Civil Liberties group slams Calderdale Council spending on CCTV

A civil liberties group has slammed Calderdale Council for spending £680k on upgrading its CCTV equipment. The upgrade of the equipment will be financed by over £425K of borrowing at a time when Labour are cutting services elsewhere.

Commenting on the spending Charles Farrier of the civil liberties campaign NO CCTV said:

“It seems absurd that in an age of savage cuts to public services Calderdale council think it is appropriate to spend over half a million pound of local tax payers money on upgrading their surveillance cameras. Surely greater crime prevention or crime control effects can be realized by using the money to be spent on surveillance cameras on proven strategies to improve education systems, create job training programs, improve housing, relocate families living in high crime areas, reduce poverty, or hire more people to walk, talk, and problem solve in “at risk” communities. The council hide behind meaningless statistics that only show how often a control room knob was twiddled. Study after study has shown that CCTV cameras are not the silver bullet that lazy, populist politicians continue to claim they are.

What is more, research shows that cameras can have a damaging effect on communities by increasing fear and reducing trust. A report entitled ‘Fortress Britain’, published last year by the New Economics Foundation, found that residents on an estate in London felt that “knowing people”, whether it be caretakers, youth workers or each other, was the key to creating trust, whilst cameras increased fear and decreased trust. Surveillance cameras do not fix but actually contribute to the breakdown of our communities. But we have another concern about Calderdale council’s so-called “upgrade” to their CCTV cameras.

The proposed scheme represents a massive step change in open-street surveillance as the council would no longer be operating closed-circuit cameras but networked digital surveillance cameras connected to the Public Sector Network. Such cameras were described by the Royal Academy of Engineering as “public webcams”. Of course the council will tell us that only authorised persons and organisations will have access to the network of cameras but we know all to well how such lists of authorised bodies can grow.

The council’s proposals would be waste of tax payers money but more importantly an assault on the freedoms of everyone in West Yorkshire.”

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Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate Alisdair Calder McGregor has also stated his opposition to the scheme:  “Whilst borrowing money to spend on CCTV Labour are cutting Pellon & Sowood Community Centres, which do more to address anti-social behavior issues than all the CCTV cameras in the world.”
Calderdale Lib Dems warned Labour not to sign up to disastrous hospital PFI deal

Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust are looking to make savings, and possibly close the A&E department in Calderdale – this is a move we are strongly opposed to. A major factor contributing to the financial pressure the trust is facing result from crippling repayments of the PFI debt.  A Guardian source cites the total repayment of the scheme as £773.2m on a hospital that only cost £64.6m. In addition PFI ties the hospital into mad service charges such as being charged £85 to change a lightbulb etc.

“The capital cost of rebuilding Calderdale Royal Hospital in Yorkshire is £64.6m, the scheme will end up costing Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust a total of £773.2m.”

Calderdale Liberal Democrats warned the last Labour government against signing up to this PFI scheme. Bob Heys and the late Stephen Pearson ran a major campaign against the PFI hospital contract in 2002 -  Stephen called it ‘Calderdale’s biggest ever scandal’. PFI was simply a way for Labour to increase off balance book borrowing, hiding the true extent of the debt that was being run up. Below is a copy of press stories at the time, where we warned Labour not to enter into this PFI scandal.

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We hate to say “we told you so” but….

The campaign setup by Calderdale Liberal Democrats was called Calderdale Concerned Citizens Group and there was a 1,000 name petition sent to Blair, including signatures from Councillors, Ex Councillors and Ex Mayors. However not a single Tory or Labour Councilor signed it despite efforts to encourage them to do so.

Calderdale Liberal Democrat’s warnings against this PFI scheme were ignored and we are now left with the consequences – a situation where Labour handed millions to bankers and financial companies and saddled us with debt. Just as the nation as a whole was crippled by Labour’s economic mismanagement, so to was our local NHS.

