”

We don’t just need a fairer society for the poor, we need a fairer society for all so everyone can succeed, where everyone is given the best start in life, where everyone is supported in succeeding. By vilifying the rich we create distrust in our society to the point where a broken society is self created. We need to challenge the obscenities of wealth and power, and those with the broadest shoulders should bear the biggest burden, but that’s different to creating an enemy.

Even in 2014 improvements in the material standard of living isn’t going to make vast improvements to society – we need a look at community life, mental health, social relations, education, trust, equality and sustainability. How people interact, people’s perceptions of others, and how groups within our society interact is just as important, if not more, than finance. Government can no longer only use improvements in the material standard of living as a means of greatly improving the quality of living in modern Britain.

In Britain we have been rightly committed to narrowing the health gap between the rich and the poor, but we’ve seen little change. The reason for this is because the policy has been centred on breaking the links between socio-economic disadvantage and the problems it produces, which is only part of the problem.

Wilkinson and Pickett explain the flaw in this policy perfectly.

They said that these policies are grounded in the dividing belief that the poor need to be taught to be more sensible (drugs, protected sex, exercise and alcohol consumption etc) with the unstated hope that people can carry on in the same circumstances, making no real improvement to their standard of living.

We should be rejecting an ‘artificial fairness’ to improve social mobility and the standard of living in Britain. A fairness that generates mistrust between large swathes of our society. A fairness that talks down the poor through playing big government, clamping down on fairness and freedom in the name of equality which isn’t truly equal.

We need to capture and provide a narrative for the collective belief that society could be different through greater equality, and interweave a strong economic narrative.

Why we need a fairer society to truly build a stronger economy

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

In the makeup of modern British politics, the Liberal Democrats are different.

We now live in a society in which the only thing almost everyone strives for is to better their own position, as individuals, within our existing society. That can be traced back to the 1970s and Thatcher.

The Liberal Democrats have always advocated a move away from greed and self interest and toward a way of life more centred on values, community, and equality. The Party has attempted to reignite the search for a shared vision of creating a better society.

Given the context, the Lib Dems had (and still have) the opportunity to become a popular movement capable of inspiring people through a vision of how to make society a substantially better place to live for the vast majority of people.

“Without that vision politics will rarely provoke more than a yawn.”

The context here is that rich counties have come to the end of what higher material living standards can offer, and according to Wilkinson and Pickett we are the first generation to have to find other ways of improving the real quality of living. The evidence, they say, points towards greater equality; a fundemental and founding principle for the Liberal Democrats.

As a party the Liberal Democrats have failed to engage people in a coherent story about equality and fairness – the Liberal Democrat story.

However politics in Britain has also failed to do the same thing with two parties clutching at straws to achieve true equality.

Research in Britain has shown that many people have a strong personal belief in greater equality and fairness but these values “have remained private intuitions which they fear others do not share.”

What’s more is that even people who initially reject appeals for greater fairness and equality (both for those at the bottom and top of society) are in favour of a new vision for improving the quality of everyone’s lives when presented with a story of equality based in evidence.

This is why we need a fairer society before creating a stronger economy.

Whatever the strength of our economy, societies are “social failures” given the level of inequality that still exists in our society despite major improvements in the material standard of living.

The Party has started on that work in education, for example. The Pupil Premium, a flagship policy, goes to the heart of addressing poor attainment. What it is and what it does.

The Pupil a Premium, a Liberal Democrat flagship policy, currently gives schools new, additional money to provide additional support for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (pupils receiving Free School Meals).

In England the Pupil Premium in 2013/14 is worth £953 per eligible child in primary schools and £900 per eligible child in secondary schools. In 2014/15 the value of the Pupil Premium will increase to £1,300 per pupil for primary school children and £935 per pupil for secondary school children.

In Wales in 2013/14 the Pupil Premium, or Pupil Deprivation Grant, will give pupils in receipt of FSM an additional £918, an increase from £450. (All in opposition in Cardiff Bay, by the way!).

Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar have shown that the gap between the rich and poor and the enormous disparity in children’s home backgrounds, including the social and cultural capital that they bring to the “educational table” is fundemental in determining the attainment of pupils.

“The term cultural capital refers to non-financial social assets that promote social mobility beyond economic means. Examples can include education, intellect, style of speech, dress, or physical appearance.”

