Tagged: House of Lords

‘It’s obviously disappointing’ says Stockton Lib Dem as ex-party peer hands £10k to Labour rival

The Liberal Democrat candidate for Stockton South says he is disappointed at Lord Oakeshott handing £10,000 to his Labour rival – but can understand the decision.

 Labour candidate Louise Baldock has said she will accept a £10,000 donation from the former Liberal Democrat peer .

Matthew Oakeshott, who sits in the House of Lords as an independent after leaving the Liberal Democrat party last year, has donated £600,000 to Labour and Lib Dem MPs to fight the Conservatives in key marginal seats.

And he has identified Stockton South as a key target and donated £10,000 towards Ms Baldock’s campaign to unseat Tory James Wharton.

Now, Stockton South Lib Dem candidate Drew Durning has expressed his view on the donation.

“I can fully understand why Lord Oakeshott is doing everything he can to fight the Conservatives,” he said.

“But the way to give the best weight to Liberal Democrat values would be to support Liberal Democrat candidates.

“It is obviously disappointing.”

Mr Durning, 56, was picked to stand in the seat only this weekend.

He runs an organic food business in the area, and lives in the Oxbridge Lane area of Stockton with his wife Anna.

Mr Wharton won the seat with 38.9% of the vote in 2010, with Labour coming second with a 38.3% share.

The Lib Dems came third with 15.1%.

Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 22 Jan 2015

Bishop of Durham backs calls for nursery staff to report potentially radicalised families

> So  bad news for church sunday schools, C. of E. schools and other Christian organizations who push religious dogma at kids ?  Probably not…

The Bishop of Durham has backed plans to ask nursery staff to look out for radicalised families in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

Speaking in a House of Lords debate on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, the Right Reverend Paul Butler also welcomed moves to intervene more in the lives of people at risk of being drawn in by extremism.

But he warned more needs to be done at a “grassroots” level to tackle the issue long term, and that breaking up families could help create future terrorists.

“I share with every other reasonable person a horror of the evil actions and effects of terrorism, grief for the suffering caused by terrorist acts and a heartfelt concern for those whose lives are lost or wounded through it.

“Events in Paris last week clearly illustrated this to us all. However, those events also highlight the need to ensure that we keep a global awareness and perspective, as the fresh Boko Haram attacks in Baga and its surrounding villages last Friday show us. Around 2,000 were killed.

“As we consider the latest set of government moves to strengthen the laws which guard our people against terrorist acts, we have to hold our nerve in our convictions about liberty, equality and fraternity, and look steadily at the changes being proposed,” he added.

“These matters are too serious for us to polarise or politicise issues beyond what is justified in legitimate debate.”

Praising the work done by the faith groups in Sunderland, Gateshead, and South Shields, to build strong community relationships – “the most powerful force against radicalisation, especially among young people” – the bishop said however that there is a fine line to be trodden between ensuring security and encouraging community cohesion.

Some have mocked the idea of nursery staff being obliged to report any signs of extremism in a family,” he said. “I do not share the mockery, as terrorist behaviour is abusive behaviour.

“Nevertheless, the placing of such an obligation adds to the risks of creating a culture of suspicion and the sense that every citizen is expected to be on the look-out to report on their neighbour rather than build good relationships with them.

“Great care needs to be taken not to overburden schools or erode their capacity to build diversity and trust among pupils, staff and parents.

“Breaking up a family, as could occur, could also create longer-term harm even, at one extreme, sowing the seeds of the next generation of terrorists in young children.”

The bishop said that continuing community work would be “fundamental to long-term prevention” as it “does not carry the risks of fuelling narratives of persecution and heroic resistance.”

Countering radical terrorism is a long-term grass-roots matter. Long-term support for good community development will reap the best long-term rewards.

“This is not so much a matter of draining the swamp by immediate legislation as tilling the ground.”

The debate heard from the former head of MI5, Lord Evans of Weardale, that the threat of terrorism in the UK is rising at the same time as the ability of the security services to combat it has decreased.

In his maiden speech in the upper house, Lord Evans, who retired as director general of the agency in 2013, said that the Edward Snowden leaks had made it harder to tackle the terrorist threat.

And he said the Government needed to tackle the “unfinished business” of giving the security services greater powers to access communications data.

> Powers that they will, naturally, voluntarily relinquish once the danger has passed…

Lord Evans told peers:

“When I left MI5 in 2013, I felt cautiously optimistic that we were over the worst as far as Al Qaeda and Islamist terrorist attacks were concerned in this country.

