Wildlife crime unit faces extinction

One of the world’s leading policing units dedicated to supporting wildlife crime investigations is facing the axe. Liberal Democrat Environmental spokesperson Kate Parminter has called on ministers to step in and guarantee funding for the agency.

The unit has no funding confirmed by the Government beyond March 2016 following last Autumn’s Spending Review, with a decision expected be taken on its future by Ministers in the coming days.

Set up in 2006, the Wildlife Crime Unit acts as the focal point for all police wildlife crime intelligence-sharing, analysis and investigation in the UK – covering offences including rare bird egg theft, illegal deer poaching, the trade in endangered species, hare coursing, illegal taxidermy and indiscriminate cruelty to wild animals.

Baroness Parminter said: “Tackling wildlife crime such as smuggling, poaching and illegal trading is very important and the Government must do more.

“It is vital the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which the Liberal Democrats supported in Coalition is protected. To neglect this would be reckless.

“The Government has not committed to keeping the Unit open and we will continue to hold them to account.”

How can shops and businesses be helped to recover from the Floods?

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That was the question that the Government Minister for Small Businesses asked when she visited Calderdale this week.

“The figures quoted of the damage done by the floods to local shops and businesses are just mind-blowing” says Cllr Janet Battye, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Calderdale Council and ward Councillor for Calder ward. “2,500 out of the 8,000 businesses across Calderdale have been affected, with financial losses already reaching £15m.

“The problems that we now face are of the time and cost for shops and businesses to get up and running again in the short-term, and longer-term problems of lack of insurance cover and lack of knowledge about how to make buildings flood-proof.

“The Minister said that businesses need advice and support from other businesses and the Council, but I told her that we have a real capacity issue in Calderdale. The Council’s Business Team consists of only four people. While businesspeople are willing to help each other, there comes a point when they need to concentrate on their own businesses. We can only expect volunteers to do so much.

“While the government talks of the apparently large sums of money that it’s giving to Councils, this does need to be used flexibly and may only be able to provide limited help. The bigger problem concerns there not being enough money available for flood protection work: we still have a £15m funding gap for the programme of work put together after the last floods!” said Cllr Battye.

Calderdale residents to get hit with a ‘flood tax’

The cabinet of Calderdale Council is proposing a 4% Council tax rise in this year’s budget. 2% of this tax rise forms the social care precept – sadly this extra money won’t actually be delivering any more services, but rather covering the increased cost of providing social care that has arisen from paying staff in the sector the living wage. However because the government is reducing the grant it provides to Calderdale Council if we don’t put on this extra 2% for social care costs we would have to cut more vital services that vulnerable people rely on. Therefore I think we are forced to do this to ensure we can continue to protect and look after the most vulnerable in our society.

The other 2% of the Council tax increase is being proposed to create a £3m flood relief fund. We clearly need money to help people recover from the floods. If we lose too many businesses then the Council will also lose the business rate income, so it makes sense to spend money to help support local businesses and people affected by the flooding. There is however a question around whether it is fair that local people are expected to shoulder this burden. Wouldn’t it be fairer if central government provided flood hit areas with additional funding, then the entire country could help shoulder the burden.

If the government was properly funding flood hit Councils then there would be no need for the Council to impose a ‘flood tax’ on local people. Council tax could instead be spent on doing up our dreadful pothole ridden roads, or prosecuting the litter louts who seem intent on turning parts of Calderdale into a rubbish dump.

If you want to have your say on the budget proposals there are a number of drop in sessions that you can attend, you can also find out more information on the Council’s website and reply to the consultation via email.

Wednesday 27th January between 6.30pm – 8.30pm @ Brighouse High School Sixth Form Centre Mulberry Suite, Parsonage Lane, Brighouse HD6 1FB
Thursday 28th January between 7m – 9pm @ Central Library, Halifax
Thursday 4th February between 6.30pm – 8.30pm @ Todmorden Town Hall
Tuesday 9th February between 6.30pm – 8.30pm @ Centre at 3Ways, Nursery Lane, Ovenden, Halifax, HX3 5SX
Consultation on the budget proposals will run for four weeks – ending on Monday the 15th February 2016 with final decisions being made at the Annual Budget Council meeting on Monday the 29th February 2016.

Lamb comments on suspension of Junior Doctors strike

Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Norman Lamb said:

“This suspension of the strike is welcome and it shows how serious the Junior Doctors are to resolve the issues at stake, it is now up to the Government to step up to the plate and do their part too.
“The Government now need to come back, really negotiate and take the threat of imposing a new contract away.

“We need a cross party commission to look at the future of NHS and social care funding. It is crucial we come up with a new settlement to ensure stability in the years to come and a fair deal for patients and NHS staff”.