“Social capital is the expected collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups.”

In 2007 a UK nationwide survey found that by the age of 3 children from disadvantaged backgrounds were educationally up to a year behind children from more privileged homes (London Institute for Education).

Additionally, Alan Milburn, a former Labour UK cabinet minister, recently published a report showing that pupils eligible for free school meals in England are 50% more likely to obtain five good GCSEs than their counterparts in Wales.

Fundamentally, a fairer and more equal society will do more for educational attainment than simply improving the material standard of living.

Another example of the Lib Dem’s work on addressing inequalities in order to improve society for all is Shared Parental Leave.

Early attachment theory states that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally. Attachment theory explains how much the parents’ relationship with the child influences development.

This has an impact on a child’s start in life, but also the equality in ensuring fairness for both parents and the impact on the household. As attachment theory explains, poor attachment at an early stage in a child’s life can have a detrimental impact on the rest of their childhood and adult life, including educational attainment.

For too long governments have pitted the poor against the rich, young against old.

In the past arguments about inequality have centred on the privations of the poor and on what is fair, where reducing inequality depended on scaring the better off into “adopting a more altruistic attitude to the poor”. This has generated a fundemental distrust which contributes to the broken society in which we live.

Greater equality is not, and should not be about lowering standards or levelling to a common mediocrity.

Subramanian and Kawachi (2006) said that “inequality acts like a pollutant spread throughout society.” Research shows that the more unequal a society (the steeper the socio-economic gradient) the worse everybody performes in education, not only those children with less well-educated parents. The UK and USA have worse average literacy scores on national levels of attainment because of the steepness (meaning less equal) of the social gradient

“Greater equality is the gateway to a society improving the quality of life for all of us and an essential step in the development of a sustainable economic system.”

The Liberal Democrats have failed to unite society behind a shared vision, the Liberal Democrat vision, of improving the quality of life for all through greater equality and fairness, which I believe has been fundemental in our performance in elections. We have allowed Labour and the Tories to concentrate improvements in the standard of living in Britain to people’s economic circumstances. We have allowed them to convince the electorate that even in the 2000s the material standard of living is th way to improve society – not community life, mental health, social relations, education, trust, equality or sustainability. And where we have heard of these things, they have been underlined by big government and material living standards.

Government can no longer only use improvements in the material standard of living as a means of grestly improving the quality of living in modern Britain.

Greater equality and fairness as a means of improving our society is the Liberal Democrats’ home territory, our message.

In Britain we have been rightly committed to narrowing the health gap between the rich and the poor, but with little change. The reason for this is because the policy has been centred on breaking the links between socio-economic disadvantage and the problems it produces.

Wilkinson and Pickett explain the flaw in this policy perfectly. They said that these policies are grounded in the belief that the poor need to be taught to be more sensible (drugs, protected sex, exercise and alcohol consumption etc) with the unstated hope that people can carry on in the same circumstances, making no real improvement to their standard of living.

This is why the Tories can’t be trusted to build a fairer society, and Labour to build a stronger economy.

The Tories have no interest in a fairer society, which only results in an undermining our strong economy.

Labour position themselves whilst creating artificial fairness, generating mistrust between large swathes of our society. Talking down the poor in playing big government, clamping down on fairness and freedom in the name of equality which isn’t truly equal.

Liberal Democrats are the only ones to truly appreciate true equality, fairness and freedom and the role that those societal qualities play in ensuring a strong and sustainable economic system for the whole of Britain.

During and pre 2010 Liberal Democrats bucked the trend.

We were not the same old party standing up for change but divorced from any real ideas for change that went deeper that the surface images that party politics has long projected.

The Pupil Premium, Shared Parental Leave, making the tax system fairer, making pensions fairer. We stood up for fairer politics, meaningful community action, a united healthcare system, a welfare system that delivered for people entering the system, having to rely on the system, and existing the system to re enter employment.

Unfortunately the Lib Dem’s story wasn’t a united, well rehearsed, and popular message capable of inspiring that shared vision in which people reimagine a fairer and better society.

As a result of 2010 the Lib Dems have a lot to do in inspiring a shared vision of a more equal society as a means to creating a more prosperous economy.

