Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Party candidates versus independent ones

There is no definitive answer which will be correct in all circumstances to the question of whether candidates affiliated to a political party will, other things being equal, be preferable to independent ones.

For example, the position of the Conservative party nationally is to contest all district/borough/city, county and parliamentary elections but to leave it to the discretion of local constituency parties whether to put up slates for town and parish council elections.

In most of Copeland, as much of the rest of the country that decision has been, this year and usually in the past, not to put up Conservative slates for Town and Parish elections or ask people to vote on party lines in those elections.

That's because the very local decisions which these community councils take, parochial ones in the positive sense of that word, are generally not amenable to being taken on national party lines.

There are those who argue that the same applies to other levels of government, right up to parliamentary elections.  They are entitled to their opinion, but I don't agree. The key points are these:
  1. Politics is, and should be, a team activity
  2. You can achieve very little in any political system based on a parliament or council without a pattern of alliances and working agreements 
  3. Democratic accountability works more effectively and transparently when those alliances and working agreements are openly declared, preferably in advance of the elections. And that's precisely what a system of political parties is

Running an organisation the size of Copeland Borough Council, let alone Cumbria County Council or the government of the UK simply cannot be done in a centralised manner with all the decisions taken by one individual and it would be a disaster to try. It needs a team of people working together with co-operation and compromise.

When someone stands for election with a party label what they are effectively doing is telling the electorate who they expect to try first to work with and what the nature of that co-operation and compromise is likely to be.

No political party is perfect, and it can at times be intensely frustrating when a political label causes councillors and council candidates to be judged not on their own records or what they are trying to achieve locally but on what people with the same political label have done at Westminster.

However, during my 26 years in local government I would argue that local parties have done more good than harm in two ways

1) In forming a basis for people to come together in teams to debate and put ideas forward on local issues and to do so in a manner which can be presented to the electorate reasonably clearly, and

2) Local government in most parts of this country would have died decades ago without the political parties encouraging people to get involved and stand for election.

That does not alter the fact that it can be very unhealthy for one party to run a council or government for too long and a change can be very helpful at times. It is sometimes suggested - the quote has been attributed to many people but it may have been a libertarian candidate in the USA called John Walner who was the first person to add - that politicians, like babies, should be changed often "and for the same reason."

For example Labour ran Copeland council for far too long for anyone's good including their own and they got complacent and arrogant. the same can happen to any other group of political leaders if they don't work at avoiding it.

There was a lot of debate in the 19th century about whether party government was a good thing. Perhaps the most powerful reply was given by Benjamin Disraeli who said that the choice between parliamentary government and party government was a false one because you could not make the latter work without the former. In his words:

Midweek music spot for Holy Week: "Come ye Daughters" from Bach's Matthew Passion

Supporting Innovative businesses

The Exchequer Secretary has announced that a new fund will provide £200 million for British businesses, as the Conservatives; balanced approach to the economy means that we can support innovative companies, ensuring they can access the finance they need to grow.

Key facts
  • We are fully committed to supporting small businesses to succeed as part of our modern Industrial Strategy. 
  • As the UK leaves the EU and our relationship with the European Investment Fund changes, we remain committed to ensuring that innovative firms can access the finance they need to grow. 
  • The funding – made available through the British Business Bank – will provide loans to small companies looking to increase in size. 
  • Venture capital and investment firms will be able to approach the British Business Bank to bid for a share of the £200 million to invest in small UK firms. 

Why this matters:

We are creating more start-ups and attracting more venture capital funding than any other European country, but we want to do more to ensure our small businesses and entrepreneurs can thrive and make the UK the best place in the world to do business.

Quote of the day 17th April 2019

"As a 54-year-old Jew, when hear the word 'Nazi', I listen. I pay close attention because, like every other Jew, I know the meaning of the word and its special resonance.

If the Nazis had not been defeated, I wouldn't be here. I would never have been born because, had Adolf Hitler successfully invaded Britain and won the war, my parents — both born in London — would have joined the millions of Jews murdered by the Nazis.

So I have a message for David Lammy, the Labour MP who at the weekend likened members of the hard-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs to the Nazis.

It's a message that comes from my heart: How dare you?

How dare you compare people with whom you disagree on Brexit with the men and women who committed genocide — who planned in meticulous detail the most efficient mechanism for murdering an entire people?

You ignorant, hate-mongering fool."

"There is, however, another aspect to this sorry story which shows that Mr Lammy is not merely an idiot with no concept of recent history, but a cynical hypocrite, too.

As an MP, he is campaigning to put his party into power. Yet that party is now led by a man who has done more to unleash a culture of 'Jew-hate' than any politician since Hitler was defeated in 1945."

"I have a suggestion for Mr Lammy. Over the next few days, he should read a history of the Third Reich. 

I can recommend a few, such as Sir Richard Evans's 'The Third Reich In Power' or Sir Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler.

Then Mr Lammy might learn who and what the Nazis really were — and hang his head in shame."

(Extracts from an article by the Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, in which he explains why he was not impressed by David Lammy's comparison of the Brexit-supporting MPs to the Nazis. You can read the full article - which contains several more home truths to which several people on both  side of the Brexit debate would do well to pay attention, here.)

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

UK named world's top investment destination in new survey

An annual survey by top accountancy firm EY has found the UK is now the world’s top investment destination, overtaking the United States.

Key facts
  • It is the first time the UK has taken the top spot in the survey’s 10-year history. 
  • The UK displaced the US as the top investment destination globally, a position the US had held since 2014. The US was followed by Germany, China, France, Canada, India, Australia, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates in the rankings. 
  • For this year's survey EY interviewed 2,900 senior executives from 47 countries in February and March 2019. 

Employment at a record high

New figures show that the number of people in work is at a record high while wages have risen at their fastest pace in a decade – continuing to rise ahead of prices.

This means pay packets can go further, and more people have the security of a regular wage and can provide for their families.

We are helping people into work by reforming welfare so work always pays, while backing businesses to create more, better paying jobs across the whole country through our careful economic management and modern Industrial Strategy.

With the unemployment rate at a record low of 3.9 per cent, more people have the economic independence that a job brings and can reach their full potential. Behind every employment number is a person whose self-esteem, mental wellbeing, economic circumstances and life chances are all vastly improved by being in the workplace.

Key statistics
  • Wages: Average weekly earnings for employees increased by 3.4 per cent compared with a year earlier, while prices rose 1.9% in the year to February. This means that real incomes are finally moving up again. 
  • Employment: A record high of 32.72 million (up 457,000 over the last year and up by 3.67 million since 2010). Employment rate: 76.1 per cent (up 0.8 points over the past year and up 5.9 points since 2010). 
  • Unemployment: 1.34 million (down 76,000 over the past year and down by 1.17 million since 2010).
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9 per cent (down 0.3 points over the past year and down 4.0 points since 2010) – the lowest rate since 1975 and halving since 2010 (8.0 per cent). 
  • Youth unemployment: There are over 446,000 fewer young people out of work since 2010 – almost halving since 2010. 
  • Disabled people: There are almost 1 million more disabled people (930,000) in work since 2013, as we are breaking down the barriers to employment facing disabled people. 
  • Job opportunities for women: The number of women in work is at a record high of 15.41 million. There are over 1.76 million more women in work since 2010.