Axing maintenance grants hurts the poorest – Mulholland

Commenting on today’s debate on the abolition of student maintenance grants on those coming from lower income families, Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland said:

“The poorest students will be hit hardest by the ending of maintenance grants. Trying to do this through the backdoor shows not only their contempt for students but also their families. The Liberal Democrats utterly oppose this move.

“The abolition of grants will increase graduate loan repayments of the poorest. It will also increase the likelihood that graduates will not repay in full. It is unfair and economically illiterate.

“This hurts people the Tories talk about the most; whose who strive and go to University to better themselves.”

Message for BUSINESSES affected by the floods – more potential funding!

Information supplied by Kirsty McGregor, Founder of the Corporate Finance Network & Association of Crowdfunding Experts via flood pages facebook.

“We have heard that Calderdale Council have started issuing grant forms for businesses that have been flooded, at an initial amount of £2,500 per business. There may be also additional funding available once those initial grants have been distributed and further needs assessed on a case by case basis. All these grants are to be administered in the first instance by the Council. Grants available here
http://www.calderdale.gov.uk/v2/sites/default/files/Business-Recovery-Scheme–Grant-Application-January-2016.pdf

A Business Crowdfunding Campaign for Calderdale, entitled ‘Calderdale Rising’ will be launched next week, which I will personally take the lead on (as a local resident with wide-ranging expertise in this area of crowdfunding).

An information evening about this crowdfunding campaign, for business owners/directors, is taking place at Tower House at 6.30pm on Thursday 7th January. Please book here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/calderdale-rising-information-event-for-businesses-tickets-20480388393

When I was asked to propose a solution for business fundraising, I felt it was very important that any campaign was simple, effective and integrated across the whole borough.

The aims of this business crowdfunding campaign (in order of priority) are:
1. To give a positive message, some hope & empowerment to Calderdale businesses – starting today;
2. To give national/international publicity to individual businesses and the area as a whole
3. To raise finance (we may raise £20k we may raise £2m – I have no idea!)

This may seem a strange order, but the largest known benefits of successful business crowdfunding campaigns are actually in the wider publicity which is generated for the businesses. And as stated above, other financial grants are and will be available for businesses in due course to fulfil that essential need.

The criteria for businesses to take part in this business crowdfunding campaign are:
1. They must trade from a location in Calderdale
2. They must have been ‘affected’ by the floods and suffered a loss in trade– whether their premises were flooded, or they trade with businesses that were, or find that the traffic & infrastructure and general lack of footfall has had an impact on them, or loss of employees’ working hours has affected productivity
3. They must be willing to be involved in promoting the campaign through their social media channels and other contacts

The distribution of the monies raised will also be very simple. Funds raised will be equally shared by every business that is involved, irrespective of business size or level of flood impact. I am not prepared to put in extra layers of administration and time to set up grant panels to assess differing amounts due to each business. And as stated above, a financial return is only one of the aims of this campaign in any event.

I need at least 50 businesses to commit to be involved, and given there are many hundreds affected, this should be easily manageable.

Reminder – there will be an information meeting on Thursday 7th January at Tower House Hotel to explain to business owners/directors the more detailed mechanics of this. This will take place from 6.30-8.30pm. Many thanks to Robert at Tower House for offering the use of their function room for this meeting (and tea & coffee!). Please only businesses to attend this event – there isn’t the capacity in the room to take all interested individuals.

What I need you to do now please:
1. If you are a business owner/director please book your place for Thur evening here. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/calderdale-rising-information-event-for-businesses-tickets-20480388393

If you cannot attend, please send someone in your place that can feedback information to you – I know this is very short notice but I want this to move fast to maintain momentum, and it’s easier to explain verbally than on facebook or email!
2. Please share this message with businesses you know and encourage them to book & attend the event on Thur 7th
3. If you wish to donate, please hold fire for now. More information will be issued early next week. I am not sure whether this fund will be eligible for match funding yet – the rules seem to be changing on a daily basis. If it is, we will of course apply for that if we are able to within our timescale (the campaign will run for 28 days)

This may not be the extra ‘fund’ solution some were hoping for. Funds will be available through other sources and don’t forget to claim your £2,500 grant now available from the Council if you are eligible. Once this crowdfunding campaign is complete, other business groups may choose to conduct other fundraising campaigns with more specfiic criteria.

I sincerely hope this alternative and additional solution will actually provide more than just the cash. The Calderdale spirit can be demonstrated again to the world! ‪#CalderdaleRising”

475,000 HOMES WITH PLANNING PERMISSION STILL WAITING TO BE BUILT

New research published today reveals there are a record 475,647 homes in England which have been given planning permission but have yet to be built.

The study, commissioned by the Local Government Association and carried out by industry experts Glenigan, shows this bumper backlog has grown at a rapid pace over the past few years.