Not only do the Lib Dems have a lot to do in inspiring that shared vision, but they have a lot to do in dusting off the worst of the coalition government.

The Liberal Democrats are the only party that truly believes and can deliver a fundamentally fairer and more equal society for all, not a society which vilifies the rich and plays big government for the poor.

Without a strong and convincing narrative of how equality and fairness are fundemental in creating a stronger economy, the Liberal a Democrats will always fail to achieve widespread electoral success.

The Liberal Democrats have to capture and provide a narrative for the collective belief that society could be different through greater equality, and interweave a strong economic narrative.

The Liberal Democrats need to refocus on the party’s roots in communities, equality, and liberty and away from doggedly chasing a certificate in economic competence.

Only then, and only after the party has captured and built a consensus that unites society behind the notion of greater equality, can the Liberal Democrats truly deliver on their commitment to building a stronger economy in a fairer society, proving both electoral and economic competence.

That’s what the Liberal Democrats have to achieve if the party is to avoid wipeout beyond 2015.

Education should be exciting

What education means to young people is a difficult grey area, which many attempt to claim ownership. This debate has formed the rhetoric around the meaning and purpose of education, a view that has become commonplace within our education system across the UK.

Some will describe education as a transformative and liberating experience, allowing young people to make their own life choices; follow a route that may not have been available to their parents.

Others see education as a means to an end, an assembly line culminating in an end salary pension and taxable income.

These perceptions should be rejected as concepts that stand independently of one another. Young people should not accept these concepts as the main and only purpose of education. Education should be liberating, education should be transformative, and education includes an end salary pension, and taxable income.

However, something that many people seem to forget in the employment-tinted view of education is that education should ultimately be exciting.

Young people still see education in itself as an exciting experience. Beyond assessment and examination, education is an exciting opportunity to learn and to share. It’s an experience that allows young people to share and to be inspired, but too many young people increasingly see, and are increasingly told, that education is simply a means to an end.

This is a perception held by many young people, which follows as the result of years of placing education within the sphere of employment and employability, requiring young people and children to make educational choices based on a long-term view of make or break in employment markets.

Higher education, before employability dominated education, was intended to be exciting, an opportunity to develop knowledge, to engage in debate and research – both liberating and transformative. However higher education for many young people is now seen as simply a route to employment, an opportunity to climb the employment ladder.

The £9k generation are increasingly told that in order for their higher education experience to be meaningful, they must pursue core subjects such as science and mathematics. No longer are languages, history, politics, and social sciences seen as worth the ‘financial investment’. No longer are traditional subjects perceived as worth studying because they will not secure you employment in a fragile and increasingly competitive graduate employment market.

Education has become engulfed and obsessed with assessment, evaluation, grading, and as a route to employment; a disincentive for many young people to engage and be excited by their educational experience.

It almost alienates those who are interested and excited by education, and it separates education as a means of personal development.

For me, and for many other young people, education was a means to employment, but it was a means to employment in an exciting field of research and policy development. It was exciting to be taught by academics that are established researchers in areas of study. Education was an exciting opportunity to be inspired and expand my knowledge of social policy and devolution politics – assessment was often an interesting and thought provoking experience.

However this isn’t a common case for many young people in the UK. It could be argued that beyond the age of 14, education can be one of two things for young people, an opportunity to learn, or an opportunity to tick the employability checklist.

Again, both should be rejected as stand alone concepts.

Education is liberating as it allows young people to envisage an exciting future of employment, transforming future prospects beyond that of their local area or their parents. However we should not allow education to be simply a means to employment. Education must be exciting, it must be engaging, and should be about developing skills that are suitable for further education and employment.

The meaning of education for individuals is impossible to generalise, particularly when discussing further and higher education; everyone has their own motives. We need to ensure is that future generations are excited by their learning experience, and ensure that those who are immersed in their educational experience are able to do more than be assessed and tick-boxed to ‘employable’ status. Young people recognise the importance of being employable and the natural progression from education to employment, however we cannot allow young people to perceive education as such a black and white landscape.

Education is so much more than employment, and we must encourage future generations to realise all the exciting possibilities that education offers us.

Would a keynote speaker please stand up?

