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Local elections - 5th May 2016

We are delighted to announce the Labour prospective candidates to North Herts District Council.The boundaries of the council include parts of three constituencies: Hitchin and Harpenden, North East Herts, and Stevenage. I am listing all the candidates alphabetically by ward. To find out which ward you live in, please go to https://mapit.mysociety.org/ Baldock Town                        GERALDINE DOBSONChesfield                              CHRISTOPHER BRIGGSHitchin Bearton                     IAN ALBERTHitchin Highbury                    MARTIN BURKEHitchin Priory                        DAVID WINSTANLYHitchin Oughton                    SIMON WATSONHitchin Walsworth                 ELIZABETH DENNISHitchwood, Offa and Hoo        DAVID O'BRIENKnebworth                           ED SMITHLetchworth East                    IAN MANTLELetchworth Grange               CLARE BILLINGLetchworth South East          MARTIN STEARS-HANDSCOMBLetchworth South West         JEAN ANDREWSLetchworth Wilbury               DEEPAK SANGHA we are yet to select for Baldock East If you want to find out more, or help with our campaigns, please contact us via this website, or find the agent, Deborah Segalini, on Facebook or Twitter

Housing Crisis Worsens

The housing crisis continues to intensify in North Herts. The social housing waiting list continues to grow due to an extreme shortage of truly affordable housing. Many young people are locked out of the housing market by inflated prices. Many wanting to buy their own property are forced to move out of the towns they grew up in, to places they have no roots or connections in. Others are forced into the private rented sector at the mercy of unrestrained rents and poor living conditions. Or stay at home with their parents, unable to start an independent life. Yet this is no accident. This is government policy.  The Housing and Planning Bill being rushed through by the Tories will force housing associations to sell off their housing stock with no provision for one to one replacement. The capability of NHDC to demand affordable housing provision from developers as a planning condition will be severely reduced and developers will be allowed to provide starter homes instead of genuinely affordable homes. This will substantially reduce the level of affordable housing available in the district. This will increase demand for private rented accommodation and properties to buy, ensuring rents and house prices will continue to rise. The Tories could at least ensure that those renting in the private sector are living in good conditions and pay a fair rent. Labour MPs tabled an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill, to ensure that all rented homes are fit for human habitation. The Tories, many of whom are landlords themselves, rejected it.  The government could legislate to ensure rents are capped at fair levels. They won't.  Tory housing policy is not based on the needs of people, it is based on profit in the financial sector. Renting is becoming less desirable and less affordable. Those on middle and low incomes are forced into buying homes whether they can afford to or not. Others are left without decent homes whilst homelessness continues to rise. Yet this government will not intervene in the housing market, and in not doing so is repeating all the mistakes which lead to the economic meltdown in 2008. 

Cuts to the Revenue Support Grant

Cuts each year to the Revenue Support Grant given to all councils by the Government, together with a cap of 2% (unless a referendum is taken) on Council Tax income, has made it necessary for councils to make efficiencies in every service they provide. A saving of over seven million pounds will be achieved by converting a substantial number of independent sector residential care homes for people with learning disabilities into a more modern supported living accommodation over the next four years. A report to County Council tells us the Care Act 2014 gives councils responsibility to promote greater choice and control for people over how their support is provided. It tells us that the project links to the corporate objectives and that people will thrive by having opportunities to maximise their potential and live full lives, prosper by improving the standard of accommodation, be healthy and safe by giving them opportunities to live independently and to take part with independence afforded to people in their own tenancies with appropriate care and support. Of the 106 care properties serving 550 care home residents, 41 properties could be affected. It notes that not all new tenancies will be suitable for every person currently living in these buildings and that a number of accommodating moves will be required for people with learning difficulties to achieve the right fit for every one (how impersonal is this kind of wording). The four year programme costing £1.65 million will provide savings in the 1st year £1m in year two £2m and £7m thereafter. This all sounds very caring on paper, but I have very many concerns for the future of the people affected. People with learning disabilities do not like change and make friendship in these homes. They help one another. Displacing some will affect their mental wellbeing. I also remember the Conservatives' care in the community act which left many people with mental health problems without support, and contributed to the problems we have today. Also how wardens in sheltered accommodation have been drastically reduced over the years. The Labour Group at County put a motion to look further into what effect these changes could make and to ask for consultations to be held. This motion was defeated and the scheme is to go ahead as planned.

