Preparing for the Budget 2012/13

Today I will be attending a meeting looking at Blackburn with Darwen’s Budget for 2012/13. It will be decided at a full Council Meeting on Monday 5 March (6:00 pm Blackburn Town Hall and open to the public). One of the key issues is will the Labour Council agree to freeze Council Tax for the coming year. The government will pay the equivalent of a 2.5% increase if the Council does not increase Council Tax.

Successful Charity Evening

Last night I attended a very successful charity quiz evening. It was held on behalf of the Mayor’s Charities (Local MS Society, Carers’ Centre, Wish Centre & Young Carers’ Project) and organised by the inimitable Harold Heys. The questions were based on Blackburn & Darwen and it was attended by 80 people. The event was at Jan’s Conference Centre who provided the venue free of charge. The event raised over £200.
Modesty prevents me from saying how well our team did !

Work to improve Darwen railway station is now underway.

I am pleased to see that the work to improve Darwen Railway Station has now started. We have been campaigning for a long time to get it improved, particularly to have better train information and facilities for passengers.

The six week contract will see fencing repaired and repainted, new shelters for passengers, a new CCTV system, new signs, a customer information system including a public announcement system and ticket machines. It should be completed by the end of March, weather permitting.

And there’s good news for local residents as planned night working on the platforms has been cut from eight nights to just four.

Lib Dems unveil road safety campaign

Blackburn with Darwen Liberal Democrats have started a campaign to have a 20 mph speed limit for all the Borough’s residential roads.
Announcing the campaign, Lib Dem Group Leader Cllr. David Foster said, “We have a higher than average accident rate in the Borough and studies suggest that the introduction of a 20 mph limit would reduce accidents by 20% – 30%. 20 mph speed limits are not new and we do have some areas in the Borough which have a 20 mph limit. One of the drawbacks in the past has been the introduction of road humps in 20 mph areas. This has made it expensive and unpopular with some people. Regulations have now changed and road humps are not required. We don’t expect to whole of the Borough to have the limit overnight, but we want a commitment from the Council to have a rolling programme to see them introduced eventually across the whole Borough. We would expect them to target high accident areas initially. The limit would not apply to all our roads i.e. main through routes but would only apply to residential roads.”

Darwen misses out to Blackburn

Darwen has missed out to Blackburn in the introduction of a scheme to improve conditions for people in private rented accommodation.

At the Council’s Executive Board on Thursday the Board decided on introducing the scheme in the Griffin Area in Blackburn. The report however showed that the biggest problem was in the Sudell and Earcroft areas of Darwen.

Commenting on the decision, Lib Dem Group Leader, Cllr. David Foster said, “None of the Councillors on the Executive Board questioned this decision, though the information was clear that the Darwen wards had the bigger problem. Is this because there are no Darwen Councillors on the Executive Board? It appears that this is a decision driven by Party Political considerations and not the evidence that was presented to the Committee.”

The scheme allows the Council to register landlords and ensures that they keep their properties in a decent condition. This not only benefits the tenants but also the wider community and helps keep areas in a good condition so that people can be proud of where they live.

UK inflation rate falls to 3.6% in January

February 14, 2012 12:07 PM
In BBC Website

Inflation fell sharply in January as the impact of last year’s VAT rise was no longer shown in the figures.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure of inflation fell to 3.6% in January, down from 4.2% in December, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Retail Prices Index (RPI) inflation – including mortgage interest payments – fell to 3.9% from 4.8%.

VAT went up from 17.5% to 20% in January 2011, pushing up the annual inflation rates that year as a result.

The drop brings CPI inflation to a 14-month low. However, the rate remains well above the Bank of England’s 2% target.

The government said it expected the inflation rate to continue to fall this year.

“Inflation fell significantly in January for the second month in a row, which is good news for family budgets. The Bank of England and other forecasters expect inflation to keep falling through this year, providing additional relief,” said a statement from the UK Treasury.

Lib Dems have real grounds for confidence

From Martin Kettle in The Guardian 9 Feb 2012
It is old hat to pretend that there’s nothing new to say about the Liberal Democrats. Stereotypes about Nick Clegg and his party put down deep roots early in the coalition’s life. Trying to do the right thing in tough times for the country, the Lib Dems assured themselves. Selling out their principles for a taste of office, thundered Labour. A distasteful but temporary necessity, sneered the Conservatives. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems’ ratings and electoral support all plummeted.

Some of that remains, of course. But time has nevertheless moved on since 2010. So has politics. And so, insufficiently noted by those who prefer their politics set in aspic, have the Liberal Democrats. The plummeting has stopped. The party is less traumatised than it was a year ago. There are signs of greater assertiveness and perhaps, viewed through some rose-tinted glasses, of politics beginning to move in their direction. Even the numbers are getting a little better, just about.

The challenge in talking about all politics, and about the Lib Dems in particular, is always to get the balance and the words right. Rule one is not to exaggerate either the setbacks or the advances, as so many do. All honest Lib Dems have to accept they have taken a massive, potentially disastrous hit since May 2010. The parliamentary byelection record, once glorious, is abject. In local government the Lib Dems lose one in every two seats they defend, far worse than Labour or the Tories. The AV referendum was a humiliation.

But the polling has levelled out and may even be inching very slowly up. In local government byelections the Lib Dems are running at a 17% average, nicely ahead of the 11% average in the national polls. Last week they took a seat from Labour in Newcastle-under-Lyme and one from the Tories in Amersham. Hardly the sunlit uplands. But at least the party now has room to breathe again.