In 2012/13, the total of unimplemented planning permissions was 381,390 and in 2013/14 it was 443,265.

The LGA said that the figures underline the need for councils to be able to invest in building more homes and also for the skills shortage affecting the construction industry to be addressed.

Council leaders also want powers to charge developers full council tax for every unbuilt development from the point that the original planning permission expires.

The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, also said:

Developers are taking longer to complete work on site. It now takes 32 months, on average, from sites receiving planning permission to building work being completed – 12 months longer than in 2007/8.

The number of planning applications being granted planning permission in 2014/15 was 212,468 – this is up from 187,605 in 2007/08 and is higher than all previous years.
Councils still approve nine in every 10 applications. While the construction industry’s forecasted annual recruitment need is up 54 per cent from 2013, there are 10,000 fewer construction qualifications being awarded by colleges, apprenticeships and universities.There were 58 per cent fewer completed construction apprenticeships last year than in 2009.

Cllr Keith House, LGA Lib Dem Group Housing spokesman, said:

“These figures conclusively prove that the planning system is not a barrier to house building. In fact the opposite is true, councils are approving almost half a million more houses than are being built, and this gap is increasing.

“While private developers have a key role in solving our chronic housing shortage, they cannot build the 230,000 needed each year on their own. To tackle the new homes backlog and to get Britain building again, councils must have the power to invest in building new homes and to force developers to build homes more quickly.

Cllr James Baker, Warley ward Councillor said:

“The Conservative government has said we need to plan for extra houses here in Calderdale, and the Labour run Council is consulting on whether or not to build them on places like Roils Head Moor. The thing is there are already 100,000s sites across the country that already have planning permission, that are simply not being built on. Let’s build on these sites first!”

Lib Dems will not stop fighting to give young people the voice they deserve

The Liberal Democrats have called on the Government to reverse their decision to restrict 16 year olds from voting in local elections.

Liberal Democrat peer John Shipley has tabled a motion in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill that will be debated on Tuesday as the Bill begins ping pong between the Commons and the Lords.

The motion will be called to a vote as the Lib Dems continue to fight the Tories on the issue following a series of Government defeats in recent months.

Ahead of the vote Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat Political Reform Spokesperson, has said:

“Young people must have a say in how their lives and the communities they live in are run.

“The Government continues to discriminate based on where you live, young people in Scotland were given a vote on their future yet their Welsh and English counterparts are denied the same rights.

“We complain that younger generations are not engaging with politics and then we shut them out of the system. The Government needs to think again.

“Whilst the Tories are continuing to resist expanding the franchise, the Lib Dems will not stop fighting to give young people the voice they deserve.”

Freedom of Information must be expanded

Liberal Democrats have today called for all private contractors doing public work to also be subject to FOI requests and promised strong opposition to any attempts from the Conservatives to water down the FOI system.

The call comes amidst reports that ministers may extend FOI requests to charities.

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said:

“Liberal Democrats have always been clear that the public deserve to know how their money is being spent and how decisions on their behalf are taken. In government we managed to extend FOI considerably but it must go further and extend FOI to all private contractors doing public work.

“However good the apparent plans are to extend FOI request to charities sound, the Conservatives look like they want to fundamentally water down the FOI system as a whole which makes such a change useless. We will strongly oppose any attempts to gut the FOI system which is an important tool for the public and journalists in holding those in power to account.”

Norman Lamb to call for a commission into the health and social care crisis

Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Norman Lamb will today (Wednesday) launch proposals for an unprecedented cross party commission into health and social care.

Norman Lamb, who has received the backing from Conservative and Labour former Health Secretaries Stephen Dorrell and Alan Milburn, believes that only a full non-partisan commission will properly deal with the crisis in health and social care.

They have been joined in this call by NHS survival – a group of 8,000 doctors, patients and and members of the public committed to ensuring the survival of the health service.

The former care minister believes the commission would be a ‘Beveridge Report’ for the 21st Century, and be the first of its kind since the creation of the NHS and welfare state. Its aim is to engage with the public, staff in the NHS and care services and civic society on the massive challenge the NHS and care services face.

To mark his call for the commission Norman Lamb will use a 10 minute rule bill in Parliament, and will call for an investigation into the crisis being faced by the health and social care sectors.
The NHS funding gap is expected to be £30bn

NHS and Foundation Trusts are facing a projected £2.2bn deficit

The Health Foundation has estimated that there will be a £6bn funding gap in Social Care by 2020

Norman Lamb said: “The NHS and social care face an existential crisis. Demand for services continues to rise year on year but funding is failing to keep up. The position in social care is perhaps even more serious.

“Growing pressures on services are so severe that all parties must come together to fundamentally re-think how we can guarantee the future of the NHS and social care services.

“The Government cannot avoid this issue any longer. Establishing this commission will show they are serious about protecting these vital public services.”