Quote of the day 16th April 2019

Monday, April 15, 2019

Free speech and responsibility

Matthew d'Ancona has a piece in a prominent national newspaper with the subtitle

"As the political temperature soars, those who seek to govern Britain have a responsibility to speak with care"

Why, you may ask, did I introduce this piece by the subtitle rather than the title, and refrain from naming the paper concerned?

The answer is, because too many people on both sides of the political spectrum and both sides of the Brexit debate are guilty of failing to choose their language with care, and I wanted to make the point in a way which did not make it obvious which side of the aisle the article was coming from,.

The basic point of d'Ancona's article, that people who hold or aspire to political office are wise to choose their words carefully, and that you can believe in and exercise "free speech" while wording your comments in a measured way which avoids the "civic recklessness" of language which will further inflame passions and anger, is correct.

So are all his examples.

Bit it is a pity that they were all one-sided - indeed, one of the people he cites as a victim of abusive messages has also been one of the very worst offenders for "civic recklessness" over the last few days and d'Ancona makes no reference to this. It would have been so very easy to give examples of such conduct on both sides of the spectrum that I cannot avoid thinking that the failure to do so was deliberate.

And that detracts from what would otherwise have been a first class article. 

Notre Dame

I was horrified to learn of the fire at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, an iconic church which is a huge part of the history of French culture.

One can only with the firefighters well and hope that as much as possible of the building and its' priceless store of artwork can be saved.

Good news for the retail sector

New statistics have shown a boost for Britain’s pubs, restaurants and shops with more people eating out and shopping.


Key facts:


  • Like-for-like sales in restaurants and pubs are up by nearly four per cent in March on the same time last year.


  • The number of shoppers climbed by 1.4 per cent year-on-year last month with more shoppers hitting the high street.

Ending unfair evictions

The government is to consult on proposals to end unfair evictions. This will form part of the biggest change to the private rental sector for a generation, giving tenants the peace of mind they deserve.

Key facts
  • As part of a complete overhaul of the rented housing sector, the government will consult on proposals to remove the ability of landlords to use ‘no fault’ evictions under Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act. 
  • Private landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants from their homes at short notice using Section 21 – so called ‘no-fault’ evictions – and without good reason. 
  • This will bring greater peace of mind to millions of families who live in rented accommodation. Many tenants live with the worry of being evicted at short notice or continue to live in poor accommodation for fear they will be asked to leave if they complain about problems with their home.
  • We want to give them the reassurance that they will not suddenly be forced to leave their home facing nowhere else to go. 
  • Evidence shows that the end of tenancies through the Section 21 process is one of the biggest causes of family homelessness. 

Why this matters

Everyone renting in the private sector has the right to feel secure in their home, by abolishing unfair evictions we will give tenants the long-term certainty and the peace of mind they deserve.

Quote of the day 15th April 2019

"Brussels has taught us a lesson in how not to deal with a member state that wants to leave. The problem is not on the British side. The problem is on the EU side.”

This quote is from G√ľnter Verheugen, former German EU commissioner, as reported here.

He told ARD’s Anne Will show in Berlin that the EU’s negotiating team had made a strategic misjudgement, missed the larger issues at stake and should not try to dictate terms fundamentally unacceptable to London:

 “We’re not losing a member state, we’re losing the weight of 20 member states. We therefore have an interest that we remain the closest possible allies.”

I am not holding my breath waiting for the EU to change it's negotiating strategy because I don't think they will, but the same article reports that a number of influential German economists are concerned that the EU's negotiating strategy for Brexit as "gone off the rails" in the words of Professor Gabriel Felbermayr, head of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, who also called for a change in the EU's strategy "before it does any more harm to long-term relations with Britain."

Professor Felbermayr told the Daily Telegraph that any deal with Britain that is perceived as coercive will fall apart. “If it is going to have any credibility, it must offer mutual benefits,” he said.

He added that the EU is playing a “very dangerous game.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Remembering a heroine of the holocaust

The Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell MP, led the annual March of the Living in Hungary, a Holocaust memorial march which this year honours Jane Haining, a Scottish missionary who died because she protected and helped Jewish orphans in her care. He also spoke at the event.

(Above: Jane Haining, a missionary from Dumfriesshire who died at the Auchwitz death camp in 1944 where she had been sent by the Nazis for caring for Jewish children.)

Key facts:
  • The torchlit memorial march, called the March of the Living, is an annual event in Hungary which commemorates the more than 500,000 Jews from the country killed by the Nazis. 
  • This year’s march honoured Jane Haining, a teacher originally from Dumfriesshire who ignored countless warnings to return home to safety, believing it her duty to stay with her pupils and care for them. For doing so she was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to the Auchwitz death camp, where she died.
  • Research suggests that Jane Haining also saved the lives of Jewish people by helping them emigrate from Hungary to Britain. 
  • The Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, who led the march, has welcomed the recognition of her sacrifice and dedication to the children she worked with. 
In his speech, David Mundell said:

"An extraordinary, brave and selfless woman, Jane Haining sacrificed herself to protect Jewish schoolgirls in Budapest during the Second World War," 

"Her unwavering devotion saw her lose her life in Auschwitz 75 years ago, aged just 47. 

"She is a hero of whom all of Scotland, Hungary and the world can be proud."

Why this matters:

The Holocaust was undoubtedly one of the darkest times in human history, but the courage and personal sacrifice of individuals like Jane Haining give us hope for the future.

Palm Sunday

In the Hebrew calendar today is the Sunday immediately before the feast of the Passover - a moveable feast which is extremely late this year -and in the Christian calendar that make is Palm Sunday.

So Christians today are remembering the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, welcomed by cheering crowds who laid palm branches and items of clothing before him in tribute, and shouting "Hosanna!"

And yet six days later, with no apparent reason to justify the change in attitude, those who had welcomed Jesus were silent or joined in as crowds screamed "Crucify Him" and he was put to death.

An American writer once wrote that this was like giving someone a ticker-tape parade and then hanging them: and yet the approval of the mob can be as fickle as the approval of a church hierarchy or an authoritarian government, whether or not the former is prompted by one of the latter.

Both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, particularly at the time of Stalin's purges and the "Night of the Long Knives" respectively, had jokes about people arrested on consecutive days for repeating opposite slogans on the wrong side of a policy reversal. One soviet version had three communist party members in a cell, who, after a little hesitation, asked each other what they were there for.