Conference speech after conference speech, policy motion after policy motion, Liberal Democrats agree that we’re doing good work in government. Why wouldn’t we? We’ve raised taxes to support hard working people across the UK – over 100,000 people in Wales no longer pay any income tax at all thanks to the work of Liberal Democrats in Government. We’ve increased the number of apprenticeships offered in England since 2010 by 35%. We’ve increased funding for pupils from the poorest backgrounds through the Pupil Premium, giving pupils the support that they need to get a good start in education. A taper on benefits, meaning that benefits are gradually withdrawn as someone re-enters employment, ending the benefits trap. We’re giving up to £1,200 to working families to help with childcare. We’ve ended child detention for immigration reasons. We introduced equal marriage. Investing in rural broadband to ensure basic infrastructure up and down the country, helping smaller businesses. Shared parental leave. Triple lock on pensions, a 6.5% increase for today’s pensioners. £10m for modern healthcare technologies in Wales, in opposition. And so on, and so on. You should have received your ‘A Record of Delivery’ by now!

However we cannot, and should not, be proud of everything that’s happening in Government. The party that I joined in 2008, wouldn’t stand up and proudly boast about back-to-back, all details, uncensored record of this government.

Yes, the economy is beginning to get back on track, and we’re doing our upmost to anchor the Tories in the centre ground, biting back against the worst of Tories in Government. But it’s where we’re unable to achieve a ‘stronger economy in a fairer society’ that we should be most concerned.

The last few days has seen the resurgence  of the ‘Will the coalition last until the next election?’ question. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but now is the time to make clearer the differences between us and the Conservatives, as we did, at some point long ago.

imgres

Two days ago conference unanimously voted against the bedroom tax – yet not once has it been said that we must fight against Conservative policies that discriminate against the vulnerable.  We need to talk about what we’re doing, and the positive things that we’re doing – but what about the other things that happen in the smoke filled rooms of Number 10? The privatisation of services that will, undeniably, put delivery at risk. Charities have warned about the changes to benefits and the impact on disabled people. Workfare – say no more.

I’ve spent many an evening getting all wound up about selling off the student loans book, something I’ve read around camps for the disabled, how benefits changes are seeing ill and terminally ill people forced to return to work, changes to Universal Credit which will see people lose out, cuts to education, changes to education.

Our record of delivering on our own policies is something to unashamedly shout about, and tell people about at every opportunity, but we leave ourselves open to attack when the Government (that we do allow to continue) enacts the  under-occupancy penalty (yes, the bedroom tax), and we have nothing to say. Regardless of whether Labour introduced the Local Housing Allowance, like the bedroom tax, in 2008 when they changed the terms for those renting privately, which would, many of us will argue, have a greater impact on those living in the private sector as private sector rents are disproportionately higher, we are still party to a government that has enacted something that is unfair. Despite the intention, the current social housing stock does not allow for such a policy to allow movement within the sector, and even if it did, the social consequences of the policy, regardless of the financial implications, leave much to be desired.

This is not a bedroom tax rant, this is somewhat of an open letter, asking the Liberal Democrats to be open an honest about the role that we play in government. What do we, what we don’t do, what we stand for, and what we don’t stand for. Being on message, over time, in volume only does so much of the legwork, the rest of the legwork has to be us not only open among ourselves – by having debates on the economic recovery, the bedroom tax, Syria, and Higher Education funding (somewhat of an alien thing to other parties) – but open and honest with the electorate. We are not Tories, we do not agree with many things that have happened in this government, so how about we start saying that?

 

Private Student Accommodation, and how not to shoot yourself in the foot.

I’m probably one of very few people who believe that Bangor’s student accommodation issue is a result of local representatives failure to develop a constructive strategy, or message, on private student accommodation. A recent article in the Bangor Mail regarding the Jewsons development demonstrates the lack of clarity on student accommodation, and a distinct void in policy on the future of student accommodation in Bangor. As a local Councillor and a Sabbatical Officer I see the issue from both sides, and I am becoming increasingly worried about the standard of accommodation for students, the reduction in the number of ‘family homes’ in Bangor, and the growing animosity between the old Town and Gown.

Many proposed developments would have been damaging to the local area, not due to the nature of student accommodation, but due to the loss of sites for business development to create jobs and boost the local economy. The old Tax Offices, for example, whilst planning permission has been requested for student accommodation (now with planning for a hotel), student accommodation would, in this case, detract from business and investment opportunities.