Report from Council

Hitchin Oughton Councillor Frank Radcliffe reports on the recent full council meeting on 26 November 2015 where motions on the Syrian refugee crisis, the Trade Union Bill and TTIP were debated. Continue reading

NHDC Labour Councillors to call for urgent action in the county to support refugees

At a branch Labour Party meeting in September local members met with Catherine Henderson from the local organisation Herts. Welcomes Syrian Families to discuss shared concerns about the Syrian refugee crisis and what we could to in Hitchin and Letchworth to help. After this meeting, we issued a statement in support of the people in dire need fleeing from dangers in their home countries.  Continue reading

A small victory in Walsworth

Sometimes the tenacity of Labour Councillors can pay off in rather surprising ways. Let me give you an example:As a County Councillor I have a locality budget to help fund highway projects that the County Council isn't willing to pay for.This year it seemed sensible to resurface Common Rise in Walsworth which is in a pretty dire state.  Shortly before the work was due to start I was told that a small cul de sac in Common Rise wouldn't and couldn't be included in this work because the road is not the responsibility of the County Council, and never has been.  Residents were, quite reasonably, up in arms about this.  Their bit of road needs fixing as much as anyone else's.Well, hundreds of e-mails, anxious phone calls, discussions with highway officers, angry phone calls, more e-mails and a refusal to give up and what has emerged?  At the last minute an officer stumbled upon a minute  dusty minute in the archives from Hitchin Urban District Council in January 1935 which makes it quite clear that the County Council IS in fact responsible for this bit of road and, as a result of hard work and tenacity by our wonderful officers [and Judi, though she'd never blow her own trumpet. Ed.] it WILL be resurfaced over the next few days.Labour's County and District Councillors NEVER give up!Judi Billing  

A statement from Hitchin Branch on the refugee crisis

Hitchin Labour Party met Thursday evening to discuss the Syrian Refugee Crisis. We heard from Catherine Henderson of Herts Welcomes Syrian Families about the scheme which the government is supporting to allow a total of 50 refugees from Syrian camps to be relocated into Hertfordshire. The meeting discussed a range of issues to do with the processes and funding involved and the difficulties of getting full support from the district and county councils in Hertfordshire. Many Labour authorities across the country are pledging their resources and support to house hundreds and thousands of refugees from the war torn Middle East. Hitchin Labour unanimously expressed support for the efforts of all local groups and organizations, but also its deep shock that a county as wealthy as Hertfordshire in a country as wealthy as the UK was being so incredibly mean in its approach to helping people in the most desperate circumstances, unimaginable to most of us. The local Labour Party calls on the District and County Councils, as well as the Tory Government, to have a radical re-think and start behaving like a compassionate society towards those in greatest need in the world.

Homelessness crisis intensifies in North Herts.

Many politicians and political commentators regularly use buzzwords such as "reform," "modernisation" and "progress" to demonstrate their relevance to contemporary society and shared desire for change with the electorate. However, within the narrow confines of the neo-liberal consensus, which mainstream politicians have operated in for the last few decades, there is only a limited scope for change. Therefore the space within which the mainstream political parties operate is narrower still, and the use of buzzwords only serves as decoration to the same rehashed policies. As a result, dependent upon which party is in government, certain inevitabilities can be counted upon. Some of these are that the Tories will "reform" the welfare state by cutting benefits to the poorest and most vulnerable and "modernise" social care for struggling families by making it less readily available. All in the name of "progress". But in fact they are just using the policies of the 1980's to bring about the greatest fall in living standards since the 1880's. Such rehashed policies lead to the inevitability that homelessness will increase under a conservative government, and so we can see in North Herts.     Continue reading

The refugee crisis and what we can do about it

Before I begin, for all members, supporters and those wishing to help refugees in crisis, please join us this Thursday evening (10th September 2015) at 7:30pm at the Radcliffe Arms on Walsworth Road in Hitchin to set up our refugee action.  It’s taken a lot of pressure from many sides, but this week the Prime Minister has agreed that the UK will take in thousands of refugees. Personally I’d found it very hard, from the comfort of my home in one of the safest, most affluent counties in this safe, affluent country of ours, to hear mealy-mouthed ministers list the things we are already doing. While they steadfastly ignore what is obvious to most people: that we have a human duty to help these other humans who are so desperate for a normal, peaceful, life that they will risk everything to get somewhere safe, or at least to send their children to safety, education and the opportunity to make something of their lives. Some want to come the UK (‘Because English is the only foreign language I was taught at school,’ one Afghan man at Calais told the BBC). Many will be happy to settle anywhere where there is peace, work and a life beyond the squalor of a refugee camp.   Continue reading

The Leadership Debate

Hitchin & Harpenden CLP members have their say on the leadership issue As the school year came to an end and Labour Party families started to think about their summer holidays, we met together on a fantastically well attended July evening to discuss our views on who should be the next leader of the Labour Party. The funny thing is that whilst people seem content to bite lumps out of each other on social media, at our meeting every voice was heard, people were listened to with respect and nobody seemed unduly upset at the conclusion that the meeting came to. Of course the group response is irrelevant in a way, since the election over the next few weeks will be conducted on a one member one vote basis. But it was still interesting to get a collective view. All four of the candidates had their supporters and people spoke in favour of Liz Kendal, Jeremy Corbyn, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper.  So many people were keen to have their say that we weren’t able to get round to discussing the deputy leadership campaign until it was really too late to start all over again. People spoke with passion and real conviction, and at the end of the evening Yvette Cooper emerged as Hitchin and Harpenden's favoured candidate. No-one sulked, as far as I could see, took their bat home, or got cross.  There was a real sense that we are all Labour Party members, we all believe in a just and fair society which gives equal opportunities to all,  and we all need to support whoever emerges as our leader on 12 September. I do hope we all manage to stick to that belief when the result is announced Judi Billing @judibilling