  • "Because yesterday I was overheard saying 'Down with Comrade Popov!'" said the first.
  • "Because today I was overheard saying 'Long Live Comrade Popov!'" said the second.
  • "I am Comrade Popov," replied the third.

Public opinion in democratic nations can be equally fickle. The biblical saying

"Put not your trust in princes, not in any child of man" (Psalm 146 verse 3)

applies not just to kings and dictators but equally to political actors ion a democracy including the voters.

So those who do something to win approval from their fellows may find that approval fleeting. However, those who do something they believe to be the right course of action will find that the knowledge that they have done what they thought was right is less easy to take away from them.

In the Christian story, Jesus knew even as the crowds cheered him, that he was riding to his death,  but he rode on anyway. Ecce homo - behold the man!

Sunday music spot: Thomas Tallis, "Salvator mundi"

Quote of the day 14th April 2019

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Article 50 extension

It is a great pity that an extension to Article 50 has been necessary.

However, one of the very few things which parliament has manged to agree on in relation to Brexit in the last few months was to vote to instruct the PM to seek an extension to delay the Brexit date if no deal to leave had been agreed and she has obeyed that instruction.

In discussions with the rest of the EU the Prime Minister has agreed an extension to Article 50 until the end of October – but crucially, if a deal is passed, the UK can still leave the European Union by the end of May, before the European Elections.

Key facts

  • Britain needs to leave the EU with a deal as soon as possible; this extension will end once the Withdrawal Agreement has been ratified, and the UK can leave the EU in an orderly manner. 
  • If the UK parliament is able to pass a deal in the first three weeks of May, we will not have to take part in European elections, and can leave on 31 May. 
  • During the course of the extension, the UK will continue to hold full membership rights as well as its obligations. 

Why this matters

The government has a duty to find a way to fulfil the democratic decision of the referendum, deliver Brexit and move our country forward. Nothing is more pressing and few things are more vital.

Mini tour

I did a #Torycanvass "mini-tour" of Lancs and Cumbria in glorious sunshine today, if the wind was a bit cold: started the morning with @CopelandTories in Millom backing Ged McGrath for Mayor and spent the afternoon with Rossendale and Darwen Conservatives in Darwen South.

Music to relax after campaigning - Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave)

Voyeurism Act making "upskirting" illegal is now in effect.

From this week the Voyeurism Act has come into force in England and Wales  and ‘upskirting’ offenders can be arrested and sent to prison, ensuring more people are protected from this degrading and humiliating behaviour.

Key facts
  • Upskirting is a gross invasion of privacy, but previously not all instances were covered by criminal law. 
  • From Friday, offenders will feel the full force of the law with up to two years in jail. The most serious offenders will be placed on the sex offenders’ register. 
  • After a previous attempt to ban the practice through a private members' bill fell foul of a rogue MP, the government made parliamentary time available for the Voyeurism Act which received Royal Assent in February and is now law. 

Why this matters

There is no excuse for this disgusting behaviour, and making ‘upskirting’ an offence is another step forward in challenging sexist attitudes and behaviours in our society.

Quote of the day 13th April 2019

Friday, April 12, 2019

What is a "Vanity project"

I was quite annoyed at the county council meeting with one Lib/Dem councillor who described a number of projects to improve education in Cumbria which had been listed by my colleague Councillor Ben Shirley as "vanity projects."

I would add that the first project he had listed had been the £20 million grant to the Cumbria Education Trust which has just taken over Whitehaven Academy to provide that school (formerly known as Whitehaven School) with new school buildings. )

Generations of staff, parents and former students at that school would almost certainly agree that this school has been in desperate need of new buildings for not just years but decades - both Labour and Conservative councillors also said the same during the meeting - and that whatever a vanity project is, that one is needed.

The history of politics is listed with measures for which the title of "vanity project" is indeed appropriate - airports which only a handful of flights depart from, bridges that nobody crosses, plans for sports stadiums which, if they get built at all, are nearly always empty, magazines published at the taxpayers' expense which nobody reads.

Another councillors who spoke in the debate referred to the splitting up of the education budget into too many small separate budgets and there is definitely something in that argument. The problem goes back at least to the Blair years - New Labour provided more money for education but it came in more than sixty different funding streams each with a bureaucracy to manage it.

However, I did get the impression that there was a little bit too much of a tendency to dismiss as a vanity project something done by a rival party or level of government. Both the government and Cumbria County Council have recently launched initiatives to help children's mental health. Eve if you think one or both could be improved, does it make sense to praise the one and dismiss the other as a "vanity project?"

It's a bit like another entry for the "Irregular verbs" often cited by the character Bernard Woolley in "Yes, Prime Minister" - in this case
  • "I support vital community prorammes
  • You waste money on vanity projects
  • He siphons cash into pork-barrel schemes."


Frizington Fire Station: Labour back plan to replace tender with smaller vehicle

At the county council yesterday (11th April 2019) there was a vote on whether or not to approve the Integrated Risk management Plan (IRMO) for Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service.

The IRMP says that following a pilot in the south of the county, fire service chiefs will consider replacing the full-size fire tender at Arnside, Staveley and Frizington fire stations, and the second tender at Maryport, with smaller "Rapid Response Vehicles" (RRV) which carries fewer firefighters and less equipment.

This has not been presented as a saving but as an improvement to the service, on the basis that the RRV's can go out with three firefighters rather than four and may be able to get to some locations faster.

There may well be places where these RRVs can provide that improvement, as part of a balanced fleet of vehicles, but I don't believe, on the basis of what serving and recently retired firefighters from Copeland have told me, that Frizington is a sensible place to remove the full-size tender. 

The proposal that that Maryport Fire Station, which currently has two full size tenders of which there are usually often not enough firefighters to crew both, should keep one of the existing large tenders but have the other replaced by an RRV, is supported by the Allerdale local committee, and does appears to make sense. There would still be a large tender available at Maryport when it is needed and a second vehicle which is often unavailable would be replaced with one which could be used a significantly higher proportion of the time.

However, Frizington is one of the two or three worst possible places to replace the full-size tender with an RRV. It has among the best figures in West Cumbria for firefighter availability. A full-size tender serving ten thousand people which is available 90% of the time would be replaced by a significantly less capable vehicle.

I therefore proposed an amendment, which was seconded by the councillors whose division includes the Frizington fire station, Arthur Lamb, which would have had the effect of taking the Frizington proposal out of the IRMP and requiring that the Fire Service report back to the county council on the result of the pilot before any decisions which might be difficult to reverse are taken.

Sadly this amendment was defeated by 33 votes to 26 in a vote which went entirely on party lines with Conservative councillors voting to keep a full size fire engine at Frizington while Labour and Lib/Dem councillors voted against.

There was a recorded vote on the amendment, which will be published in due course, but I was keeping track of what happened. One councillor from Copeland had a cast iron excuse for having to leave the meeting early. Of the others, all seven Conservatives voted for the amendment and all four Labour councillors voted against. 