“It seemed to me that we were making significant progress. Regrettably, subsequent events have proved that judgment to be wrong.

“The atrocious killing of Fusilier Rigby in May 2013 demonstrated the reality of the threat we face in this country and the brutal murders in Paris last week demonstrate that this is a European and international problem, not one we face alone.”

> One man got killed in the street by two other men. This happens all the time, all over the country. You’ve got a far higher chance of getting done in by a couple of indigenous thugs than you have by an Islamic terrorist.

All the Islamic terror attacks in Britain – as 9/11 in the USA – appear to be isolated one-off events, and although they may spark copycat attacks I don’t really believe that there is a highly organized terror organization.  But the government cynically encourages belief in one  in order to erode our rights.

In any case, who are the real terrorists ? More people have died in Britain as a result of current government welfare policies than at the hands of terrorists.

Anyone who has had to deal with the Jobcentre and other agencies might consider that governmnent/terrorism are merely two sides of the same coin.

Lord Evans, who sits as an independent crossbench peer, said events in Syria and Iraq had given extremist networks in the UK a “jolt of energy”.

> Not half as much a one as our continued poking our armed forces into other countries business (the ones with oil, at least…)

He said at least 600 people had gone as would-be jihadists to fight in Syria and Iraq, and he had no doubt that number would increase “significantly” in coming months.

And he warned the situation put him in mind of the Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan before 9/11 which “drew would-be jihadists from across the globe”.

On their return, many of them were even more radical than they had been when they departed,” he said.

They had experience of combat and had been trained in violence and they had an international network of support on which they could draw.

“Those circumstances led to a series of attacks internationally and over a long period, and I fear we may be facing the same situation as we go forward from today and we are starting to see that.

“At the same time, the revelations made by Edward Snowden, whatever you think of what he did, have clearly led a reduction in the ability of the security agencies both here and overseas to access and read the communications of terrorists internationally with the result that as the threat from terrorism has gone up in the last two years, the ability of the security agencies to counter those threats has gone down.

“The result of this can only be that the overall risk of a successful terrorist attack in this country has risen.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Jan 2015

Former Tory Minister criticises decision to prevent in-house operator from bidding for East Coast Mainline

THE decision to prevent the current public-owned railway company from bidding to run the East Coast line has been criticised by a Conservative former Cabinet minister.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said the point of a competitive process was to allow the best company to win.

His comments came after transport minister Baroness Kramer had defended the decision to prevent Directly Operated Railways – which was set up by the Government in July 2009 to run the East Coast franchise – from bidding to continue its operations.

The franchise is due to revert to the private sector in March next year and Lady Kramer said it was a difficult industry for a public company to operate in.

She said:

“It costs something like £7-10mto put in a bid with no assurance of winning. It is certainly a high-risk industry and the margins, even for a successful and profitable company are quite fine.”

 “There are a very different set of skills when you are looking at significant new investment, when you are looking at growth. This is the point we have reached with this franchise.”

But Lord Forsyth told her:

“Surely you would recognise that the whole point of competitive tendering is to get the best value and the best deal for the taxpayer and if you are right that a state owned company wouldn’t be able to compete why is that a reason to exclude it from the process?”

Lady Kramer replied:
“You can see the complexity of a state-owned company being involved in this. Would you give it preferential financing or would it go out into the market?

“Do you want to set a company, pay its senior management very high fees with the possibility of bids of £7-10 million that it might eventually achieve a franchise?

“I have to suggest the history of companies run over the long term by the UK government has not been one of outstanding success.”

Labour peer Baroness Quin said at question time in the House of Lords:

Many of us who use the East Coast rail service regularly are dismayed that the Government has refused to allow the current publicly owned operator, which has greatly improved the service both for the benefit of passengers and UK taxpayers alike to even bid for the franchise and continue running a good service.

“Doesn’t it seem odd that the Government allows foreign state-owned enterprises to run our rail services in part and yet refuses to allow a successful home-grown enterprise to do so?”

Labour transport spokesman Lord Davies of Oldham said:

“Only a Government addicted to dogma would dispense with a company, an organisation which has run the line so successfully and put it out to bidders of which a successful one may be a state-owned company of another country’s railway.”

