A £50 bn rail project to help in 2033 or a £1 bn project to help in 2019?

Hi all,

Just a short comment. As you’ll be aware, the electrification of the Midlands Mainline has been indefinitely postponed, with priority given to works in the southwest. This work was already under way, and it was among the claims of progress that the Government made at the election last month. The reason it was being done are (a) that it would improve capacity and (b) that it would speed up the connections to the south. The total cost of the project is around £1 billion, and it was to be completed by 2019.

Meanwhile, we are going full speed ahead with HS2. The reasons this is being done are (a) that it would improve capacity and (b) that it would speed up the connections to the south. The total cost of the project is around £50 billion, and it is to be completed by 2019. Building work has yet to start. In addition, the necessary works will cause massive disruption in our area, and we won’t see any benefit for at least 18 years.

What should East Midlands MPs say about this? Isn’t it obvious that if something needs to be paused, it’s HS2, while the existing project is finished off?

And what is Broxtowe’s MP actually saying? She says: “Clearly this is disappointing but given the wider circumstances the decision is understandable.” By contrast, she remains an uninhibited total supporter of the vastly more expensive HS2.

I’m sorry, but no. For our region, the decision to give priority to a long-term prestige project with broadly the same objectives as an immediate project that was already under way and costs one fiftieth of the amount is bonkers. I do appreciate that as a Minister our MP cannot say so and has to pretend to agree with the decision. But the price is that Broxtowe is not being effectively represented in Parliament. And what on earth is the Government as a whole thinking of?

On a less controversial issue, I’ve been asked to give publicity to the commemoration of the Chilwell munitions factory disaster in World War 1.

Beeston Square / Chetwynd Barracks / The White LionA Weekend of exhibitions, performances, films and stories exploring the work of the National Shell Filling Factory No. 6 and the lives of those who were killed there on July 1st 1918.Beeston Square
Exhibition – A visual & audio exhibition on the work of the factory and stories from the relatives of local munitions workers. Free. Sat 4th July 10am-4pm. Sun 5th July 11am-3pm.
The V.C. Factory – a specially created 45 minute show exploring the stories of the workers of the factory and the events of 1918. Free, seating provided. Sat 4th July 11am, 1pm & 3pm. Sun 5th July 12 & 2pm.

The White Lion
Beeston Tales and Excavate present an evening of WW1 related storytelling featuring Simon Heywood’s Out of the Silence. (£6) Sat 4th July 7.30pm.
The Killing Factories – special screening of the BBC1 film. Local historian and author Maureen Rushton will also talk about the canary girls of Chilwell. Free. Sun 5th July 7pm.

Chetwynd Barracks
A unique open invitation to visit the memorial to those who gave their lives working at the munitions factory. Pedestrian entry frm Chetwynd Rad; vehicular entry from Swiney Way where photographic ID will be needed to gain access. Free. Sun 5th July 10am-2pm.

Best regards
Nick

 

 

 

 

 

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The Labour leadership / Any progress from the Tories?

Hi all,

As part of my semi-detached role these days, I’d like to offer some comments on the Labour leadership, perhaps especially aimed at those who are members or who are paying the £3 to become registered supporters. The latter is open to anyone who doesn’t at the moment want to get fully involved, but supports the general objectives of the Labour Party and would like a role in choosing the leader and deputy leader (details are here: http://support.labour.org.uk/).

We have increasingly Presidential politics in Britain, so it’s unfortunately true that not just the policies but also the image of the contenders for 10 Downing Street matter. Ed Miliband clearly suffered from the perception that people couldn’t see him as PM. And if we’re not careful, we’ll end up with Boris Johnson as PM, who is as telegenic as anyone could want, but would be a truly awful Prime Minister (I’ve sat on committees with him: he really cannot be bothered with serious discussion).

I know three of the candidates personally. Indeed I’ve known Jeremy Corbyn for decades – he was the Labour agent in the first election when I canvassed as a teenager (I’ve got a funny anecdote about that which I’ll add below).

Yvette Cooper is undoubtedly the one who I can see in Number 10 most easily – balanced, intelligent and a steady hand, she has the right brain for the job. Her problem is that her TV personality doesn’t meet our demand for engaging charismatic personalities. Will voters take to sober competence?