However we cannot realistically continue to oppose the development of purpose built student accommodation in Bangor, whilst highlighting the negative impact of converting ‘family’ homes into Houses in Multiple Occupation.

The number of affordable homes in some areas are rapidly diminishing, and not only does this have an effect on the ability of people to come and work and live in Bangor, the environmental impact on changing 4 bedroom family houses into 6 bedroom student houses negatively impacts upon the perception of Bangor as a vibrant, welcoming, and attractive place to live and work.

For example, Albert Street/Field Street/Hill Street in Upper Bangor, small back gardens, and relatively small properties. Landlords are converting 3 bedroom houses into 5 (and more) and are extending into the back garden for more living space. Refuse is undeniably an issue – at least 3 blue boxes, a green wheelie bin, and a brown food bin, with no room to store them. Residents use plastic bags to dispose of waste and, for whatever reason, they are torn and rubbish spills across the road. This is an issue for private student housing, not complex developments such as Neuadd Wilis on Deiniol Road. Additionally, we have to keep in mind that all households create rubbish and waste. Parking is an issue, but families have cars, and few students bring cars to University.

We must change our approach to students and accommodating students (a body of people who bring business, trade and vibrancy to Bangor) within the City. Complaints of noise, litter and anti-social behavior as legitimate reasons to oppose student developments are wholly unfounded. All groups of society create litter, noise, play music, and can behave anti-socially; these are not societal problems that are characteristic of the student population.

We need a fair deal for students, and a fair deal for the community. Many student houses are in appalling conditions, in which many people wouldn’t expect others to live, however students tolerate this and society thinks that it is fair and acceptable. As the number of homes diminishes, so does the revenue from Bangor, which could impact upon those services that we do receive in the City. Neither situation appeals to either group of the community.

The permanent residential community feel as though the community feeling is diminishing, due to the regular flow of students in and out of student housing, therefore maintaining a higher number of ‘family homes’ would go some way to retaining that community feel. However, we should also be striving to ensure that students are seen as members of the community, as citizens of Bangor, and developing a diverse and vibrant community in Bangor.

We should be calling for a strategy to be developed that includes all local stakeholders, to develop a strategy that takes into account the needs of the community and the views of the community, whilst being able to suitably accommodate students in Bangor. We should be placing conditions on planning applications for student accommodation in Bangor to ensure that local representatives and representative structures deal with an ever-growing situation properly, ensuring an equitable treatment of all citizens in Bangor.

Without developing such a strategy, developments will be approved despite local objection, the number of residential (non student) homes will diminish, and students will continue to live in sub-standard accommodation where some landlords exploit students and the community, and it needed developing a long time ago.

Where do residents sit within the council feedback loop?

The opinions of local residents seem to be falling on deaf ears. Gwynedd County Council seems to be missing in the communication loop as residents and councillors concerns over licensing and planning applications in Bangor go increasingly unheard. There has been a proliferation of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), and the licensing committee has approved various applications, despite opposition from Bangor Councillors and residents.
The makeup of the licensing committee in particular leaves much to be desired in Bangor, with an ever-growing concern over late night openings not only on Bangor High Street but also in residential areas. Residents are expressing concerns over recent developments and changes, but communication streams don’t seem to be so receptive.
The police are more inclined to approve licensing applications, which became apparent following a meeting with a local officer regarding an increase in applications from premises asking for later opening hours across the City.
From planning, licensing, to refusing public meetings, May 2012 has signalled a rapid decline in the accountability of Gwynedd Council. Residents no longer seem to be able to use democratic processes to hold the council, in its entirety, to account.
Rhys Taylor
Bangor City Councillor, Upper Bangor

Welsh Government for Wales?

Apparently not.

North Wales has lost out yet again after a £36 million rail scheme for North East Wales was delayed indefinitely. It begs the question do we have a Welsh Government for the whole of Wales?

North Wales has yet again lost out on vital investment that would go some way to boosting the regional economy.

“Seven miles (11km) of single rail track is due to be doubled between Wrexham and Saltney Junction, part of a £36m Welsh government-funded project to improve the journey time between north and south Wales.

It would allow trains to travel up to 90mph (114km/h) in sections.