Calderdale Labour have run a systematic campaign of trying to blame the current problems faced by the Trust on ‘the cuts’ and the government. This is despite the 2012/13 annual financial report of the Trust stating “The Trust closed the year with a health cash balance of £33m and an operating surplus of £3.8, £0.8m ahead of plan”.  It is hard to argue cuts are solely to blame when the Trust is operating at a budget surplus. Labour need to stop trying to play the blame game, criticizing us in the press for not denouncing ‘the cuts’, and start seriously working on a cross-party basis to save our A&E

 

Giving local people a say on Hospital Closures

Over the past couple of days there has been much talk, and speculation about what impact ‘Clause 119′ of the Care Bill would have on hospital closures. Local Liberal Democrats wrote to Paul Burstow MP who due to put in amendment on the bill that would strengthen local people’s say in hospital closures:

“Like many places, we’ve facing changes and possibly closures in some of our health/hospital closures locally BUT it’s important that these are explained to local people, their views listened to and taken into account when decisions finally made. This process must be open, transparent and fair (good LibDem principles !) so I urge you to do your best for us all this afternoon when the Care Bill’s being debated/decided upon.”

This is the reply we received:

“I thought I should update you on what has happened.

I raised the concerns about the changes the Government was proposing to the way in which a hospital in serious financial or clinical trouble is handled in the NHS.  Trust special administration (TSA) as it is known was introduced by Labour in 2009.  It is a blunt process that should only ever be used in exceptional circumstances.

I argued that the starting point must be that decisions about the future of local health services are grounded in clinical evidence, supported by local clinicians and drawn up with the active involvement of local people.

As a result of raising the issues I have managed to get the Government to make some important concessions.  The amendment played a vital part in getting Ministers attention.

Today Ministers gave Parliament the assurance that everything possible will be done to help any potentially failing hospital to sort out their difficulties so that a TSA is only ever used in rare and extreme circumstances.

Following my lobbying Ministers have amended the Bill to strengthen public and patient involvement by the inclusion of local Healthwatch.  In addition local councils are being added for the first time too.  In the Lewisham case the local Council played a vital role in standing up for local people.

Also as a result of today TSAs will have to consult with NHS Trusts and their staff and with commissioners (CCGs) of any affected NHS organisations.

And as a result of the amendment Ministers have conceded that equal weight must be given to views of each involved Trust, staff  and commissioners.  Finally Ministers confirmed in response to my amendment that any TSA plan must have the agreement of ALL relevant commissioners.

When it came to pushing the amendment to the vote I had to make a fine judgement.  Having secured important changes and commitments from the Government I took the view that pushing the amendment to a vote ran the risk of defeat and sacrificing what the Government had offered.

That is not the end of the matter.  A cross party committee of MPs and Peers will be set up to agree the guidance to TSAs.  I will be chairing that Committee and I am keen, as we draw up the rules, to make sure the views of local clinicians and local people are heard.”

38 Degrees who have helped run a campaign bringing this important issue to people’s attention have said the following an email to their supporters:

“At first glance it seems that the government did make some positive changes. The challenge is working out whether they go far enough. The office team has asked legal experts to look at them. You’ll hear their verdict as soon as we get it.”

Calderdale Liberal Democrats will be pressing to make sure the positive changes announced by the Minister are followed through. We will be doing this by lobbying and supporting members of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary party who are trying to ensure the are enacted.

 

Lib Dem proposals win cross-party support at budget meeting

Key Liberal Democrat policies won cross-party support at Calderdale’s budget meeting last night.  Both Conservative and Labour groups accepted a range of our proposals  which were driven by our determination to build both a stronger economy, but also a fairer society in which everyone can get on in life.

Our proposals to build a stronger economy included:

  • Increasing the Council’s Business & Economy Service to provide expert help and advice that will enable local business to increase their exports.
  • Providing each Ward Forum with a sum of £5,000 so that issues of local importance can be addressed.

Our proposals to build a fairer society included:

  • Increasing the size of the Safer, Cleaner, Greener teams, enabling them to place more emphasis on tackling dog fouling.
  • Establishing a fund that local schools can access to tackle issues with their buildings that are too big for their own budgets, but which never make it to the top of the Council’s priority list.