The thing about Andy Burnham that I’ve not seen highlighted is that he’s the most policy-oriented candidate and the most willing to challenge accepted wisdom. As Shadow Health Secretary, he offered to support a cut in NHS spending, if it would be used to improve the care services – arguing that it was better to keep more people out of hospital than throw more money at them when they got in. Most politicians routinely fight for more money for their pet projects and never think outside the box.

Liz Kendall is interesting because she’s iconoclastic – no Labour position is beyond challenge to her. Even when I don’t agree with her, I agree with the principle: we need to be willing to ask ourselves what is really important to us and what we’re willing to change. What I’m missing is a sense of a coherent vision of what she wants. Perhaps it’ll come.

Jeremy is the closest we have to Tony Benn, in many ways – the same socialist ideals, the same dedication, the same personal frugality (a recent quarterly expenses claim was for… one printer ink cartridge), the same scrupulous politeness to opponents. He’s personally what a politician should be, and I’m tempted to vote for him, but I think he’s pre-demonised by the media and has no more chance of winning than Michael Foot did. In the end we do need to be able to win.

For deputy leader, the choice is easier for me. Stella Creasy deeply impressed Broxtowe Labour members when she came up to speak, and I quizzed her for two hours on the train back. Charismatic, creative and passionate, I think she’s exactly what we need.

The anecdote? I was sent out by Jeremy’s dazzlingly beautiful ward organiser to knock up voters on polling day. Instantly in love, I rushed round, only to find everyone was out except one burly figure. He said, “You are the sixth person to ask me if I’ve voted. I voted at 7 this morning. No offence, mate, but the next person to remind me will get a thump on the nose.”

I reported this back to the angelic organiser. “What?” she snarled. “He’s a f***ing liar. Go back and ask him again!”

Did I go? Ahem. Party loyalty and love both have their limits.

To conclude, some local comments. After the re-election of Broxtowe’s Conservative MP and an overall majority for a Tory Council, I suggested five challenges for actual action, rather than just making speeches, writing to Ministers and so on. http://www.nickpalmer.org.uk/five-challenges-for-broxtowes-conservatives/

So here’s an update:

The challenges were, in summary:

  1. The Green Belt – will they build on it?
  2. Council funding – will it be revised?
  3. Tram enquiry and compensation – will they happen?
  4. HS2 – what are the implications?
  5. Open-cast mining – will the relief exit to the M1 be approved?

 

On point 1, the signals are that the answer is going to be “yes, they’ll build on the Green Belt”. Before the election, the rhetoric of local Conservatives was that they were by no means giving up on the battle to stop the Core Strategy, and when elected they would protect the Green Belt. This appears not to be the case: they seem to be moving towards saying that “The Core Strategy is a done deal, sorry about that”.

This is nonsense: the Council can reopen it if it wants to. The problem is that that Government policy forces each local council to build new houses rapidly, so it well be the only sensible response. If it’s not possible to change Government policy, then reopening the Core Strategy would merely open the whole borough to speculative development. That’s why the Lab/LibDem coalition adopted it. But it’s not what the Conservatives said when they wanted your votes, is it?

On points 2 and 3, silence reigns. Ms Soubry said some time ago that she’d written to the Minister to ask about the fact that we had the worst settlement in Britain. Did the Minister reply? What did he say?

On point 4, however, we do have more information. The first in a series of regular progress reports from the HS2 Residents’ Commissioner has been published: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/first-report-published-from-hs2-residents-commissioner Some details of the compensation scheme are emerging here too and are not, so far, helpful to our area.

On the London-Birmingham stretch, which is rich in rebellious Tory MPs, homes have been categorised into 4 zones depending on how close you are to the line: https://www.gov.uk/claim-compensation-if-affected-by-hs2

Here, however, is the current pathetic position as I understand it so far in Broxtowe:

1) You must prove that you are unable to sell your property because of HS2.

2) You must have bought the property before 28 January 2013 and

3) You must be able to show hardship by not selling (e.g. because of your job). Only the full valuation is payable without additional expenses

Now, the HS2 Residents’ Commissioner has offered to meet MPs all along the line. This invitation needs to be taken up with alacrity and the Commissioner needs to be urged to get a faster, better deal. I made an election pledge that I would put residents affected first, even if that meant voting against my party. By contrast, Ms Soubry just expressed enthusiasm for the project, and the risk of that is that it may take forever to get decent terms. After all, if we think the project is wonderful, why would we need compensation?