Had the Labour county councillors representing Copeland borough divisions all voted to keep the Frizington full size tender, the amendment to do so would have been carried by 30 votes to 29.

This issue is far from over. I had a long chat with the chief fire officer after the meeting, and both he and the portfolio holder promised me this is "not a done deal" and the points raised will be taken into account.

How not to control house prices

The right way to keep house prices at sensible levels:
  • Ensure that enough homes get built to meet reasonable local need, that it is not made ridiculously difficult to get planning permission for necessary developments and that the homes which are built are a decent match with the ones people want to live in.

The wrong way to keep house prices at sensible levels:
  • Give the Bank of England control over house prices.

Guess which one the Labour party want to try?
  • You guessed it!

The Labour leader and shadow chancellor are unreconstructed seventies "command economy" socialists who think the answer to every problem is government regulation.

We can all agree that there is a problem with a shortage of housing in some parts of the country and prices and rents which make it very difficult for the less advantaged and the young to get on the housing ladder.

This would not make it sensible, as Julian Harris points out in his article here on City AM,

"Labour's desire for the Bank of England to control UK house prices is disastrous and illogical,"

to try to give the job of setting house prices to the Bank of England.

As the head of the Bank, governor Mark Carney told a City audience back in 2014:

“The underlying dynamic of the housing market reflects a chronic shortage of housing supply, which the Bank of England can’t tackle directly.” 

He added: “We are not able to build a single house.”

Quote of the day 12th April 2019

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Good news on economic growth

Britain's economy grew faster than expected at the start of 2019, showing that the Conservative government's balanced approach to the country’s finances is working.

Key facts:
  • GDP increased by 0.3 per cent in the three months to February, higher than the 0.2 per cent forecast. 
  • Computer programming and retail trade were the fastest growing parts of the economy over the last three months. 
  • Manufacturing output rose to its highest level since 2008, with a strong rise in computer and electrical components.

Annual meeting of Cumbria County Council

Today's Cumbria County Council meeting essentially took up the entire day, with a pre-meeting first thing, the actual meeting starting at 10 am, and it lasted until shortly before 5pm with a short break for lunch.

All credit to Martin Barbour who lasted the whole meeting (not everyone did, although some of those who had to leave early had cast iron excuses such as hospital appointments) and then after the drive home joined Ged McGrath and Conservative candidates for Copeland Borough Council in Hillcrest for a spot of campaigning.

I'm going to write up some of the issues coming out of the meeting such as
  • Frizington Fire Engine
  • What is a "Vanity project"
However I will; say this evening that I would like to thank all those councillors who have sponsored me for Swimathon 2019.

Phil Dew, Neil Hughes, Andy Connell, Trevor Allison and Tony Markley all sponsored me today and their combined donations plus those previously paid in either directly to me or online took me past my fundraising target for the event in support of Marie Curie Cancer Care and Cancer Research UK.

I have incidentally had sponsorship for councillors of all the main political parties as well as work colleagues and other friends which shows that generosity is not something limited to any part of the political spectrum.

Not too late to sponsor me if anyone else reading this wishes to do so, and you can support the excellent work of Marie Curie Cancer Care and Cancer Research UK on my justgiving page here.

Music to relax after a council meeting & campaigning: the "Albinoni" Adagio

After a council meeting and pre-meeting lasting nearly eight hours, a round trip to Kendal and back for it, and some time spent delivering leaflets when I finally got back to Copeland, I needed something good to relax to, and music doesn't come much better than the "Albinoni" adagio.

I have previously posted performances of this piece several time. For those who have not already seen one of those posts or have forgotten, the rather extraordinary history of this lovely piece of music and the reason why the name of the supposed composer "Albinono" has been placed in inverted commas may be found here.

Quote of the day 11th April 2019

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Frizington Fire Station

At the county council tomorrow (11th April 2019) there will be a vote on whether or not to approve the Integrated Risk management Plan (IRMO) for Cumbria Fire & Rescue Service.

As currently drafted this IRMP says that the authority will consider replacing the full-size fire tender at Frizington fire station with a smaller "Rapid Response Vehicle" (RRV) which carries fewer firefighters and less equipment.

This has not been presented as a saving but as an improvement to the service.

I don't buy it.

These RRV's may well have a place in the service as part of a balanced fleet of vehicles - for example. there is a proposal that that Maryport Fire Station, which currently has two full size tenders of which there are often not enough firefighters to crew both, should keep one of the existing large tenders but have the other replaced by an RRV. That idea, which is supported by the Allerdale local committee, appears to make sense. There would still be a large tender available at Maryport when it is needed and a second vehicle which is often unavailable would be replaced with one which could be used a significantly higher proportion of the time.

However, Frizington is one of the two or three worst possible places to replace the full-size tender with an RRV. It has among the best figures in West Cumbria for firefighter availability. A full-size tender serving ten thousand people which is available the vast majority of the time would be replaced by a significantly less capable vehicle.

I cannot support this part of the plan, and I hope that the council does not support it either.

Children's Mental health services

There is, rightly, concern that more needs to be done to address the needs of children with mental health issues.

That's why the government is:
  • raising mental health funding to record levels and allocating at least £2.3 billion of the £20.5 billion NHS funding boost to mental health. 
  • piloting a four-week waiting time standard for children’s mental health treatment, training a brand new dedicated mental health workforce for schools and teaching pupils what good mental and physical health looks like. 
  • These plans will allow 70,000 more children a year to have access to specialist mental health care by 2020-21. 

Why this matters

By investing in children’s mental health services and focusing on early intervention we will ensure all children have access to the support they need.

Twelve new institures of Technology to be set up

The Education Secretary has announced the first twelve Institutes of Technology, equipping young people with the skills they need to build well paid, rewarding careers.

Key facts:
  • Backed by £170 million of Government investment, the Institutes will be unique collaborations between universities, Further Education colleges and leading employers including Nissan, Siemens and Microsoft. 
  • They will specialise in delivering quality higher-level training in subjects such as digital, advanced manufacturing and engineering, providing a natural progression route for young people taking T-Levels or A-Levels. 
  • As part of the biggest shake up to technical education in a generation, Institutes of Technology will equip students with the skills employers need, setting them on a clear path to well paid, rewarding careers. 

Why this matters:

Alongside introducing T-Levels and developing more high quality apprenticeship opportunities, Institutes of Technology will transform technical education.

Quote of the day 10th April 2019

The quote above is from Lord Acton's lecture entitled "The history of Freedom in Christianity" (1877) and he was referring to the French Revolution.

There is a manuscript in which he wrote a similar version of this statement about the French Revolution and the great terror, which reads as follows:

"It was amid terror and slaughter that one of the two elements that composed the revolution neutralised the other and the passion for equality made vain the hope for freedom."

