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Your Vote, Your Candidates, Your Voice!

As district council elections draw closer, here's reminder of your Labour candidates. Polls are open from 7am to 10pm on Thursday 5 May. Every single vote counts and really does make a difference. In many wards it's a two horse race between Labour and the Tories and we are so close to being able to make a real by winning back Walsworth and holding our seats in Bearton and Oughton.  Continue reading

Education White Paper – Dogma without Reason

As a local Labour Councillor in Hitchin I spend much of my time in opposition.  Can’t be helped, that’s how it is.  It never stops me trying to get things done and do the right thing.  It does mean that I am used to being angry.  I'm also used to feeling confused about the rotten decisions of Tory politicians. Continue reading

Education, education, wait, what?!

As a parent and resident of a ward staring down the barrel of a school places crisis, the budget proposals make disturbing reading. Tory plans to convert every state school into an academy are ill informed at best, and represent a creeping privatisation of our education system at worst.   Of course, the Prime Minister tried to sell the policy today as representing 'maximum devolution'. That is a myth. Academies operate as private bodies. They are not accountable to local authorities, rather the head teacher and a charitable trust (and sometimes a franchise or chain) are in charge. They set their own standards on admissions, can 'innovate' (read: opt out of the national curriculum) and are overseen by regional commissioners. Ofsted has recently criticised a number of academy chains for failing to meet standards for improvement and paying board members exorbitant salaries. Teachers and their unions see this for what it really is - it isn't about improving the quality of our children's education, it's privatisation of our education system.   So, in this brave new world the Chancellor is trying to create, undoing the link between local authorities and state education which has functioned (on the whole) very well since its inception in 1902, what happens to areas like Walsworth where many of our children have no preference for any secondary school? How, without the valuable support of our county councillors and the local education authority, do we ensure our children can not only attend school, but that that school is within a reasonable distance of their home. And that the quality of teaching is what our children need?   It's early days. There's a lot of detail the government still needs to produce about this policy. But on the face of it, it is utterly terrifying. This policy could well turn out being more expensive than the current system. And the real lack of any public accountability of these organisations means our children's futures are seriously at risk.   Oh, and finally, let's not forget the state has a duty to look after the wellbeing of children. Now, pray tell, how on earth can it do that if we as parents, governors and local authorities cannot have a say in their education and that fundamental foundation of their future?   Elizabeth Dennis Labour NHDC candidate for Walsworth @lizzi2611 eldennis@btinternet.com

Fog Over Hitchin

A fog of figures descended on the Sun Hotel, as warring Conservative Councillors exchanged a series of numbers and “Blue on Blue” attacks to demonstrate their version of events leaving the public little clearer on what’s happened to delay the opening of Hitchin Town Hall. Councillor Richard Thake claimed that the overspend on the project was only £400,000 and a 10% overspend was acceptable on large projects. Well, it may be to him, but not to Labour! Who exactly is funding the project – not Richard, but local taxpayers. What else has to be cut to fund the overspend? Meanwhile, Councillor David Leal-Bennett claims the overspend is £1.2 million. This is the same Councillor who has cost the Council thousands of pounds in having to take disciplinary action against him for his behaviour. And he is the same Councillor (subject to any appeal) who was found guilty of bullying and harassing behaviour. No matter the issue, that type of behaviour and treatment of people is completely unacceptable. If Conservative Councillors can’t agree with each other on a major issue, it strengthens the need for political change on North Herts Council (NHDC).   There was a strong Labour presence at the meeting. Labour Councillors Frank Radcliffe, Judi Billing, Adrian Smith and Deborah Segalini alongside Labour candidates Ian Albert and Elizabeth Dennis all attended. To loud applause, it took Judi to set out the feeling of many at the meeting. This should not be about finding Council Officers to blame. There had been a clear failure of political leadership and direction from the ruling Conservative Group. Judi also pointed out that the Town Hall had been neglected for many years by NHDC. Many members of the public urged NHDC to get on with opening the Town Hall and a need to sit round the table to come up with solutions, particularly as 14/15 Brand Street entrance is in the hands of the Receiver and up for sale. This could be disastrous and cost taxpayers even more money. The Town Hall and Museum will be a wonderful community asset. It’s clear that there will still be more work needed on it as the project planning has not gone well. But let’s celebrate that we still have an asset like this to use. Finally, thanks to those people who organised the meeting. It’s important to have events where the public can question decision makers. Ian Albert Labour Candidate for Hitchin, Bearton Ward @Ian_Albert

A miserable day at County Hall

  It has been a really bad day for the people I represent as a County Councillor in Hitchin. It was County Council Budget day and we are of course faced with massive Local Government cuts from a Government that doesn’t seem to understand the importance of the services we are obliged to deliver such as Child Protection, Education, Social Services, Adult Social Care and Highway maintenance. But there are imaginative ways of dealing with these problems and so the County Labour Group presented a fully costed alternative budget which would have amongst other things:   Restored proper night lighting to those streets and communities who would prefer this Ensured that buses were available for those who need them for work and leisure at a time when we should be discouraging the use of cars for every journey Re-instated support for the incredibly valuable work of Homestart Home visiting and family groups, supporting the most vulnerable families The Council Tax this year will have to rise by 3.9% and for that there will be no improvements in services, just more cuts year on year.   One of the ways that local County Councillors have been able to make a small difference has been through their Locality Budgets of £10,000 per year.  These have enabled us to give to support directly in our communities to those who most need it:  as an example in the last year I have been able to help a Homestart Family Group to re-establish itself in Westmill, support a Sunday bus route around the whole town, support extra activities in schools such as Young Enterprise, local Rape Crisis groups, Hitchin British Schools and many many others.   Now the County Tories have decided to cut this funding in half.  At a stroke, despite our putting forward well-reasoned arguments about the considerable local importance of this money to local organisations. It is almost the meanest cut so far and seems based on the fact that apparently some of their own County Councillors represent such well-heeled places that there are very few organisation that need to be helped in this way.  That is certainly not true in Hitchin and I am desperately sorry that I won’t be able to give the help that has been available for the past 3 years.   Which brings me to my final point.  It does seem as though my Labour colleagues, mainly representing urban areas of the County with greater issues to face are those most affected by this cruel and unnecessary move.  I have tried to ponder at why this has happened and whilst not wanting to appear too cynical it is just a year until the next County Council elections.  Could it be that the Tories want to make it as hard as possible for Labour County Councillors to make a difference in their communities?  For electoral advantage in 2017?   I really do hope that I am wrong

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