We can surely all agree that Broxtowe should be treated as well as the Home Counties? No better, no worse. Part of the problem is that the Government doesn’t seem to want to decide on the exact route through the East Midlands for another year. For a £50 billion project they can surely afford to offer to buy up probably affected properties without making them wait for years – if the route ends up going elsewhere (which is unlikely), the properties can be resold. As with the Heathrow/Gatwick saga, they should get on with it, one way or the other.

Finally, on point 5, Ms Soubry has responded to the challenge by saying she is “pressing ahead with her campaign” to get access from the open-cast mine to the M1. What she has done is write to a fellow-Minister. This is good, as Ministerial consent is indeed needed. However, in May, Highways England, replying to my petition from residents on the issue, pointed out that permission would need to be granted by Moto, and that “We’re not aware that Moto have been approached yet to understand their view on the proposal”. Ms Soubry and/or the Council should talk to them without further delay, so we can get this common-sense issue resolved.

Best wishes

Nick

 

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A failure to protect Trowell/Tram launch update/Benefits – some hard facts

Hi all,

Two short news items, and then a discussion of benefit cuts.

  1. A probable “no” to routing open-cast traffic directly onto the M1

One of the more minor challenges I proposed for the Conservative leadership in my last email was to achieve the common-sense policy of routing traffic from the impending open-cast mine next to Trowell service area directly onto the M1 through the service area, instead of sending it on a tour through back roads, with delays for the company and congestion and pollution for residents. It ought to be a no-brainer, and I sent in a large petition to the Department of Transport on the issue. Ms Soubry, in turn, brought the Secretary of State for Transport to the area before the election, and gave the impression that she was pressing the case.

I’ve now had an official response. The Department has passed the buck to Highways England, and they say that they “fully understand” the concerns, though it’s not their usual policy. They have told Ms Soubry that she (or others) could apply for a departure from the policy, but would need to provide evidence why this should be done. They suggest that Moto, who operate the service area and might need some compensation or assistance to make it work smoothly, should be asked for their opinion, but are not aware that anyone has approached them.

It doesn’t appear that anyone has pursued the matter further. In what way is Ms Soubry pressing the issue, if she hasn’t even bothered to ask the owners of the site for their opinion? I don’t wish to be cynical, but I suspect that the visit of the Minister of Transport was purely organised to give the impression that something was being done, when in fact it is not. There is still time for that to change. May I suggest that an effort be made?

  1. Tram starting point approaching

We are all used to Tramlink announcing an expected start date and then moving it, but the unofficial prediction hasn’t changed for some time, and it’s probably worth taking it more seriously. It‘s likely that operation will start by August, and possibly in late July. The Civic Society is vigorously pursuing discussions of how to develop the Square and we look forward to the Council putting forward its ideas on Phase 2. Whether or not we supported the tram, its actual start is a critical turning point for Beeston, and it’s crucial that it’s used to draw people to the area.

  1. Benefit cuts – some frank analysis

A significant aspect of the new Government’s policy is the projected £12 billion of welfare cuts. People are ambivalent about these –“It seems a bit hard that people at the bottom should bear the brunt of savings, but these are difficult times and maybe it will help shake up the benefits culture” is probably an average view.

All major parties are notably cautious about opposing them – the nasty electoral fact is that people dependent on benefits often tend not to vote at all, while people who are gung-ho about cuts tend to vote with enthusiasm.

One of the advantages of not expecting to be standing for election again in Broxtowe is that I don’t need to fret about such things, I can just say what I think. First, please have a read of this piece, on a Conservative blog:

http://archbishopcranmer.com/an-open-letter-from-a-disabled-christian-to-conservative-voters/

Specifically, is it right that severely disabled people should be NINETEEN times more affected by cuts that anyone else? And should the company that is assigned to assess claimants really have a financial incentive to turn them down, even if the decisions are later overturned on appeal?

Like any former MP, I have seen plenty of cases of people on benefits, and like any other group they vary. At one extreme you have people whose benefits have simply gone wrong for technical reasons – the person who assessed them made an unreasonable decision, they were given the wrong form, the computer system has a bug, whatever. If most of us have a hitch like this, we manage without too much difficulty while it’s sorted out. For people with no other income or savings, it plunges them instantly into desperation. At the other extreme, you have people who cynically work the system by pretending to be disabled when they aren’t. Do they really exist? Of course they do. Is it the normal case? No, it isn’t.