Source –  Northern Echo,  28 Oct 2014

Lord Freud: Universal Credit £40 Million IT Write-Off ‘Deeply Regrettable’

Speaking in the House of Lords, Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud described the write-off of a failed £40 million IT system as “deeply regrettable”.

He also insisted that the decision to “reorganiseUniversal Credit, which led to the government’s flagship welfare reform being ‘reset’, was taken by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith MP.

 Lord Freud told peers:

“We all know that, when you have a £2.5 billion programme with a high IT content, there are elements that you write that you do not need.

“In the private sector that can be a third of a programme. Clearly, any write-off is always deeply regrettable, but one has to put those things into a context.

“We remain within our budget of £2.5 billion — not £12 billion — and we are looking at an overall net benefit of £35 billion from this programme. The NAO (National Audit Office) has said that it is taking a regular interest in the programme; we will continue and will see more reports on it from the NAO.

“However, as regards the way in which we are doing it, it is somewhat misleading to think of this as a twin-track system, because we have a single plan for universal credit.

“We are finding what works through the rollout we have; it may be small, but you do not need huge numbers to find out what works. It is important that we do this testing.

“At the heart of the programme is what we call the “test and learn” process, in which we take what is happening and assess and measure it against other things, aiming to find out how it works. That informs what we call the end-state build, which is thoroughly under way and is in agile.

“The first Warrington programme was trying to be agile, which I think is the best way; this end-state solution — the fully digital one, the interactive digital one — is being done on an agile basis.

Lord Freud also commented on Universal Credit being classed as ‘reset’ by the Major Projects Authority:

“What does reset mean? What happened, as noble Lords will remember, is that Ministers, the Secretary of State in particular, took a decision that the programme was not going properly and took a view to stop it and reorganise it — reset it.

“It is not a new category; it is a description of a process. If one is in charge of a programme, rather than blundering on with it regardless, I would hope noble Lords would agree that it is the job of the Ministers in charge to take that kind of decision, work out how to rebase it — reset it — and make sure it is done safely and securely, which is what we are aiming to do. That is everything that we are doing.”

> Yeah, all deeply regretable… but hey, its only public money, and you’ve got to spend big in order to be able to cut benefits, which we cant afford.

What’s that ?  Stop wasting money on mad unworkable schemes and we wouldn’t need to cut benefits ?

Ho ho ho, you obviously just don’t understand how politics works… next you’ll be suggesting that IDS and myself should take personal responsibility for  failures.

Source –  Welfare News Service, 25 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/lord-freud-universal-credit-40-million-write-deeply-regrettable/

North East justice system in chaos due to cuts & outsourcing

The criminal justice system in the North East is in chaos because of an “ideologically driven” drive to privatise public services and a series of “botched and expensive re-organisations”, a peer has warned.

Lord Beecham, the former leader of Newcastle City Council, hit out at the Government’s changes in a House of Lords debate.

He highlighted the Journal’s report that there had been a massive increase in the number of people representing themselves in family law courts, thanks to cuts in legal aid – leading to lengthy delays.

The proportion of North East parents attempting to make do without a lawyer in court has leapt from 34% to 53% of litigants since the removal of legal aid from family lawyers in April 2013. It means that proceedings are delayed as judges attempt to explain how the law works to parents.

And local law firms warn that parents taking part in child custody cases, and other cases involving the welfare of children, are failing to explain their case properly to courts.

Lord Beecham urged the Ministry of Justice to act. He said: “As many of us warned, the cuts in legal aid are having a serious effect on family and especially child-related proceedings.

“The Journal newspaper reported on Saturday a rise of 61% in people representing themselves, with the predictable result of serious delays.

He also highlighted the riot in a North East prison which saw 50 inmates take over a wing at HMP Northumberland in March.

One inmate has written to prisoners’ magazine Inside Time to claim the riot was down to frustration at staff shortages which had put a stop to some workshops.

Lord Beecham pointed out that the prison, previously known as HMP Acklington, was run by a private contractor.

He said: “Also in the North East we have had the experience of a prison riot at the newly privatised Acklington Prison where 130 staff left, about a third of the total.

“The prison is now managed by Sodexo, one of those oligopolies assumed by the Government to be capable of running any public service.

And the Labour peer, who led Newcastle City Council from 1977 to 1994, attacked proposals to split up the probation service.

Regional probation services will be replaced by a national service responsible for “high risk” offenders while private firms will run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) which manage lower risk offenders.

