Councillor James Baker
Councillor James Baker has been unanimously elected as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats on Calderdale Council. The election at today’s group meeting occurred after the previous leader Janet Battye failed to get re-elected in Calder Ward.
Councillor Baker said “Despite the loss of Janet, these elections results were better for us than last year. We won three wards in Calderdale, including a gain of Labour in Warley ward and across the country we gained 45 seats which is more than any other party.”
“I’m delighted to have been elected as the new leader of our group. I want to set out a principled vision of what Liberalism means and what it is that Calderdale Liberal Democrats stand for. Locally that means a focus on community politics, taking power away from the Town Hall and giving it to local people, and pursuing polices that seek to enhance people’s personal freedoms”.
“As our constitution states the Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”
Although I’m disappointed to have lost my seat on Calderdale Council in last week’s elections, I’d like to thank local people for their support for the last 12 years and for the privilege of serving them as one of their Councillors for Calder ward over that time.
I have tried to keep in touch with local people across the ward primarily through the Parish Councils but also by providing what I hope has been a useful service to people to resolve individual problems (through ward surgeries and responding promptly to local people), promote the needs of local people and help them develop the services they require. I am particularly proud of the amount of “assets” transferred from Calderdale Council to local people – including Hebden Bridge Town Hall, the Picture House, allotments and Great Rock at Blackshawhead. I hope that plans to move the market in Hebden Bridge into Lees Yard will come to fruition to act as a focal point for local shops.
There are three current issues that I want to make sure are worked through: recovery and future resilience from the Boxing Day floods, Neighbourhood and Local Plans, especially making sure that our beautiful countryside is protected and houses built where we want them; and the development of Care Closer to Home in our local Health Centres.
During my time on Calderdale Council, I’ve been privileged to be the Leader of the Council and Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board (I was especially looking forward to reviewing the Wellbeing Plan for Calderdale). I’ve seen economic development gather pace with building work around Halifax Town Centre (Broad Street, Piece Hall and the new Central Library and archives) and the promise of more integrated transport as we’ve retained out local buses and improving our train services. I hope that the drive to reduce carbon emissions and improve the use of renewable energy will continue through Calder Energy Future, as well as the remarkable achievements in waste collection and recycling.
As a child care social worker and Primary school teacher, I’m pleased that services to the most vulnerable children are no longer “requiring improvement” and credit must be given to Council staff for their hard work, and the support of partner agencies (especially the Police and Health Service).
Involving local people is a high priority for Liberal Democrats and I do hope that the improvements that have been made in public consultation and making it easier for local people to contact the Council are maintained. I am worried that the personal contact of Customer First seems to be diminishing and I’m not convinced that “community hubs” are fully appreciated, despite their value being proved by the floods.
It has always been important to me to be a Liberal Democrat: trying to “build and safeguard a fair, free and open society” balancing the needs of individuals with communities. I have been Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Calderdale Council as well as putting these values into practice locally which I will continue to do both within the local community as well as in my continuing role as Town Councillor for Stoodley ward on Todmorden Town Council. There’s still a lot to do to make life in the Upper Calder Valley even better than it is. This is a good place to live.
Last year was a bad year for Liberal Democrats across the country. In Calderdale we managed to win just one ward at the local elections in 2015. Many people wrote us off as finished. Instead we have carried on fighting to represent people. Our membership is made up of local residents who want to make a difference in our communities. We believe in community politics, empowering local people and the ideas of personal freedom and liberalism. All of our polices locally are formed democratically by our members.
This year we are pleased to see our membership increasing and to have won three wards in the local elections. Making a gain from Labour in Warley Ward, and holding our seats in Greetland and Stainland and Elland. We are however very saddened to lose Janet Battye as the Councillor in Calder ward. Janet is still a Town Councillor in Todmorden and she has vowed to continue to work to represent people there. The results this year are signs that far from being dead, we are making progress in our recovery.
We just wanted to say thanks to everyone who has supported us, to all our voters, helpers, candidates and members. After a short break we shall return to campaign to remain in Europe in the forthcoming referendum.
Liberal Democrat councillors have welcomed the decision to hold meetings of Council Working Groups in public.