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

James Kirkup on Trade policy

I an strongly in favour of free trade. It has been one of the greatest engines of growth and development and facilitated huge increases in the standard of living of ordinary people.

It is possible to express entirely legitimate concerns about making sure that the benefits of trade are spread as widely as possible throughout society and that as few people as possible are left behind: there can also be legitimate strategic and national security reasons to protect specific industries. But even though there may be specific exceptions, it is invariably true in general that the more open a country is to trade the more wealth that country can create, the more money will be available for better schools, hospitals and to help and support the vulnerable and the stronger that country will be.

Much of the increased wealth of the world today has come from the long run benefits from past trade deals, mostly negotiated in the 20th century: much of the discontent has come because we have not always managed to ensure that everyone benefits from that extra wealth.

Previous trade deals were mostly about cutting tariffs and, throughout the world, most tariffs except for a few sensitive products like food are pretty low.

Most new trade deals today are about agreeing the common product standards to which goods that are traded have to conform, and this is both a lot more complex and often much more controversial than cutting tariffs. It involves things like whether we regard it as OK to use chlorine or radiation to remove bugs from food; whether genetically modified crops are OK: what safety standards and animal welfare standards we will insist on. Harmonising these between nations is not a simple matter.

There is an excellent article by James Kirkup on the Spectator site here about the challenges which issues like the ones I have described above, and some of the other harsh realities of the modern world, will pose for those who have to set Britain's trade policies in a post-Brexit world.

Do I believe that Britain can surmount those challenges? Absolutely.

Will it be as simple or easy as many people appear to think? Absolutely not.

Hence Kirkup's article is worth a read for anyone with an interest in trade policy.

Boosting children's early language and communication skills

The Education Secretary has announced £6.5 million to boost children’s early language and communication skills across 27 local authorities.

Key facts
  • On average, disadvantaged children are four months behind at age five. That grows by an additional six months by the age of 11, and a further nine months by the age of 16. 
  • The eight projects announced today will cover 27 local councils – targeted at disadvantaged areas – to bring education and health services closer together to help improve children’s early communication and literacy skills. 
  • This multimillion pound investment will provide better support to families in some of the most deprived areas of the country – supporting families with tips to propel their child’s learning so they can go on to reach their full potential. 

Why this matters

Ask any parent and they want their child to have the best start in life. But we know that those from a disadvantaged background often start school already behind when it comes to communication and language development. These projects will create tools and techniques that will have lasting impact for children today and for future generations.

Quote of the day 9th April 2019

"For me, however, and I am sure for many people, the last 30 months of very bitter and angry debate has cut me in two. I have come to see that this is not just a simple problem of whether or not we are patriots. 

Both Remainers and Brexiteers love Britain with equal strength and sincerity. Remainers are not citizens of nowhere, as the Brexiteer insult goes. Nor are Brexiteers ignorant, closet racists, as, disgracefully, some Remainers like to sneer. 

Many who voted Leave have a deep – perhaps the deepest – understanding of the communities where they live; and in some of these, everyday life has been spoiled for many by policies imposed on them by a pro-European Westminster elite: policies they never voted for. 

The truth is these apparently warring parties, Remain and Leave, represent different elements of the same country and opposite sides of the same coin. Sometimes the war is within our own breasts. I feel it within mine."

(Peter Oborne, writing on the Open Democracy site here.

The article is about why, having been a strong supporter of Brexit, he has modified his views. I suspect many people reading the article will agree with much of it and disagree with many other things he writes, but I think many of us would benefit if we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the extract above.)

Monday, April 08, 2019

Protecting vulnerable people online

Today the government published the "Online Harms White Paper" which unveiled proposed new measures to make the UK safer online.

There are some difficult balances to strike here. It is important to protect freedom of speech and to ensure that measures to protect children and vulnerable people online are introduced after consulting people who really understand the internet, in ways which will work and not just drive people to the "dark web."

This is a real danger and there is a strong argument that some past attempts by governments of all parties to protect children from potentially harmful online content have made the internet more dangerous rather than less. It is far too easy to drive people whose online activity is legal and harms nobody else but which they don't want other people to know about into the arms of VPN suppliers at best and criminals at worst.

However, this is an argument for listening to people who understand the internet and applying an evidence-based approach which will actually work, not a good reason to sit back and do nothing. In the face of all the evidence that the present internet regime has allowed algorithms to direct vulnerable children to sites which promote self-harm and suicide, too often with tragic and literally fatal consequences, and that present arrangements have not been effective enough to deal with pro-terrorist or abusive material, it is right for the government to make the effort, working with social media companies if at all possible, to do more to protect children and vulnerable adults online.

I thought Home Secretary Sajid Javid made a very good response today when he was accused by Toby Young of failing to support free speech: he replied

"I do believe in free speech and always championed it when Culture Sec. What I don’t believe in is the freedom to post beheading videos and child sexual abuse online."

That has to be right. It cannot be beyond our capabilities to find a balance which protects the right to express opinions, however unpopular, while protecting children from online abuse, avoiding directing them to sites which glorify self-harm, and preventing terrorists from exploiting the internet without hindrance.

The comments above are my own opinions. Below is what the Home Office and DCMS have to say.

Key facts
  • The era of self-regulation for online companies is over. Voluntary actions from industry to tackle online harms have not been applied consistently or gone far enough. 
  • Tech can be an incredible force for good and we want the sector to be part of the solution in protecting their users. 
  • However, those that fail to do this will face tough action. 
  • In the first online safety laws of their kind, social media companies and tech firms will be legally required to protect their users and face tough penalties if they do not comply. 
  • A new independent regulator will be introduced to ensure that companies meet their responsibilities but will be particularly mindful not to infringe privacy and freedom of expression. 
  • The regulator will have effective and proportionate enforcement tools that could include powers to issue substantial fines, block access to sites and potentially to impose liability on individual members of senior management. 
  • A 12-week consultation on the proposals has been launched today. 

Why this matters

We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to go online, and the best place to start and grow a digital business and our proposals for new laws will help make sure everyone in our country can enjoy the Internet safely.

Teaching website launched to save schools money

A new website has been launched for all schools to advertise their teaching vacancies free of charge, saving schools millions of pounds a year which can be redirected into the classroom.

Currently schools spend £75 million every year to advertise teaching jobs. Some agencies charge more than £1,000 per advert.

Today the government has launched Teaching Vacancies, a free to use website so that every school in the country can advertise their vacancies free of charge.

Over 8,000 schools have already signed up. T

his is the latest in a series of steps taken by the government to help schools deliver the best value for money and ensure resources are directed to the classroom.

Why this matters

It’s essential that every child has the best possible start in life and every £1,000 not spent on advertising a teaching post is money can be spent in the classroom. the Conservatives are supporting schools to bear down on their costs so that they can focus their resources on the frontline.