The work was due to be finished by early 2015 but Transport Minister Edwina Hart is now reviewing the plans following delays, and local councillors have said they feared the scheme was in “limbo”.”

North Wales Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Aled Roberts said

“When you look at infrastructure announcements over the years, it is more than clear that north Wales does not receive its fair share of expenditure for capital projects.

“Despite making up over a fifth of Wales’ population, our region is far too often overlooked.

“The first minister has acknowledged that the re-doubling of the Wrexham to Saltney Junction railway line will aid economic development across the region. Yet time and time we have seen delays.”

It’s a wonder that some people in Wales continue to question the purpose of devolution, and question whether Wales is better off running its own affairs. The clear red water has left Wales behind on health, education, the economy, and over-reliance on the public sector. The Welsh Government needs to act as a Government for the whole of Wales, and needs to build strong foundations for a strong economy in Wales.

Enterprise zones are slow to come to fruition, whilst the Liberal Democrats’ flagship Regional Growth Fund, a £1.4bn investment, is investing in areas across the country to boost job creation and to save jobs. Where’s the commitment from the Welsh Government to all areas of Wales?!

http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/claims-cash-north-wales-rail-5373358

2013 Budget Commentary

I saw someone on Facebook discuss how the public sector will lose automatic pay rises, and whilst it may result in a blow average increase in wages for some (probably very few), with news in recent months about wild increases in pay rises across the public sector, I do see some sense.

This freeze, is fundamentally to stop, in many cases, unfair pay rises for those at the top of the public sector. You see many chief executives of various boards across the country being given enormous pay rises when workers are facing cuts in their terms and conditions and having their pay frozen.

It’s all about creating a fairer society whereby pay for those across the public sector is managed appropriately. It also hints at departmental administrative savings rather than front line budget cuts.

In addition one of the only ways we are going to be able to build the economy and make it a stronger economy is through investing in the private sector, particularly here in Wales when the majority of people work for the public sector in some way or another.

An estimated 25.7% of people in employment in Wales worked in the public sector in September 2012. This is the second highest proportion in any region of the UK. Total public sector employment in Wales rose by around 4% between March 2008 and December 2009 to just over 350,000.

 

 

This action by the UK Government sparked – by the same person and I’m sure by many others – a note about how they are disillusioned with the Liberal Democrats and how we have turned our back on the electorate. Here’s some interesting facts and figures.

Regardless of the tuition fee pledge, this government without the Lib Dems would be making cuts far beyond what they currently are, and we are delivering for Britain.

  • £3.5bn cuts in health expenditure down from £10b
  • Torn up Tory plans to cut housing benefit for under 25s
  • Single tier, triple lock pension system meaning adequate rises in pensions year on year; by April 2013 state pension was £650 more than under Labour
  • more apprenticeships than there ever have been in Britain; 540,600 in 2012/11 up from 279,700 in 2009/10
  • investing in pupils from the most deprived backgrounds through the Pupil Premium in Wales; £32m for schools across Wales, £20m being new money
  • Regional Growth Fund which is diverting money right across the country to invest in infrastructure and other developments to boost the economy, our commitment to rural areas in supporting SMEs and rural broadband; RGF led to the creation and/or safeguarding of over 550,000 jobs, many in the manufacturing sector, and £14.5bn of private investment.
  • Top 10% will pay more income tax than they did under the last 13 years of Labour government
  • Raised the tax threshold to £10,000 and are looking to raise it again to ensure a living wage for all and to ensure that people have an adequate standard of living; we’ve made taxes fairer by giving families a £700 tax cut.
  • We’re supporting parents in revolutionising shared parental leave.

Of course there are things that we as a party and as members are extremely unhappy about – take health reform and the bedroom tax and tuition fees, as just some examples. However this is commonplace across the majority of Europe where junior coalition partners are forced to compromise in many situations.

A BBC report found that a significant proportion of the Lib Dem manifesto was being implemented in government in comparison to the Tory manifesto. So not only have we achieved a lot of what we set out to achieve, but we’ve stopped the Tories making some significantly deeper cuts.

 

 

As for Plaid (throwing money at things was a Labour thing) and doing the same for internships in Wales ins’t the way to do things, it doesn’t work. Whilst financial investment in apprenticeships is warmly welcomed, we need to invest in apprenticeships in several ways to ensure we build a stronger economy for the future.