The Northumbria Branch of trade union Napo, which represents probation officers, had written to the Ministry of Justice to raise concerns about “job security, workload, increased management spans, reduced support from human resources and especially the transfer of cases and the split between risk categories,” he said.

They are worried about the risk to public safety as a result of the split and point to bureaucratic delays in transfers, with existing users being transferred and high risk offenders going to new officers.”

And Lord Beecham warned that outsourcing of child protection services could cause further problems.

He said: “The Government launched a consultation, lasting all of six weeks about plans to permit local authorities to outsource children’s social services to the likes of G4S and Serco.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  10 June 2014

Councils Sit On £67m In Emergency Help For Poor

This article was written by Patrick Butler, George Arnett, Sarah Marsh and Samir Jeraj, for The Guardian on Sunday 20th April 2014

A fledgling scheme to provide emergency help to the poorest in the country is in chaos, with £67m left unspent and record numbers of families being turned away.

Figures released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests indicate that by the end of January councils in England were sitting on £67m of the £136m that had been allocated to local welfare schemes. Half of local authorities had spent less than 40% of their funds.

An analysis by the Guardian shows that under the new local welfare assistance schemes, four in 10 applications for emergency funds are turned down, despite evidence that many applicants have been made penniless by benefits sanctions and delays in processing benefit claims. Under the previous system – the social fund – just two in 10 were. In some parts of the country, as few as one in 10 applicants obtain crisis help.

The schemes were designed to help low-income families in crisis, such as those in danger of becoming homeless or subjected to domestic violence. Charities and MPs have warned that those denied help are turning to food banks and loan sharks.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, which offers debt and legal advice, said the emergency financial support system was in chaos. “When the safety net fails, people are left with no way of putting food on the table, paying the rent or keeping the lights on. Confusion over what help is available and who to approach means that people who need support are left high and dry.

“People are in danger of being pushed into the arms of payday lenders and loan sharks by the chaotic emergency support system. Citizens Advice bureaux see people in desperate need of support who have nowhere else to turn when jobcentres and the local council don’t give out support.”

Under the new system, emergency funds are no longer ringfenced, meaning that councils can divert unspent cash to other budgets. Local welfare assistance schemes were created a year ago in 150 English authorities, alongside national schemes in Wales and Scotland, following the abolition of the social fund.

Most schemes do not offer cash or loans, but support in kind, such as food parcels and supermarket vouchers. The social fund provided loans repayable against future benefit payments – typically about £50 – and larger capital grants to destitute families who needed help to furnish flats or replace broken domestic appliances.

Despite charities reporting that demand for help has rocketed as a result of economic hardship and welfare cuts, some councils spent more money setting up and administering their welfare schemes than they gave to needy applicants.

Councils told the Guardian they had provided less in emergency funding than in the past because there was a lack of public awareness of the new system. Some had failed to advertise their schemes, while others set such tight eligibility criteria that many applicants – typically including low-paid working families, benefit claimants and those deemed to have not lived in their local area for long enough – were turned away.

Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, who has repeatedly raised the issue of local welfare in parliament, said his constituents frequently reported struggles to get crisis help. Constituents he has helped include:

• A low-wage family with three children, including an 11-month-old baby, who applied for £35 to pay for gas, electricity and baby food to help them until payday. The council scheme initially referred the family to a food bank. After lobbying by Danczuk, they were given £20 for energy costs, but were refused money for baby food.

• A pregnant mother and her partner, who after benefit changes were left with £7 a week for food after rent and council tax. They were told that they could not apply as the scheme was for “genuine emergencies” such as fires and flood.

In each case Danczuk believes the families would have qualified for emergency support under the social fund. “Central and local government are pushing people into the hands of payday loan companies and food banks. They have in effect privatised the lender of last resort,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions, which funds local welfare schemes run by 150 local authorities across England, said: “In contrast to a centralised grant system that was poorly targeted, councils can now choose how best to support those most in need. It is for local councils to decide how they spend their budgets.”

But a Conservative council leader has called on the government to reinstate local welfare assistance funding, calling it a “cut too far”. Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex county council, said the proposed cut would leave many low income families without vital support when they were going through a “tough patch in their lives”.

A briefing note prepared by the council found that 43% of 5,582 individuals and families helped by the local welfare fund to the end of February had applied because they had been left penniless by benefit sanctions and delays.

