Local Liberal Democrats are expressing serious concerns about the plans for devolution in Yorkshire and the way that decisions are being taken about them.
Cllr James Baker (Liberal Democrat, Warley), a member of the Combined Authority’s Scrutiny Committee, is worried by the lack of openness in concluding the shape for the future arrangements for the Region.
“Yorkshire’s economy is about the same size as Scotland’s” he says. “So, as Liberal Democrats, we want to see Yorkshire get the same level of devolved powers as Scotland, and the establishment of our own Regional Parliament, made up of representatives from across Yorkshire elected in a fair and proportional manner.
“Although there have been discussions and proposals around for some months now, the final shape of the arrangements for regional government in Yorkshire seem to have been pulled together to satisfy the Chancellor of Exchequer’s demand for an elected Mayor. The real danger is that this will be a Labour Mayor of Leeds able to dictate what happens across large parts of Yorkshire, including Calderdale. This simply won’t be right for us here and we believe that local people have more right to shape their own future” said Cllr Baker.
Cllr Janet Battye, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Calderdale Council, has joined her colleagues across the country in urging local councils to show central government that they are ready and willing to offer to take in refugees from the Middle East fleeing persecution. But they are disappointed that the Government didn’t act sooner and faster.
“The recent photos of drowned Syrian refugees are shocking” says Cllr Battye. “As a parent and a grandparent, it saddens me to see these images. Britain has a strong history and track record in supporting human rights across the world and fighting for values of tolerance and compassion.
“I am urging Calderdale Council to examine urgently what we can do to help. I know that we are already offering to care for a small number of unaccompanied refugee children but I think that we can do a lot more to help. This is our moral and humanitarian duty. At the same time, central government must say what it will do to make sure that Councils get funding to help them do what it needed.”
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has today urged the Government to stop playing politics over the humanitarian crisis impacting on Europe and offer help to desperate refugees.
Tim said Germany had set an example by allowing Syrian refugees to stay and apply for asylum, while the British Government ignored calls to help more people.
“David Cameron and Theresa May are trying to play politics in the hope of picking up some points in the opinion polls. They have shamefully diminished our standing in the world by ignoring the plight of thousands of refugees.
“It is no coincidence that Angela Merkel has proved herself be statesmanlike in enhancing Germany’s reputation as a compassionate country by welcoming desperate Syrians fleeing their war torn home.
“Meanwhile, Britain’s continuing focus is on manning the barricades which people are risking their lives trying to overcome just for a glimpse of security for their families.
“Theresa May continues to muddy the waters by talking about a broken EU migration system, which conveniently allows her to once again shirk the need to find an EU wide solution to the crisis.
“The UK’s position as a safe, secure and, above all, caring place is being diminished by an increasingly ‘screw you’ attitude as the Government collectively shrugs at the immeasurable suffering.”
Local Liberal Democrat Councillor Janet Battye has criticised the decision by Calderdale Council to move Customer First from Hebden Bridge Town Hall back into the town’s library.
“In my opinion, this is wrong for a number of reasons, including that the service will be less confidential there because it will be delivered from the library desk.”
“I’ve met with the Cabinet Member responsible, Labour Todmorden Cllr Steve Sweeney, and the Labour Councillors for Calder Ward, but it’s clear that minds have been made up and local concerns are not going to be listened to.”
“This is the second time that Cllr Sweeney has taken a decision off his own bat without consulting either local people or local Councillors, including his party colleagues. The first example was in changing the day that Todmorden library closes from Thursday to Tuesday. Now he’s decided to move Customer First out of the Town Hall in Hebden Bridge back into the library.”
“He now accepts that he should have consulted but this seems to becoming a habit and makes me question how autocratic he is and whether he has any interest in consulting either ward Councillors or local people. His Directorate will be shortly be running the budget consultation exercise and I wonder how interested he’ll be in that!”
“I’ve also asked a number of times whether Calderdale Council is still actively supportive of the Town Hall as Hebden Bridge’s ‘community hub’, but have only now received verbal confirmation. That is at least as worrying because bringing together services, such as the Police, the Council’s Neighbourhood Services, the Town and Parish Councils, with local community services, the community cafe and all the support work, including Staying Well and Dementia Care that are based in the Town Hall is an important cornerstone of the way forward for services. It makes me wonder what understanding and interest the Labour-run Council has in this whole approach.”
“We’ll be watching carefully to see what happens next. The most important issue is that local people should get a good service when they need it” said Cllr Battye.
Welcoming the decision by Calderdale Council’s Cabinet to recruit two business and two community representatives onto the Todmorden Development Board, local Liberal Democrat Councillor Janet Battye called for the selection process to be open and fair.
“When the Development Board was set up, taking over from the previous Regeneration Board, I asked for its membership to continue to include local people” she said. “But Calderdale Council’s Labour Cabinet Member – then, as now Cllr Barry Collins – was insistent that it should only include elected Councillors from Calderdale and Todmorden Town Councils.