 

Stronger economy, fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.

 

Bangor Liberal Democrats working hard on HMOs.

Liberal Democrat Councillors in Bangor are working hard to ensure that HMOs in the area are properly managed and allow sufficient room for families, couples, the elderly, and workers to live in the Bangor community, as the number of family homes continue to decline in areas such as Upper Bangor.

When Bangor City Council set the council tax precept for 2013/14 it was noted that there were considerably fewer number of council-tax paying properties in Bangor year on year, an issue of concern for many as council services are stretched further and demand increases – particularly where the decline in council-tax paying properties is due to the increase in HMOs.

As part of the current consultation Bangor Liberal Democrats submitted a response to the consultation on the matter of the proliferation and management of HMOs in Bangor. Bangor Lib Dems believe that the current policy does not go far enough to protect the traditional community of Bangor, whilst also ensuring that standards of HMOs are maintained. Gwynedd’s current policy reads as follows;

“The accumulative effect or over provision of this type of accommodation (HMOs) can affect the social character of an area and lower its environmental quality. This situation can further worsen as families move out in order to seek a better living environment.”

Arfon Liberal Democrats support Bangor Councillors’ commitment to ensuring that whist there is adequate provision for students, we must safeguard the needs of the community that remain in Bangor for 365 days a year in supporting our local businesses, economy, schools, and also provide a vibrant community.

There is also ongoing work with various Officers in Gwynedd Council on tackling the result of the proliferation of HMOs including waste, noise pollution, and a rapidly reducing number of dwelling homes in areas such as Upper Bangor and Garth.

Below is the consultation submission made by Bangor Liberal Democrat Councillors;

Anglesey and Gwynedd Joint Local Development Plan.

Submission on Houses in Multiple Occupation

Councillor June Marshall,

Menai Ward, Bangor.

 

  1. 1.     Background

 

1.1  The City of Bangor is very proud to be the home of Bangor University and we are very conscious of the many benefits which have accrued to the City due to its presence.  The University has contributed immeasurably to Bangor’s economy, culture and amenities.  We welcome the students who come from all over the world to live and study in this beautiful part of Wales. They bring vibrancy to the city and give us the opportunity to learn more about other lives, languages and beliefs.  But there is also a potential downside to the influx of large numbers of students.  Over the last forty years the University has grown from 3000 students to c.12000. This nearly doubles the population of Bangor in term time and has led to a massive provision of student accommodation, primarily by turning family houses into student Houses of Multiple Occupation.

 

1.2   It is not easy to give an exact number of HMOs in Gwynedd.  Many do not have planning permission and not all are licensed.  But the impact is clear.  There are whole streets and roads in Bangor with just one or two family houses and some streets have no family houses at all.  Unless there is a change of approach to prevent more dwelling houses from being converted into HMOs, the situation will deteriorate still further.

 

1.3   The problems caused by the present situation are immense:

 

  • Increase in noise and disorder
  • Increase in rubbish
  • Lack of maintenance
  • Loss of affordable houses for residents
  • Families are driven out of student areas, leading to further HMOs and an unbalanced population.
  • Loss of revenue for both Gwynedd and Bangor City Councils
  • A large floating population which does not engage with the local community
  1. 2.     Is there a need to provide more Houses of Multiple Occupation in Bangor?

 

2.1   The main need for HMOs in Bangor is to accommodate students.   The need undoubtedly increased over the past 40 years but there is compelling evidence that the need is now fully met and will not increase in the near future. In fact it is likely that student numbers will decline:

                Evidence on Student numbers:

 

  • The latest figures available (2012-13) show that the number of students attending Bangor University fell by 200.
  • This is in line with national trends, which show that most Universities are showing a decline in admissions.
  • This trend is unlikely to improve while University fees of £9,000 per annum continue to be charged.

 

2.2   At the same time, the supply of purpose built students accommodation has increased:

 

  • Neuadd Willis I and Neuadd Willis II on Bangor High Street now provide high quality purpose built student accommodation for a considerable number of students.
  • Student accommodation has also been built on the site of the former N and F shop on Bangor High Street.
  • Planning permission has been granted for 30 student rooms at Plas Llwyd, behind the High Street.
  • The University intends providing 600 rooms on the St Mary’s site and 120 at Neuadd Garth.
  • There is planning permission for student accommodation on the corner of Dean Street.
  • The former Jewson’s Yard remains undeveloped.  While the previous planning application for student accommodation was refused on appeal, it is probable that the developers will revise their plans and produce an acceptable scheme.