The Local Government Association has called upon the ministers to reverse the cut, and it is understood a number of councils and welfare charities are preparing to seek a judicial review of the government’s decision to cut local welfare assistance funding in April 2015.

Many councils are using part of their welfare assistance allocation to provide financial support for local food banks, which provide penniless applicants with charity food parcels.

Lady Stowell, a local government minister, told the House of Lords in January that local authorities were “doing a good job of supporting people in times of crisis and are doing it without using all the funding that has been provided so far from DWP”.

But Centrepoint, the homelessness charity said that local welfare assistance underspending meant many homeless youngsters could not get vital support when they moved from hostels into independent living. “Councils need to start using these funds to address urgent need now and ensure that young people have access to it,” said Seyi Obakin, Centrepoint’s chief executive.

Two local authorities – Labour-run Nottinghamshire county council and Tory-run Oxfordshire – have scrapped local welfare assistance altogether and plan to divert the money into social care services..

Conservative-run Herefordshire  county council had spent less than £5,000 of its annual £377,000 allocation by the end of December last year, equivalent to 1% of its local welfare budget.It said its spending reflected low demand for crisis help, a claim disputed by Hereford Citizens Advice and Hereford food bank, which said they had been inundated with requests.

Labour-run Islington council had spent 80% of its emergency funds budget by the end of December last year and had spent all its emergency funds by April. It said it had encouraged its frontline staff to refer individuals to its local welfare scheme to ensure they got crisis help and assistance with any underlying problems, such as debt.

Local authorities are anticipating further problems over local welfare in 2015 when the DWP scraps funding for the schemes. Councils, charities and MPs have called on the government to restore and ringfence the crisis support allocation.

Councils say that in some cases they have refused emergency help because benefit claimants have been wrongly referred to local authority welfare schemes by jobcentres. Some councils have refused to accept applications from those who ought to have been offered a short-term benefit advance from their local jobcentre.

Scotland and Wales have their own welfare assistance schemes and these have higher applicant success rates than in England. In Northern Ireland, which still has the social fund, 70% of applicants received help.

Source – Welfare News Service  20 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/councils-sit-on-67m-in-emergency-help-for-poor/

Film director hits out at cuts to North East arts

Arts funding must not be limited to groups inside the golden circle of the M25, the wife of playwright Lee Hall has said.

Baroness Beeban Kidron, the director behind films such as Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, has called on the Government to ensure the North sees a legally binding share of arts funding.

The peer was one of many speaking out following a report last year that showed half of the Arts Council England funding budget went to London, as well as some 90% of the £450m Department for Culture, Media and Sport budget.

This means the capital gets £69 of cultural spending per head, compared with just £4.50 in the rest of England.

Alongside this, 45% of National Lottery arts cash goes to London.

Baroness Kidron, whose husband led efforts to reverse council arts cuts in Newcastle, said that just four institutions in the capital receive more lottery funding than the 33 local authorities which are home to six million people at the bottom of their funding list.

She added: “These local authorities are predominantly, although not exclusively, in the North, but they all cover areas that are already challenged by other symptoms of deprivation and where current and prospective local authority cuts are biting most deeply.”

Speaking before members of the House of Lords, she called for the Government to make funding for the arts “a legal requirement” and to give local authorities the resources to fulfil that requirement.

She said that “talent is not centred in London, appreciation is not centred in London, the need to see oneself reflected in our world is not centred in London” and made the point that the national and international reputation of excellence in the creative arts started with individuals and groups in towns and cities across the UK .

“If we withdraw funding now we decimate the art and artists of the future,” the peer said.

“Starving the ecosystem of the tiny, the local, the experimental, the site-specific and the amateur groups, or insisting that this same list become little businesses, will simply kill the juggernaut of British theatre which has conquered Broadway and beyond.

“Could not Her Majesty’s Government consider making arts funding a legal requirement of local authorities and provide the resources to support that requirement, in order that we do not decimate arts provision outside the golden circle of the M25 and, in doing so, deprive ourselves of the artists and art of the future?”

Jane Tarr, director for the North at the Arts Council England said that the organisation is a “national champion for the arts and culture all over the country”.

“However, we’re not the biggest investor in culture in this country.

“With organisations like the National Glass Centre, The Baltic, The Sage and MIMA it’s clear that the North East is home to some world class arts and culture organisations – the result of very successful partnerships between the Arts Council, local authorities and higher education.”

Source – Newcastle Journal   14 Feb 2014