In between, you have a lot of people in a grey area. They would really, genuinely, like to get a job, or move up from a minimum wage job to a better one, but there are lots of objective reasons why it’s not happening. Their education isn’t very good, or they have some sort of disability, or they have a minor conviction which deters employers, or they just don’t come across very well at interview. With plenty of applicants to choose from, employers go for someone else who doesn’t have any of these snags. Some people in this grey area just keep trying, again and again. Some give up and just go through the motions.

Punishing people in this group doesn’t help. They wanted to get a job, they still want to. All we’re doing is making it harder to survive without one. The benefits cap doesn’t affect single people: what it affects is families with children. That’s why a Government report says that reducing the benefits cap will drop 40,000 children into poverty unless the effect is that the parents get more or better-paid work:

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/29/household-benefit-cap-plunge-40000-kids-poverty-memo

Perhaps in the long term this will mean that families at risk of unemployment don’t have children. Many people argue that this is an important objective – why should we pay benefit to people who choose to have several kids? In the short and medium term, however, the children are already there, and if we squeeze the family income without offering a way forward, we will create more deprived children. The effects of that are well-documented – fewer life chances, more illness and higher crime levels. It makes it more likely that we’ll be grappling with just the same issues in 10-20 years when they grow up. I’m in favour of earmarking part of child benefit in kind – children’s clothing, healthy food, and so on. But if you cut family income you can expect everyone in the family to be affected.

What can be done? In my view, either we should get serious at helping people in the grey area get into better work, or we should decide that it’s too difficult and stop bashing them. I’d prefer the first. That costs money (which means that deficit reduction needs to come from somewhere else). It means things like the subsidised jobs guarantee for long-term unemployed young people (proposed by Labour and thus rejected in the election this month), extensive investment in adult education, childcare and support to get to work, and reinforcement of the crumbling network of support agencies like the CAB, most of whom are currently getting less funding rather than more.

What we should not be doing is cutting all these things in order to give high-voting segments like wealthier pensioners a guaranteed rising share of income (that famous triple lock, which pushes up pensions by 2.5% a year even if inflation is zero) and promising people on high to middle incomes a tax cut. Why is the Government pampering people in this position (which includes me), while cutting benefits to someone who is struggling? Because they think we’ll vote, and a person struggling with multiple sclerosis probably won’t. It’s as simple and nasty as that, and if you vote for it when elections come round again, I’m afraid you are part of the problem. Sorry to be blunt!

Best wishes

Nick

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Five challenges for Broxtowe’s Conservatives

Hi all,

I’ve now responded individually to all the (over 300) readers who sent kind messages after the election, and I’d like to move on to what happens next in Broxtowe. The time for congratulations and regrets has now passed: let’s look forward.

Specifically, a number of promises were made by Broxtowe’s Conservatives before and during the election campaign. This piece is to enquire politely whether they intend to keep them. Note that Broxtowe now has an entirely Conservative-led leadership, with a Conservative Government, an MP sitting in the Cabinet and a council with an overall Conservative majority. This might not be what everyone wanted, but it does mean that no bucks can be passed, and one of the jobs of opposition is to ensure that promises are not quietly forgotten. So, five challenges for Ms Soubry and the council to conisder:

  1. The Green Belt – will they build on it?

The former Labour-LibDem council adopted the Core Strategy, which envisages building on the Green Belt at Field Farm and Toton and other smaller sites, because they said that the Government required them to build more homes in the next 5 years than could otherwise be accommodated. This was intensively criticised by Anna Soubry and Conservatives councillors, who said:

* It was not true that the Government was requiring so much housing: the council should propose a lower figure.

* Even if the higher figure was taken, there were brownfield sites available instead.

* It was deplorable that Labour and LibDem councillors had welcomed the failure of a legal challenge to the Core Strategy.

Now there is a Tory majority on the council, they don’t need a legal challenge. They can simply tear up the Core Strategy and replace it with their own. If the Government proves to require more housing than they claimed, the remedy is potentially at hand – Ms Soubry can use her Cabinet influence to get it revised.