“I’m pleased that, at last, they are prepared to include wider representation and participation in this Board. This is important if it’s to have any credibility and status in the town. As I said in the Cabinet meeting, and have been saying for a long time, there is a lot of skill, experience and interest in the future of the town.
“But it’s essential that the new Board members should be recruited through an open and fair process, not just who the existing members of the Board know. If there’s not be a direct election, I’d like to see a process similar to how vacancies can be filled on the Town Council – by co-option by the Board after advertising the vacancies openly and specifically notifying business and community groups.
“There’s a real danger that too much of the work of this Board is done in private and behind closed doors. This is a good opportunity for Calderdale Council to show its commitment to being fair and open.”
The Conservative government has launched a consultation on the closure of 91 courts and tribunals in England and Wales. These proposed closures would affect the Halifax County Court and Family Court and the Halifax (Calderdale) Magistrates’ and Family Court.
Under these proposals residents of Calderdale would be required to travel to Bradford to access justice; journey times to Bradford from many parts of Calderdale are significantly longer than assumed in the consultation document.
The historic Grade II court building is an important asset to Calderdale, and the Ministry of Justice’s consultation includes no plans as to what would happen to the building if the Courts were to close.
Taken alongside cuts to legal aid the closure of local Courts will restrict people’s access to justice, particularly for local residents who lack the means to travel easily. Calderdale Liberal Democrats are opposing the closure of our local court. We urge you to support our campaign and sign our petition here.
We are submitting an urgent late motion to next Wednesday’s meeting of Calderdale Council opposing this closure. We hope the Mayor will accept this late item as the consultation on the Court’s closure was only announced yesterday.
Today a new network of families whose lives have been wrecked by our current approach to drugs will hand in a letter to 10 Downing Street calling for the legal regulation of drugs. Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control is a project supported by Transform Drug Policy Foundation.
A spokesperson for Anyone’s Child said:
“Our vicious and stupid drug laws don’t stop young people from taking drugs. But putting dangerous criminals in charge has devastating results for them and their families. In 2002 David Cameron called for a debate on legal regulation. Since then, there have been over 26,000 drug deaths in the UK – compared with 453 UK soldiers in Afghanistan. Enough is enough. He should immediately commission an independent review of our drug laws. The government knows the evidence proves that legally regulating drugs would help protect all our families.”
You can read their letter to the Prime Minister here
Calderdale Liberal Democrats are calling on Calderdale Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to increase the pressure on the government to press ahead with the electrification of the rail line from Manchester to Leeds. The Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, recently announced that a number of electrification schemes, including the Manchester-Huddersfield-Leeds line, would be ‘paused’.
Cllr Battye Liberal Democrat group leader said: “We are deeply concerned about this decision, and the knock-on effects it is likely to have on the electrification of the Calder Valley line. These schemes form part of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ plan that was promised by the Conservatives during the election campaign. This plan now seems to be in serious trouble only a matter of weeks later. If the Conservatives’ ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is to mean anything, this work has to be done and it’s simply not good enough for them to blame Network Rail for any problems.”
“Electrification of the rail routes is an important next step in the improvement of public transport in the North as the lines are heavily used by an increasing number of people to get to work, as well as for pleasure.”
“It is important that Calderdale Council and the Combined Authority speak out clearly in support of rail electrification and that we all continue to make the case for it as strongly as possible. I have tabled a motion to next week’s Council meeting to allow the Council to publicly and forcefully make the point that this work needs to be carried out as soon as possible”.
Local Liberal Democrats gave their support for the lobby of government on Calderdale’s ‘ask’ for help with reducing carbon emissions, extending renewable energy, developing sustainable integrated transport, reducing fuel poverty by improving affordable warmth.
“We’ve come a long way with the work done by Calder Energy Future over the last few years” says Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Cllr Janet Battye. “This is now a strong working group with active involvement from enthusiastic people across all areas of the community, including businesses.
“But the challenge is so significant that it can’t be met without real and tangible support from government, so I’m delighted that we’re being represented in this national lobby.
“I’m sorry to hear that it’s likely that only one of our newly elected MPs will be there. I understand that although the date was fixed with Craig Whittaker before the election, he may be too busy to participate in it. This issue is important to many local people so I hope that it’s important to him and that he will represent us.”
Calderdale Council’s Liberal Democrat Group has not supported either the Conservative or Labour groups’ nominations for Leader of the Council.
Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Cllr Janet Battye (Calder) told us: “We have not done a deal with either group, and have not even tried to. We will support or oppose any decisions that are made purely on their merits and whether we believe these to be in the best interests of the people of Calderdale.”
“Our priorities in opposition will be to push for the policies democratically determined by our local grass roots members and included in our manifesto for Calderdale. These include sorting out the mess of the Highways Department, reforming the Council so local residents have a real say in decision making and ensuring the Council is run efficiently to mitigate the impact of increased cuts a majority Conservative government is likely to impose