In addition we supported a range of measures to help with the cost of living include a reversal of recent changes in parking charges that have seen residents charged up to 8pm to park in Halifax Town Centre.

Over the past couple of days it became clear there were concerns over proposals to both reduce sick pay, and give staff who take no sick pay and extra day’s holiday. We listened to staff concerns about the proposed reduction in sick pay, and did not support proposals to make this reduction in this years budget. We will be keen now for the Labour administration to demonstrated they can reduce high levels of sick pay on Calderdale Council without having to make these cuts in sick pay.

Further savings were found in a reduction in the Council’s transport budget, reducing the taxpayer subsidy to trade unions and increasing the charges of wheelie bins to reflect their actual cost to replace. We also managed to reverse Labour’s planned half million cut in the communities budget that would have seen a review of community libraries and 15 fte redundancies within the directorate.

Commenting on the proposals Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Janet Battye said ““Our overarching aims have been to make better use of the Council’s resources to support a fairer society and build a stronger economy.”

 

 

Labour plan to cut local community services

Labour’s budget proposals for Calderdale Council include cutting £240K in 2015/16 and £340k in 2016-17 from local services in the communities budget. This includes a ‘review’ of neighborhood offices and community libraries. The proposals put forward by the Labour cabinet state there will be 15 FTE of redundancies in the service. Although the cuts are not specified it is clear from the large budget savings put against them they would decimate these services.

This plan breaks Labour’s promise to stand up for front line services in Calderdale.  In fact their decision to freeze Council tax instead of opting for a modest rise in Council tax in line with inflation has meant the Council has had to find around another £700k in savings.  A freeze in Council tax means a reduction in spending power in real-terms.   This  means the Council has to find additional savings, and make further cuts. Labour can’t have it both ways, firstly claiming to their left-leaning supports they are fighting the cuts, only to then adopt a low tax approach funded by further cuts to local services. 

Despite Labour hiking up parking charges, and cutting community services a Freedom of Information Action act requests has revealed Labour cabinet members have provided themselves with taxpayer funded iPads. With cabinet members already getting an allowance of over £21,000 expensive gadgets like this could be funded out of their own pockets.

Local services such as our libraries matter to people  in Calderdale, that’s why our proposed amendments to Labour’s budget seek to reverse this cut. We want to see more effort put into co-locating services, concentrating on essential buildings owned and run by the Council, with a real drive to establish  “community hubs” which will protect and promote local services (such as libraries), and enable  closer working with local community groups.

 

Full details of our budget proposals

Local people tell us that they look to their councillors to work together for the good of the local community. This is what we have been trying hard to do. Public consultation in 2010 guided the work that the Council had to do to makes its books balance while maintaining local services – and that’s what people told us that they wanted.

It was disappointing that after Labour took control of the Council in May 2013, without winning any more Council seats, they chose to devise the proposals for the Council’s budget for the next 3 years, without seeking any involvement from any councillors other than their own. They said that they would be “open and transparent”, but this is not our experience within the Council.

Therefore the Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups of councillors have separately examined the Cabinet budget proposals carefully. We have taken account of the results of the consultation and what local people and businesses have been saying to us, and have decided together to make the following proposals along three themes:

  1. Supporting a fairer society

  2. Building a stronger economy

  3. Better Value for your money

As you will see from the detailed proposals all of our plans are fully costed and have been checked by the Council’s finance officers.

 Additional Proposals to Cabinet Budget Proposals 2014

Agreement Reached on Budget Changes

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The Liberal Democrat and Conservative groups on Calderdale Council have reached agreement on amendments to Labour’s budget proposals and will be putting these to the Budget Council meeting to be held on Monday (24February).

Together, the two groups have 28 members to Labour’s 21, with two independents.

Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr Janet Battye (Calder) told us: “While Labour say they run an open and transparent administration, that has not been our experience. Labour have drawn up their budget plans with no involvement from any other group and apparently no plan as to how they were going to get the Council to approve it. Although they run the Cabinet, they do not have a majority on the Council.”