Will this happen? Or will they simply let building go ahead anyway and let down everyone who believed the rhetoric about the Green Belt?

  1. Council funding – will it be revised?

Broxtowe’s settlement this year was the worst in Britain, with a reduction of £800,000 in central funding. Ms Soubry expressed concern about this, and said she was writing to the Department of Community and Local Government to query it. Has she had a reply? What did it say? Will a reduction be made?

Alternatively, can we manage without the money? In the hustings debates, Ms Soubry noted that the Lab-Lib council had been able to maintain all services without compulsory redundancies. Will this continue under the Conservatives?

  1. Tram enquiry and compensation – will they happen?

Conservatives have pressed for more compensation for residents and businesses affected by the tram development. Will this be forthcoming, and from where? The contractors are potentially liable to heavy fines for the delays, but they have counter-claims and the process may go to a lengthy court action. However, primary funding for the project is from the Government, and Ms Soubry has asked the Treasury to review the funding process. Will she persuade the Treasury to provide any funding for more compensation? She has also urged the now Conservative-dominated Transport Select Committee to institute an enquiry into the project. Will this happen?

  1. HS2 – what are the implications?

An election issue was the £50 billion HS2 project, for which Ms Soubry expressed great enthusiasm: she believes it will unleash a wave of valuable investment in Toton and Stapleford without serious disruption. During the coming Parliament, decisions will be made on the details of the route (directly affecting Toton, Stapleford, Trowell, Strelley and Nuthall, and indirectly affecting everywhere else), including rules for compensation and assistance as well as the expected duration of works. When will these be available?

  1. Open-cast mining – will the relief exit to the M1 be approved?

After the Government approved the Shortwood Farm open-cast mine next to the Trowell service area for the M1, I organised a petition asking the Government to relax its rule banning exit to the M1 for local businesses through the service area. This would avoid the construction vehicles and coal lorries having to wind their way “inland” towards Balloon Woods before doubling back to the M1, with the consequential impact on the environment and congestion. The only negative impact would be that travellers pausing in the service area to fill up with petrol or have a meal would see some coal lorries rolling past and perhaps encounter delays of a minute or two as they leave – surely a minor inconvenience to the passing trade. Ms Soubry asked the Transport Minister to the site to see the issue directly. What decisions have been made, if any?

These questions are derived directly from pre-election promises and hints. I think the rhetoric was, to be frank, somewhat misleading. But the election result allows us to test that objectively and hold the Conservative Party and its promises to account in the coming period. Let’s see what actually happens.

 

Best regards

Nick

PS A special welcome to the wave of new members who have joined Broxtowe Labour Party – part of the huge surge of 30,000 people who have joined nationally since May 7. To hold the Government, MP and Council effectively to account, this new surge of enthusiasm is hugely helpful. If you’ve not yet joined, you’ll be more than welcome too!

 

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Broxtowe local election news

Hi all,

Thanks for all the warm personal messages, which I’m responding to gradually. Just a quick update as promised, on the Broxtowe borough council elections. The count is not quite finished, as it was disrupted by two mislaid boxes and at least two miscounts requiring exhaustive repeats, one of which is still going on and will be resumed on Monday.

The results are shown by ward here:

http://elections.broxtowe.gov.uk/

Headlines:

  • The Conservatives took overall control, mainly by sweeping the board in Bramcote and Stapleford Southeast at the expense of the LibDems, as well as picking up seats in Kimberley and Stapleford North from Labour.
  • Labour did very well in Beeston, easily retaining all but one seat and coming very close in Chilwell, but only retained one seat in Kimberley (which candidate got it will be determined by the recount on Monday, as will the town council) and lost a seat in Stapleford North.
  • The LibDems were almost wiped out, retaining Beeston North (where Steve Carr was joined by his wife Barbara) and the immensely popular Ken Rigby.
  • All the Conservative candidates from the notoriously belligerent Tram Rant Room did badly – in fact it’s quite striking that the party made no progress in the areas worst affected by the tramworks: people are utterly fed up with the disruption but didn’t necessarily blame well-liked local councillors as the Conservatives had hoped.
  • Independent Richard Macrae swept to an easy win in Stapleford North; other independents did less well.
  • UKIP and the Greens took a fair number of votes from other parties, but without coming close to winning any seats.

Best wishes

Nick

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