Second quote of the day 8th April 2019

“We have under-estimated its complexity. We are unpicking 45 years of in-depth integration. This needed to be done with very great care. It needs a hard-headed understanding of realities.”

(Attorney General and Leave supporter Geoffrey Cox on Brexit and the delays to implementation of it. From a Radio Four interview which you can hear in full via BBC iPlayer here)

Quote of the day 8th April 2019

Sunday, April 07, 2019

April 2019 Annual meeting of Cumbria County Council

The next meeting of Cumbria County Council, which is the 2019 Annual meeting, will take place at 10 am at County Hall, Kendal on Thursday 11th April.

The meeting will be open to the public.

The agenda and supporting papers can be found on the CCC website here.

There is a lot of important material in that agenda including the Cumbria Public Health Strategy and the Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) for Cumbria Fire and Rescue service.

The latter is likely to be highly controversial in Copeland because it includes a proposal to replace the full-size fire tender at Frizington with a three-person "Rapid Response Vehicle" which carries less equipment and would often be sent out with only three firefighters rather than a full team of four.

I voted against this twice at the Copeland Local Committee of CCC (which is opposed to the proposal) and having spoken since then to a number of past and present Copeland firefighters who are also very strongly opposed to it, I think it would be a great mistake to agree the IRMP in its present form.

Watch this space.

Leaving the EU

The Conservatives fought the 2015 general election on a promise to hold a referendum on Britain's EU membership and honour the result, and were elected having made that promise.

Parliament then voted by a huge majority to put the question of whether Britain should remain a member state of the EU to a referendum.

That referendum was duly held in June 2016 and it is worth reminding ourselves what question the British people were asked: here is a picture of the ballot paper.

It didn't mention a "WTO" or "No Deal" Brexit or a customs union or ask anything about whether there should be a trade deal with the other countries of the EU (though leading Leave campaigners said during the referendum campaign that they were confident it would be easy to get a trade deal which gave Britain easy access to EU markets and vice versa.)

The referendum ballot paper asked about the broad strategic question - Remain or Leave - and the assumption was that parliament would then sort out what a Remain or Leave vote meant. With 20:20 hindsight more thought should have been given to this and there should probably have been a second question on the referendum ballot paper about what sort of relationship Britain should try to negotiate with the EU in the event of a vote to leave. But that is water under the bridge.

In the referendum there were 17,410,742 votes to leave (51.9%) and 16,141,241 votes to Remain (48.1%)

That is not an overwhelming majority but the majority of 1,269,501 was large enough to make it almost certain that neither some tweets from Russian bots or the net effect of the misbehaviour by both sides in the campaign changed the result.

Campaigners for a second referendum often make a big fuss about the fact that Leave campaigners were fined for breaking the rules but mysteriously fail to mention that Remain campaigners including the official Remain campaign, the Liberal Democrats, the pro-remain campaign group "Best for our Future" and the Unison and GMB Trade Unions, and the European Movement, were all also fined for breaches of campaign spending rules.

Somehow I doubt that in an alternative reality in which Remain had won the referendum by a narrow but clear margin, the Leave campaign had been squeaky clean, and former leave campaigners were therefore now arguing for a fresh "People's vote" on the grounds of the financial irregularities on the Remain campaign side, that any of those who are making a similar argument for a new referendum in this reality would be doing do in that one. Or vice versa,

Following on from that referendum both the Conservative and Labour parties fought the 2017 election on a platform of honouring the referendum result and secured between them well over 80% of the vote.

Put this together and although there is no overwhelming mandate for any particular form of Brexit, it is quite clear that there is a triple mandate to leave the EU which combines the results of the 2015 election, the 2016 referendum and the 2017 election.

I understand the position of those who have different views on how to do this, but it really is high time that those who accept the democratic decision of the British electorate sat down together and found a way to agree on how to implement it, and to do that somebody is going to compromise instead of insisting that everyone else do so. And those who refuse to compromise have only themselves to blame if a compromise is reached which they don't like.

Anyone who has read more than one or two posts on this blog cannot have failed to pick up that I am not exactly a fan of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. I understand why many people - some in the Conservative party, one or two that I have met on the doorstep in the last few days while campaigning - are surprised that the Prime Minister held talks with him. 

I really don't think she had any choice. 
  • She believes she is under orders from the voters of Britain to deliver Brexit (and I agree with her on that point.) 
  • She has to get that through parliament. 
  • We have reached the stage where she has to explore every option which might enable parliament to pass Brexit and implement the decision of the electorate.

The above is my opinion. Here is the latest official statement of "the line" on the subject.

"The Prime Minister’s top priority is to deliver Brexit and deliver what people voted for – and to do this, we need to get a deal over the line. 

Key facts:
  • Because Parliament has made clear it will stop the UK leaving without a deal, we now have a stark choice: leave the European Union with a deal or do not leave at all. 
  • The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have different opinions on a number of issues, but the fact is that on Brexit there are areas where the two main parties agree: we both want to end free movement, we both want to leave with a good deal, and we both want to protect jobs. 
  • That is the basis for a compromise that can win a majority in Parliament and winning that majority is the only way to deliver Brexit. 
  • The longer this takes, the greater the risk of the UK never leaving at all. It would mean letting the Brexit the British people voted for slip through our fingers. It is essential we deliver what people voted for and to do that we need to get a deal over the line. 
  • To achieve this the Prime Minister will go to Brussels this week to seek a short extension to Article 50. The intention is to reach an agreement with fellow EU leaders that will mean if we can agree a deal here at home we can leave the EU in just six weeks. 

Why this matters

We must deliver Brexit and to do so we must agree a deal – so we can then get on with building a new relationship with our nearest neighbours that will unlock the full potential of Brexit and deliver the brighter future that the British people voted for."

Boosting family finances

Because of the Conservative goernment's careful management of the economy, we can invest more in our vital public services whilst also keeping taxes low, supporting living standards and backing business.

From this weekend, 32 million people across the country will see their taxes cut – saving the typical taxpayer £130 over the year and delivering on our manifesto promise one year early and giving hard-working people a well-earned tax cut.
Fuel duty will also be frozen for the ninth year in a row helping to keep costs down for motorists and we will also take further steps to back business by cutting business rates.
Earlier this week the National Living Wage saw its biggest ever increase giving almost 2 million people a pay rise.
Only the Conservatives are building a stronger and fairer economy, cutting taxes for families and businesses, while reducing the deficit and getting debt falling.
Labour's reckless plans would mean more debt, higher taxes and fewer jobs which would hit ordinary working people just as happened when they were last in government.