 

2.3  There are signs of over-provision of Houses of Multiple Occupation.

 

  • Student houses remain without tenants for 2013-14, even at this very late stage in the academic year.   (Evidence:  an unprecedented number of advertising signs still showing rooms to let, numerous newspaper adverts still offering student houses to let.)
  • Some student houses remained empty during the last academic year.

 

 

3      Gwynedd Council Policy

 3.1  Policy CH14 refers to Houses in Multiple Occupation in the Gwynedd Unitary Development Plan.

 

“Policy CH14 – conversion of dwellings into flats, bed-sits or multiple occupancy dwellings.

Proposals to change the use of dwellings or other residential buildings into flats, bed-sits or multiple occupancy units will be approved provided they conform to the following criterion:

the development will not result in the overprovision of this type of accommodation in a specific street or area where the accumulative effect has, or is likely to have, a negative impact on the social or environmental  character of the street or area.”

 

3.2. Unfortunately this policy has not been sufficiently strong to prevent many more family houses being turned into HMOs.  It is extremely difficult to prove that one house becoming an HMO will result in overprovision of HMOs or will be likely to have an adverse impact on a street or area, when there are already a number of HMOs in place.  Consequently, the number of family houses has been, and continues to be, chipped away.  The only hope of preventing the situation from deteriorating further is to have a very strict policy which would not permit any change of use to an HMO once the percentage of HMOs in a street exceeded a fixed amount.  This would have to be agreed, but should be – I would propose – a meaningful figure such as 10%. Furthermore, it should only be possible to convert a building, of any sort, into an HMO if the applicant could show that no harm would ensue.

 

3.3.The work of Planning Officers and Planning Committees in Wales in controlling the proliferation of HMOs would be much helped if the Welsh Assembly Government were to introduce a similar planning regulation as exists in England whereby HMOs are placed in a separate class use (C4).

 

3.4.Of course, it is essential that any policy on HMOs has to be enforceable.  The current situation allows landlords to by-pass the planning system very easily, by claiming for example, that all the tenants share a rent book and live as a family.  The system needs to be tightened up, provided this can be done within current legislation.

 

  1. What are the risks if no change is made to Gwynedd’s policy?

 

  • Further proliferation of HMOs.
  • Further loss of family houses.
  • Further adverse impact on the residents and environment of Bangor.
  • Empty properties leading to vandalism and disrepair.
  • Investment landlords will seek alternative tenants for their HMOs, with the very real danger of leading to further problems as has happened in Rhyl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arfon Liberal Democrats welcome prison reform announcement

Arfon Liberal Democrats welcome Deputy Prime Ministers’ announcement yesterday that our prison system is set to be reformed.

By reforming our prison system and the way in which we view prisoners who serve minor sentences, we can begin to change their lives and also change the nature of reoffending. We agree that we need to move these individuals away from crime and onto the right path, a process which begins in prison.

Short term prison sentences are expensive and ineffective. 71% of 18-21 year-olds (2004) re-offend when they are released, it’s clear that the system needs to be hinged upon rehabilitation.

The plans set out by the Deputy Prime Minister would see more robust community sentences and restorative justice. For those who only serve short term sentences we should be enabling them to change their lives by focusing on individual skills.

In 2003 95% of prisoners needed help with basic literacy, and half of prisoners are at, or below, the level expected of an eleven year old in reading, 66% in numeracy, and 80% in writing – skills which are required in 96% of jobs. Over the last year the Coalition Government have, under Liberal Democrat impetus, increased the hours that prisoners work by 800,000.

The plans also cover support for those who offend because of illness and addiction by diverting mentally ill offenders away from the criminal justice system and towards treatment; and introducing drug recovery wings within prisons for those caught up in re-offending because of drug abuse.

In addition, Liberal Democrats have also pushed for fairness within the justice system by remembering the victims of crime, for example by giving them and their communities more of a say about punishment – things like community resolution panels.

Liberal Democrats are making a real difference, in government, to all of those whose lives are affected by crime.