Indisputably the party is also less apologetic now. The shock of the new experience of being in government has worn off a bit. Insiders at last week’s Eastbourne awayday say the mood is amazingly chipper. But the Lib Dems are still in a far worse position, and are facing much tougher problems, than they expected. Mood and predicament are out of sync. We’re like a galleon that has lost a lot of rigging and masts in a tremendous storm, says one, before adding that the vessel is still afloat and immensely seaworthy.

One small thing is clear, though. Chris Huhne’s cabinet resignation last week, widely regretted even by those who disliked him, does not inflict wider damage on the party. That’s not to say Edward Davey is a heavyweight in the way that Huhne almost was. Nor to say that Vince Cable is not now a little more isolated on the Lib Dem left in the cabinet. What it is to say, however, is that the Lib Dems, both in government and more widely, are a more resilient and coherent party than their critics generally allow. The Lib Dems are indisputably in a difficult place, but the party exists for reasons that still make sense. It’s a more politically self-confident party than outsiders understand. Don’t write them off.

Instead consider three things that make the Lib Dems freshly interesting. The first is that it is increasingly public that the Lib Dems stand – albeit still within the agreed parameters of the coalition agreement – for priorities that are distinctly different from those of their Conservative partners. Different parts of the party highlight different things. The official line emphasises the recalibration of the economy away from financial services, the emphasis on early-years spending and, a little nervously, Europe. Others put the spotlight on banking reform, the rearguard action on the green economy, perhaps even on an alternative to Trident. A frequently heard line is that this is a party that can look at itself in the mirror.

Clegg’s speech setting out the party’s budget priorities was an important public sign of the new willingness to differentiate at the top. So, against the odds, is his possibly futile persistence with House of Lords reform. So, more furtively, was the failure of the education minister Sarah Teather to vote for the coalition’s welfare reforms last week. “When you strip it all away, the Tories are just nasty,” says another minister. Never forget that most Lib Dem MPs have to defeat Conservative challengers in 2015, not Labour ones. That’s not going to change. So the differentiation matters.

The second is the renewed evidence, clear from recent polling as the economy increasingly stagnates, that public opinion may be converging around a fusion of economic competence and social justice – in Lib Dem eyes, their natural territory. The current Lib Dem positioning of themselves as more economically competent than Labour but more socially just than the Tories is classic centre-ground politics. It is a sea change from the understandable but short-lived rose garden naivete of 2010. There’s little trace there of the 2010 conceit that the coalition represented a liberal convergence against statist Labourism.

Instead, a version of equidistance is back in vogue. Clegg said at Eastbourne that he wants the Lib Dems in the sweet spot of British politics. This positioning may not be as progressive as the new Liberal Left grouping would like, but the direction is savvy and clear. The Lib Dems are moving towards the social liberal tradition, not away from it. And that means towards Labour, just as Labour finally seems to be moving slowly towards the centre. These days, unlike a year ago, you can find Lib Dem ministers who speak well of Ed Miliband.

This is where the third reason for thinking about the Liberal Democrats more seriously comes in. You can say what you like about Clegg and the journey on which he has taken his party. But the fact is that he is in the middle of proving that coalition governments can work. This is a big deal, not least because much current polling suggests the 2015 general election may produce another hung parliament. The latest seat projections from the current polls show Labour needing Lib Dem support to form a government.

The Lib Dem experience of government is undoubtedly traumatic. But it is a widely underestimated achievement, especially in such tough times. The result is that the Lib Dems are not just battle scarred but battle hardened. They have been through the fire – and survived. Now they are beginning to think about how to give themselves a chance to govern again. It would be rash indeed to assume they will not do so.

Help for vulnerable people to keep warm

Vulnerable residents and families are to be given extra help over the winter to keep them healthy, safe and warm.

Blackburn with Darwen Council has successfully bid for £115,000 from the Department of Health for the Warm Homes – Healthy People initiative.
Whether young or old, cold weather can cause serious health problems for people.

A number of partners including the Council, NHS, Age UK, Care Network and CVS have pledged to join forces, share intelligence and provide extra services ontop of their day activities.

These include:
• Free room thermometers
• Extra phone calls and home visits during the cold weather
• Specialist advice on benefits and other entitlements
• Fully trained staff offering advice on health and housing issues
• Extension of handyman service and a fast response in emergencies
• Emergency packs including fleece blankets, hot water bottles, thermal gloves and low energy heaters
• Recruitment and training of 20 new volunteer “winter buddies” who can check on elderly residents
• Emergency assistance for urgent repairs to heating
• Help with gritting and snow clearance.

The Warm Homes – Health People initiative is aimed at reducing winter deaths, the number of cold/damp homes, falls and accidents and alleviating fuel poverty.

Rapid action

Today I experienced the quickest response ever to a constituents problem. Someone reported a dangerous missing drain cover at just after 2:00 pm. I emailed the Council at 2:20 pm and within an hour the drain cover had been replaced.

Well done Council.

Council bungles road repairs – £0.5 million not spent

Can you beieve it. Our Labour run Council compalins at every opportunity that they don’t have enoughh money but now we find they can’t spend the money they do have. They put an extra £1 million into road repairs in July last year in a big blaze of publicity and now we find they have only spent half of it. We have lots of roads in Whitehall that need repairing. Hidden in a report to the Council’s Executive Board we find that they will not now be spending this money until next year, but waht confidence have we got that they can do that!