What we are doing:
  • Increasing the Personal Allowance – the amount you earn before you start paying income tax – to £12,500 a year earlier than planned so the typical taxpayer will be £1,205 better off than in 2010. On 6 April the Personal Allowance will increase to £12,500 and the Higher Rate Threshold in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland will rise to £50,000. The upper National Insurance contributions thresholds will also increase in line with the Higher Rate Threshold. These changes will cut taxes for 32 million people and take 1.74 million people out of income tax altogether compared to 2015-16.
  • Making the biggest ever increase to the National Living Wage – boosting the earnings of the lowest paid. The National Living Wage has increased from £7.83 to £8.21 an hour, representing an increase to a full-time minimum wage worker’s annual earnings of over £690.
  • Increasing the Universal Credit work allowance by an extra £1,000 per year. From April 8, the annual work allowances in Universal Credit will rise by over £1,000, increasing the amount that 2.4 million households can earn annually before their Universal Credit starts to be withdrawn. This change will see 2.4 million families keep up to an extra £630 per year of what they earn.
  • Cutting business rates by a third for up to 90 per cent of all retail properties. As of 1 April, businesses are eligible for a 1/3 discount to the business rates bills on their retail property with a rateable value below £51,000, up to State aid de minimis limits. To further reduce costs, business rates have been uprated in line with CPI rather than RPI, following the permanent switch in April 2018.
  • Freezing fuel duty for the ninth successive year – keeping the costs of driving down. By next April, this will have saved the average car driver a cumulative £1,000. Most other vehicle taxes are being uprated in the normal way in line with previously announced policy. 
  • Keeping the cost of family holidays down. Air Passenger Duty will remain unchanged from 2012 levels for short-haul flights, and long-haul economy rates will remain frozen at the 2018-19 rate, benefitting 96 per cent of passengers. Long haul business and first-class rates will rise as set out at Autumn Budget 2017.
  • Reducing burdens on charities so they can collect more money for good causes. A set of measures will come into force to reduce administrative burdens on charities, including increasing the individual donation limit under the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme to £30, which applies to small collections where it is impractical to obtain a Gift Aid declaration.
  • Incentivising business investment with a new Structures and Buildings Allowance. To support business investment, we have introduced a major new Structures and Buildings Allowance and a temporary increase in the Annual Investment Allowance to £1 million. Capital allowances special rate will decrease from 8 per cent to 6 per cent to more closely match average accounts depreciation. 
  • Raising the additional residence threshold for inheritance tax from £125,000 to £150,000. This provides an additional threshold for homes passed on to direct descendants and can be used in addition to the £325,000 threshold. This will give many married couples and civil partners an effective £950,000 threshold for inheritance tax.
  • Taking further steps to tackle tax avoidance, evasion and unfair outcomes so there is more money for our vital public services. Further changes to crack down on tax avoidance, evasion and unfair outcomes will also come into effect. These will includes new guidance to prevent boundary pushing in VAT groups, a Fulfilment House Due Diligence Scheme to prevent online VAT fraud, as well as new rules on profit fragmentation to prevent businesses from avoiding UK tax by arranging their UK-taxable profits to accrue to territories where significantly lower tax is paid than in the UK.
Thes steps will help hard-working families and individuals keep more of they earn, boosting the rewards for doing the right thing and keep they economy growing

Sunday music spot: Vivaldi's Gloria

Quote of the day 7th April 2019

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Music to relax after campaigning: "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" from Handel's Solomon

Spent this morning at Trudy Harrison's "Saturday Chataway" surgery and this afternoon campaigning with Copeland Conservatives in the new Frizington and Ennerdale ward.

Congratulations to all the Conservative activists who have been out today campaigning. Time to put your feet up and relax and here is a suitable piece of music to which to do so.

Handel didn't actually name this piece "The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba," it is formally just the overture before the last part of his Oratorio "Solomon."

However, because the that part of the oratorio does refer to the legendary visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon's court, someone suggested that this might have been meant to represent a fanfare played in celebration of her arrival, and it has carried that nickname ever since.

The funny side of politics

This week on Free Exchange my colleague John Ashmore and Oliver Wiseman decided to cheer themselves up by talking to Matt Forde.

Matt is one of Britain’s leading political comedians. He hosts ‘Unspun’ on Dave and his podcast ‘The Political Party’ features interviews with some of the most interesting people in politics.

They spoke to Matt about his time as a political adviser, whether it’s getting harder to make jokes about politics as the debate gets nastier and why he’s fallen out of love with the Labour party.

You can listen to the interview on CAPX here.

Successful "Saturday Chataway" surgery this morning

The latest in the series of "Saturday Chataway" surgeries with Trudy Harrison MP and local councillors too place this morning at St Begh's Church Hall in Coash Road, Whitehaven from 10am to 12 noon. Residents who attended raised a number of issues including housing, planning, road safety, water quality, Brexit and Democracy. Sine I have mentioned the "B" word I should probably add that the residents who raised Brexit wanted to leave the EU and were supportive of Trudy Harrison for voting to do so.

Quote of the day 6th April 2019

Friday, April 05, 2019

Town and Parish council elections

At the same time as the District, Borough or City council elections in many parts of England and Wales (including Mayoral elections in Copeland and some of the other places with an elected Mayor) another set of elections taking place is for Town and Parish councillors.

In some places these are contested but in others they have not been. I am one of comparatively few voters in Copeland who will actually have a Town or Parish council ballot paper to fill in because the Corkickle area of Whitehaven Town Council is among the minority of Town and Parish councils in Copeland which have been contested.

Hence a large number of Town and Parish councillors in Copeland have been elected unopposed - indeed, quite a few parishes and towns have had fewer candidates than seats and will be looking for volunteers to co-opt.

Full details of the "Statement of Persons Nominated" documents which record all the people nominated for Town and Parish councils in Copeland can be found on the elections page of the Copeland Borough Council website here, and there is a slightly more user-friendly if less detailed list of the names of all the candidates nominated on the Whitehaven News site here.

I'll correct one typo from that site - the reference to "High Brian O'Kane" who is standing for Whitehaven Town Council in "Central North"  is supposed to be former Mayor of Whitehaven Hugh Brian O'Kane who is normally known as Brian.

Register of children not educated at school

This week the Education Secretary announced a new register of children not educated in school to ensure all children get the education they deserve.

Key facts
  • The government is launching a new register of all children not educated in school to help protect children from dangerous influences and make sure they get the best possible education. 
  • The government is also consulting on proposals which will, for the first time, provide a clear picture of where children are if they are not in school. 
  • A register of children not in school will transform a local council’s capacity to identify and intervene where the standard of a child’s education isn’t good enough or, in the rare instances, where they are at risk of harm. 
  • The government is further proposing new measures to support parents who choose to educate their children at home, in the form of a legal duty for local authorities to provide assistance like helping to pay for exam costs and more. 

Why this matters

We have a duty to protect our young people and do our utmost to make sure they are prepared for life in modern Britain. That’s why this register is so important – to prevent vulnerable young people from vanishing under the radar.

Saturday Chataway tomorrow

The next "Saturday Chataway" surgery with Trudy Harrison MP and local councillors (councillors of all levels have been invited) will take place at St Begh's Church Hall in Coash Road, Whitehaven from 10am to 12 noon tomorrow (Saturday, 6th March 2019).

