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NES FAQs

The environment agenda has slipped down the public priority list. What could you do to raise it?

First of all we need to revive it as an important issue within the Liberal Democrats. National polling suggests that the environment is something like the 7th most important issue and among LD members it is behind the economy, health, education, and housing.

Lib Dems in government are doing a good job in combining the environment with the economy, pointing out the enormous future costs if we do nothing  (remember the Stern report), creating incentives for green solutions in housing, transport, energy generation etc. and  growing and creating jobs in the green economy.

Along with other environmental groups we need to campaign to make the environment part of the package of issues. Homes and cities should have sustainability at the heart not as an add- on. (Putting planning policies in place with radicals targets for energy conservation and renewable energy production on site or off site; town planners and developers  to be trained how to implement those policies).

Here in North East Somerset I am campaigning on ‘Renewables not Fracking’. Fracked fuels are fossil fuels and contribute to global warming. The proposal that fracking is the answer to the UK’s energy problems cannot be right.

This country may not be the sunniest in the world, but PV technology is making great strides towards harvesting solar energy even in less sunny areas. Furthermore Britain is one of the windiest countries in Europe. In a few years’ time the cost of producing on-shore wind energy will be less than that of oil. Britain is also surrounded by seas and the potential of harvesting tidal energy is enormous. So what is stopping us? We can generate our power from renewables – if we want to.

Additionally:

Transportation of goods needs to become less attractive than producing and using local goods.

Continue to campaign globally for reduction in carbon emissions. Look into possibility of a European grid. Start talking about progress rather than doom and gloom.

 

What are your views on the balance of benefit cuts vs tax rises to reduce the deficits.

The  principle of making work pay is a good principle. To encourage people to get off benefits and into work has more advantages (self esteem, social interaction, aspiration, mental health etc)  than just cutting the benefit budget. I also welcome the introduction of a universal benefit. Like all shifts from one system to a new system it will create some anomalies and uncomfortable news stories.

The  bedroom tax has been a particularly stupid idea which has caused more bad headlines than actual financial benefits, especially because councils don’t have adequate homes for people to relocate and uprooting individuals from their communities can cause unacceptable hardship.

I support higher taxes for the better off. I believe we should tax wealth and the introduction of the mansion tax is one proposal towards a shift in taxation. It is important to remain steady against furious headlines which claim that people would need to sell their homes. 1% of the amount of an asset over £2m is not going to break the bank. (e.g. If an asset is worth 2.3 m the amount of extra tax a year  would be £3000 – a lot of money for a low income family but not for people who can afford to live in such a property)

 

Lib Dems have a long tradition of desiring electoral reform – what would be your strategy to move this agenda along?

We have unfortunately lost the momentum when losing the AV vote at national level. (as a separate issue: I am not a fan of referenda; Our ‘parliamentary’ democracy is designed around representation. To mix it up with elements of ‘direct’ democracy which works for small communities is problematic, although all western democracies do it at times to appease people and to not let one issue dominate a whole election).

At the last Spring conference in York we moved a motion to continue to press for proportionate representation at local elections. I believe that this change would energise and improve local democracy, and the argument is already being made that there are political advantages for the other parties. In the event of coalition negotiations after the 2015 elections, this should be a red line issue for the Liberal Democrats.

 

The coalition government is precipitating a future funding crisis in the NHS -what is your solution?

The NHS was set up two generations ago and there has been a revolution in medical advances and big demographic changes. As an organisation it is a massive employer (the fourth biggest globally). By 2010 the NHS had to find £20billion in efficiency savings to meet the demands of an ageing population and the rising costs for drugs and equipment.  At the same time government has been pushing through a new Health and Social Care bill.

If I had a ‘solution’ I would probably make a lot of money advising various governments.

The general question is what should be a free service to all and what should be paid for by the individual and means tested and what should be the level of contribution.

We have an increasing ageing population.  Hospital emergency and trauma wards end up with a large numbers of elderly patients, because home care and care in the community is inadequate. By 2011 only 22 out of 148 local Authorities were ready to provide social care to people with ‘moderate’  needs, 50 councils restricted it to those with ‘substantial’ need. (BathNES is about to announce that it will upgrade the criteria from ‘substantial’ to ‘moderate’, e.g. more people getting support)

We need to continue to shift from hospital to home care and enablement services that would allow people to be effectively cared for in their own homes, but it will cost more money upfront. In the short term it should focus on providing more people with low level home help support.

My own concern about Health services is a much greater emphasis on mental illness from understanding causes to early diagnosis , management, cures and prevention. There are outrageous anomalies: free care for patient with cancer and heart disease but means tested for patients with Alzheimer’s. Mental illness need to be brought out from the shadows of being an ‘affliction’ or ’embarrassment’ to be seen as an illness like physical ill health.

I also worry a great deal about the accountability of clinical commissions groups. They hold large budgets now but no universal process of accountability has been established.

 

What are your thoughts on closing the inequalities gap?

The first is to close the educational attainment gap which starts even before young people go to school and it becomes more acute as they go through education. I do not promote SAT tests for 2 year olds but there is an important opportunity at pre-school level to ‘teach’ (motivate) very young people to improve concentration spans, to learn through play and be introduce at least to the concepts of numbers and letters. In many families this happens automatically (playing Snakes and Ladders..) but in families where this engagement between parent and child is less well developed children fall behind at an early age and we need to pick this up ‘gently’.

There is an alarming attainment gap between boys and girls – I’ve seen that first hand as a teacher myself. We have to look why our school learning is better suited to girls than boys.

There are of course inequalities in many other areas, especially health. Closing health inequalities is closely linked to education and wealth which is why I start to address all long term inequality issues through education.

In the short term there are a number of interventions around health that should make an impact. Reduce the number of teenage pregnancies by allowing even more easy access to contraception over- the- counter morning after pills;

minimum unit price for alcohol.(see previous blog)

 

What are your thoughts on promoting cycling, walking and public transport at a national  level?

I totally support a big national campaign to stress the importance of alternative forms of transport because the car as our first transport choice is not sustainable. In our rural areas this is particularly about competitive fares, frequency of services and good accessible Park and Ride facilities. Town planning should be adapted to make walking and  cycling much more convenient and safe, for example major junctions often don’t have phases for pedestrians or cyclists. Walking and cycling to school needs to be much more  promoted for children over the age of eight.  Most young people at secondary level prefer to have the independence to make their own way to school. This needs to be supported by road safety and cycling proficiency courses. There should be more interconnectivity. Bus, underground trains and local rail links should have reserved spaces for bikes and train stations could be adapted with lifts. (look at solutions on the continent). But this can only be done if our cycle routes are safe. Ideally cycle routes will be entirely segregated from main roads.

Schemes like the Boris bikes should be extended to all cities including the provision of electric bikes. Long term issue of deregulated bus services need to be looked at. There has to be an attitude change and the whole campaign should be heavily linked into health.

Additionally:

Transportation of goods needs to become less attractive than producing and using local goods.

Continue to campaign globally for reduction in carbon emissions. Look into possibility of a European grid. Start talking about progress rather than doom and gloom.

 

 

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