“Our overarching aims have been to make better use of the Council’s resources to support a fairer society and build a stronger economy. Our plans do this by:

  • Freezing the Council’s element of the Council Tax bill for the coming year and the following year. We also aim to freeze Council Tax in 2016;
  • Increasing the Council’s Business & Economy Service to provide expert help and advice that will enable local business to increase their exports;
  • Reversing some of the recent changes to car parking charges and increase a shoppers’ parking scheme. Both will aid the local economy;
  • Increasing the size of the Safer, Cleaner, Greener teams, enabling them to place more emphasis on tackling dog fouling;
  • Providing each Ward Forum with a sum of £5,000 so that issues of local importance can be addressed;
  • Establishing a fund that local schools can access to tackle issues with their buildings that are too big for their own budgets, but which never make it to the top of the Council’s priority list.

“These budget proposals give a clear signal of the way we wish the Council to operate over the coming years. I hope that the Council approves them” said Cllr Battye.

Labour secrecy over controversial demolition plans for Elland Swimming Baths

Labour run Calderdale council have revealed plans to demolish Elland Baths and replace it with a bus station, despite a local community association bidding to take over the baths in a community asset transfer. The revelation was made at full Council when the leader Councillor Tim Swift when questioned confirmed the Council had been in talks with Metro over plans for a bus station at the site. The intention to place a bus station on the site is also revealed in planning documents hosted on the Council’s website.

The Economy and Environment scrutiny panel having considered this topic came to a unanimous decision that the group be given a further six months to develop this bid. Only after that panel had met did the Labour cabinet decide to release confidential material that claims to show the true state of the building. This raises questions about why these documents were kept secret from the scrutiny panel, and why have now been released.

Elland Liberal Democrat Councillor David Hardy says that “the estimate of how much renovation will cost has been inflated by the council to try and block local groups from taking the baths over”.

This secretive approach coupled with the revelation that the Council is in talks with Metro about creating a bus station on the site raises the question as to whether the community group seeking to take on the building are being given a fair opportunity to do so

Councillor Hardy said “It’s only fair Elland Baths be given their 6 months to finalise plans to take it over, with none of this secret planning by Labour getting in their way, and a proper independent survey into how much it will cost”.
Halifax Liberal Democrats select parliamentary candidate.

Halifax Liberal Democrats have selected Mohammed Ilyas as their parliamentary candidate for the 2015 general election.

Mr Ilays has been a resident of Halifax since 1973.He represented the Liberal Democrats as a Calderdale council as a councillor from 2008 to 2012. He works self employed as a driving instructor.

Commenting Mr Ilays said “ The Liberal Democrats stand for an open and a fairer society in which everyone can play a role without any prejudice of colour religion race or backgrounds. We want to enable everyone to get on in life and achieve things based on their ability not privilege. “

“We will let people know that Labour can’t be trusted with the economy, and the Conservatives can’t be trusted to build a fairer society. It is only the Liberal Democrats who can both build a stronger economy and a fairer society.”

“In 2010 we took the bold decision to join the coalition to bring back Country on its feet. The economy is growing again, and more people are in work now in Calderdale than in 2010 when Labour left office.  We have held back the worse excess of the Conservatives, and tried to make things fairer by giving ordinary people a tax cut of £700.”

“In Halifax we will do more to do to involve young people into training sessions,apprenticeships and creating more job opportunities for everyone.”

 

Keep cleaning the streets!

Calderdale Council’s Labour Cabinet needs to think again about its proposal to reduce the number of street cleaners, say Liberal Democrat councillors.

 Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr Janet Battye (Calder) told us: “Listening to local people, we know that they are very concerned about the state of our streets and how clear and tidy they are. The local Safer, Cleaner, Greener teams are very popular and effective and we don’t believe that the Labour Cabinet should reduce them – indeed, we want to build on their success and invest further in their work. Dog fouling is still a significant problem and we know that local people want the Council to do more about this.”

“This highlights the importance of local services. We want the Council to have an effective and efficient core that organises and runs services, but those services must be delivered locally. Our libraries, Customer First, Children’s Centres and so on, are important and we want to see the Council working more closely with other public organisations and local community groups” said Cllr Battye.

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