Coffee and light refreshments will be available and the proceeds will go to St Begh's church.

All residents of the constituency are welcome to bring your concerns, problems or issues.

Quote of the day 5th April 2019

Thursday, April 04, 2019

National Living Wage increase, continued

As I wrote on Monday,The National Living Wage was increased from that day, raising the living standards of millions of people and providing more incentive to work - more reward for those who make a contribution to the economy.

This was the biggest ever increase to the National Living Wage, boosting the incomes of 1.8 million people by £690 a year.

Key facts

  • The National Living Wage went up on Monday by the highest rate since it was first introduced in 2015, increasing by almost 5 per cent to £8.21 per hour.
  • This year, full-time workers receiving the National Living Wage will be more than £2,750 better off a year compared to 2015.
  • The National Minimum Wage is also increasing, bringing the total number of people who will be better off to 2.1 million.
  • Since 2015 the National Living Wage has helped protect the lowest paid – increasing faster than inflation and average earnings.

Why this matters

The Conservatives are determined to end low pay and ensure workers get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Our minimum wage rates are among the highest in the world, and our modern Industrial Strategy will continue to protect the UK’s lowest paid workers.

Improving access to Rail services

The government is improving disabled access at 73 rail stations in Britain as part of a £300 million investment, helping more disabled people to travel independently.

Key facts

  • Lifts and adjustable ticket counters will be among the new measures brought in over the next five years, as part of a £300 million investment.
  • Newly accessible stations will open up routes across the country, helping us move closer to a transport sector that is truly accessible. 
  • This is part of our record £48 billion investment in the railway network over five years. 

Why this matters

Transport is vital for connecting people with work, friends and family, and we want the 13.9 million disabled people in Britain to be able to travel independently.

Investing in our schools

Last week it was announced that the Department of Education will fund a £20 million investment to help the Cumbria Education Trust provide new school buildings for Whitehaven Academy

This is part of an investment by the government of £1.4 billion of taxpayers' money this year in maintaining and improving school buildings and facilities, helping children to get the most from their education. And this is cash on the nail, not one of Labour's disastrous PFI ponzi schemes.

Key facts:

  • Schools in England are to benefit from investment of over £1.4 billion in buildings and facilities over the coming financial year, which comes as part of over £7.4 billion capital funding allocated since 2015. 
  • On top of this, over £8 million in interest-free loan funding will be split between 167 academies to pay for energy efficiency projects, driving down the carbon footprint of the school estate and saving money in the process. 
  • This follows statistics published last week showing the government is  on track to deliver 1 million new school places by 2020 – with 921,000 created since 2010. 

Why this matters

Schools are much more than just buildings; they are the centres of communities and where children learn the knowledge and skills they will use for the rest of their lives – meaning it is vital they are kept in the best possible condition.

Nominations close for Copeland Borough Council election

Nominations closed yesterday for the election of a Directly-Elected Mayor of Copeland and for 33 Copeland Borough Councillors. There are also elections for town and parish councils. The "statement of persons nominated" documents indicating who is standing have now been published for the various elections in Copeland and can be found here.

The three candidates to be Mayor of Copeland are
  • Ged McGrath (Conservative,) 
  • Linda Jones-Bulman (Labour)
  • Mike Starkie (Independent)
The wards for Copeland Borough Council have been thoroughly reorganised and the number of councillors reduced from 51 to 33.

The proportionate level of competition is higher than in previous years. The Conservatives are the only party standing a full slate of 33 candidates: Labour are standing 27, there are also six independent candidates, one Lib/Dem candidate and one UKIP candidate.

Because of Labour's problems finding candidates two Conservative councillors - David Moore and Andy Pratt in the new Gosforth and Seascale ward - have been re-elected unopposed and the Conservatives are guaranteed at least one member of the council for each of the enlarged Hillcrest Ward, the new combined Millom ward, and the new Black Coombe & Scafell Ward.

The general position throughout Lancashire and Cumbria is that the Conservatives are doing quite well at finding candidates and our morale is good enough that we have had people out on the doorstep in many parts of the county for weeks. Conservatives are fighting 100% of the district/borough/city council seats in Lancashire and in five of the six council areas in Cumbria and have at least one candidate in every ward in the sixth area.

And I think it is going to be a very interesting set of elections.

Quote of the day 4th April 2019

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Oh what a tangled web we weave ...

When we try to understand Brexit.

During the votes on the Prime Minister's withdrawal agreement she failed to get it through essentially because she was defeated by an unholy alliance between on the one hand,
  • "Pure" Brexit supporters who wanted either a "No deal" Brexit or a deal which would have put more distance between Britain and the EU,  and
  • Remain supporters and "soft" Brexit supporters who wanted the exact opposite -  a watered down deal which would put less distance between Britain and the EU, or no Brexit at all.

It was obvious that one of these two groups was stitching themselves up and would bring about the opposite of what they say they want but few people in either faction were willing to even acknowledge that this was a problem. Those who did almost all eventually voted for the deal.

A similar situation applies this evening.

The PM's decision to talk to the opposition about whether a way through can be found to deliver Brexit has been attacked by people on opposite ends of the spectrum and on opposite and incompatible grounds.

Supporters of a hard Brexit have been vehemently opposed to this decision to talk to the Leader of the Opposition, practically accusing Mrs May of treason, because tbey think Jeremy Corbyn will take the opportunity to sabotage Brexit.

However Remainers have been equally almost equally unhappy about these talks and critical of the participants, but in their case the person they have been accusing of selling out is Mr Corbyn because they are terrified that he won't try to sabotage Brexit!

There was an exchange on twitter this evening who sums up how strange the whole thing has become.

The soft-Brexit supporting MP Nick Boles who resigned from the Conservative party this week has made the accusation that

"The PM’s head of communications Robbie Gibb is a hard Brexiter who wants to destroy the PM’s new search for a cross party compromise."

The Guido Fawkes twitter account - not sure whether that would have been Paul Staines himself or one of his colleagues but until very recently nobody would have questioned the Leave credentials of anyone who might be writing tweets using that account - came back with

"Hard Brexiters say the opposite - that he is pushing May's agenda and has sold out. Truth is he wants to get Britain out of the EU more than anything."

Robert Hutton commented:

"I genuinely can't remember whether 'wanting to get Britain out of the EU more than anything' means he's a Brexiteer or a sell-out."

Guido Fawkes replied that

"It is complicated." and added that if you want out of the EU any which way ASAP you are a sell-out who might as well join Change UK / The Independent Group, but if you vote against Brexit and are willing to  "stay in for another year in order to get a purer Brexit" you are a staunch ERG member.

The tweet concluded by demonstrating how best to distance yourself from an opinion you've just described in three words:

"No, me neither."