Cllr James Baker (Liberal Democrat, Warley) told us: “I raised this matter at the Council Meeting held in February and so I am very pleased that it has been accepted by the Council. This is an important step in making the council more open and accountable to the public. As a result of us raising this issue, the public will now be able to attend Council meetings that were previously held behind closed doors”
“There will be times when information about individuals or sensitive financial matters are being discussed and these will have to be considered in private, but that is no different to what happens now at all Council committee meetings. The important principle has been established that these meetings will be held in public unless there is a very good reason not to.”
“This is just the latest example of something that Liberal Democrat councillors have pursued over many years. We pressed for a public question time at meetings of the full Council, and introduced it at Cabinet meetings. The public have a right to know not only what decisions have been taken on their behalf, but also how those decisions are arrived at. This should be a more open process from now on” said Cllr Baker.
Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have asked that the Calderdale Labour party take action against a Calderdale Labour candidate who has called for Ken Livingstone to be reinstated into the Labour party. Their candidate has also shared a story that claims Livingstone was ‘vindicated’ in making his anti-Semitic ‘Hitler’ comments. The story rakes up an old conspiracy theory that Hitler was a Zionist which was first cooked up by up by an American Trotskyist called Lenni Brenner.
A further Labour candidate has shared a petition calling on John Mann to be expelled from the Labour party. This is the MP who stood up to Ken Livingstone for making his comments about Hitler and Zionism.
However rather than take action against these candidates the Labour leader has sought to defend their actions. Claiming that they are opposed to anti-Semitism. He goes on to warn the Conservative leader and another Conservative Councillor about possible legal consequences for making allegations against Labour candidates. You can read a copy of his email that was sent to members of the Council below.
Thank you for your email.
I can assure you that every member of the Labour group, and all our candidates, stand by the values stated in the amended resolution from the council debate last Wednesday.
And to provide further context, rather than the selective quotes forwarded to you, M Naeem has also clearly indicated his support for Jeremy Corbyn’s statement on the issue confirming his and our opposition to anti-semitism.
This is an important issue which should not be used for cynical political advantage. I was therefore shocked and dismayed to see Cllr Tagg say in the forwarded email “we need to take advantage of this”. I hope that you will agree that this is completely unacceptable.
May I also point out that both you and Cllr Tagg have re-published the email subject line, “Anti-Semitic Labour candidates”. As the email names two individuals, this appears to be a specific allegation that these two individuals are anti -Semitic. I am not a lawyer but that would seem to be potentially libellous and may also involve the publication of a false statement regarding a candidate, which is an election offence under s106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. This is likely to be particularly serious in regard to Naeem, who was for many years the Chief Executive of Rochdale Racial Equality Council. –
Email to Councillors from Tim Swift – Labour Council leader – 2nd May 2016
Surraya Bibi – Warley candidate – Sharing a petition that calls for the MP who stood up to Livingstone to be expelled.
Elland candidate Mohammed Naeem – defending Livingstone and sharing a post that claims’s Ken’s ‘vindicated’ in his claim that Hitler was supporting Zionism.
Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Janet Battye is calling for new ‘Housing Improvement Areas’ to be set up to enable Calderdale Council to work with all the homeowners and residents in areas affected by floods. A plan could then be devised to refurbish houses devastated by floods and build in long-term flood resilience and protection.
Cllr Battye (Calder) said: “After talking to residents in my ward, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden, it seems to me to make sense for the Council to bring together groups of residents and homeowners to help them work out what needs to be done for individual houses and for the locality. That way houses can be fully repaired and refurbished following the Boxing Day flood and be future-proofed against further flooding.
“By an imaginative scheme like this, we can help areas of housing get properly repaired and look better than they do at the moment, but also take advantage of the opportunity to protect them from future flooding. It may need walls being built, drainage improved, or pumps installed.
“I am sure funding could be found if there is a will to do this. The new Flood Fund created by the Council at its recent Budget meeting could fund Council staff to help run the scheme, and the £5,000 resilience grants can be pooled. Any and all other sources of funding should be pursued.
“The recent floods showed the ability and willingness of local people to work together for the common good and the Council could now build on this. Together we can achieve much more than we can individually” said Cllr Battye “and there is scope to establish these improvement areas from Todmorden through the Calder Valley to Elland and Brighouse.”
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.”
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.”