Cheltenham MP supports ‘green homes revolution’

Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood has expressed strong support for the Green Homes Bill, which was announced by the Liberal Democrats this week. The bill, which would be brought forward in the next Parliament, would improve energy efficiency and promote renewable heat across the UK, ensuring more people benefit from permanently warmer homes and cheaper energy bills.

The new Bill would ensure these achievements are built on, incentivising people to insulate their homes by:

  • Offering at least £100 each year off your Council Tax for 10 years, when you significantly upgrade the energy efficiency of your home
  • Reforming the Green Deal ‘pay as you save’ scheme into a new ‘Green Homes Loan Scheme’ which would  extend the current scheme to include renewable heat and electricity
  • A new ‘Feed out Tariff’ for investment in Solid Wall Insulation, the most expensive and disruptive type of energy efficiency measure

Martin said:

“The Green Homes Bill builds on the fantastic changes that Liberal Democrats have already delivered in Government relating to energy efficient homes. More than one million homes have been built with better energy efficiency in just two years thanks to ECO and the Green Deal; legislation for Zero Carbon Homes in new build and regulations to ban landlords from renting out energy inefficient homes from April 2018; and an ambitious new Fuel Poverty Strategy.

I believe energy efficiency should be one of our national infrastructure priorities and this bill would deliver what the country really needs: a Green Homes Revolution. The Lib Dems will create 10 million energy efficient homes by 2025 through ambitious targets and generous incentives for people who carry out work to make their homes warmer, cheaper and greener.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat Leader, Nick Clegg said:

“We relentlessly pushed the green agenda over the last five years in government, in the face of strong resistance from the Conservatives.

“Yet despite much needed progress, people particularly from vulnerable households still suffer from homes that are too cold and bills that are too high.

“Energy efficiency is the most important fuel we didn’t know we had. Insulating millions of homes will significantly improve the cost of living and quality of life of people across the UK.”

make their homes warmer, cheaper and greener.”

NOTES

  • Up to an additional £2bn a year will be needed to deliver the energy efficiency targets Liberal Democrats set out today, based on current average costs to insulate homes and incentivise occupiers and owners. Revenue projects will be funded out of existing budgets from 2018-19 when the budget has been balanced and departmental spending is rising again. Capital projects will be funded from borrowing where they meet our rule for “productive investment”. The precise mix of these policies would be determined in the early part of the new Parliament as part of a full Spending Review.
  • Reforming the Green Deal to include renewable heat and electricity could lead to much greater take up of renewable heat and electricity and make it more accessible to the less well off.
  • A Feed out Tariff for installing Solid Wall Insulation would mean that those with savings could invest in their own home’s energy efficiency and get a higher return than they would get compared to leaving their money in the bank.
  • Our Energy Efficiency ambition to ensure all homes get to EPC Band C by 2035 would be achieved by:
    • new legislation forbidding letting of property which was not at EPC Band C by 2027
    • measures to help owner occupiers such as the Feed Out tariff, Council tax discount, 0% loans and a continuation of the Green deal Home Improvement Fund.

Together these policies mean that by 2020 an estimated 4m homes would have had energy efficiency improvements and up to 10m homes by 2025.

 

Better broadband for Cheltenham

Cheltenham has undergone a broadband revolution in the last few years.  By 2015 at least 88% of the town was able to upgrade to superfast fibre-optic broadband with speeds of 35 Megabits per second (Mbps) or faster.  But it had also become clear by then that thousands of homes in Cheltenham were going to be left out of this revolution. Gaps were being left between the commercial operators like BT and Virgin and the government-subsidised ‘Fastershire’ programme being run by the county council. 

Martin testing broadband speeds.

This is particularly serious as Cheltenham had historically poor broadband speeds, some as slow as 0.5 Mbps.   Martin lobbied ministers, operators and the county council to get broadband moving for everyone.

The origins of the problem in Cheltenham date back to the 1920s when Cheltenham got a central telephone exchange.  As  the town grew, the distance from that exchange initially just meant slightly worse voice call quality. Today, internet broadband speeds drop off sharply the further you are from the exchange.  In outlying areas such as Up Hatherley and Springbank speeds can be as low as 0.5 Megabits per second (Mbps).

In today’s world, that is unacceptable which is why Martin was one of those MPs who campaigned successfully for the government to invest in superfast broadband.  A basic internet service is no longer a luxury.  We use it for:

  • Working from home
  • Access to school homework
  • Online banking
  • Applications to university
  • Job applications and benefit claims
  • Responses to Government and other public  consultations

The coalition government put more than £100 million for England into a subsidised programme to reach those areas that were not commercially viable. But by 2015 BT had only reached 88%, new estates and developments across Cheltenham were being left out and the the county council’s ‘Fastershire’ programme wasn’t filling the gaps.

The coalition government’s targets were for 90% availability of superfast broadband, with speeds as high as 25, 30 or more megabits per second, and for everyone to have the basic 2 Mbps broadband service – although the new Conservative government has quietly dropped some of these targets.  Certainly that last target was missed in Cheltenham under the Conservatives, and if they are not met in an urban area such as Cheltenham, they are unlikely to be met nationwide.

When he was the MP, Martin lobbied BT, Virgin, ‘Fastershire’ and government ministers, up to an including the Prime Minister on this issueYou can read Martin’s parliamentary speech on the issue here and watch it here.

 

The campaign for Cheltenham A&E

Martin led the campaign to  maintain a full 24 hour A&E at Cheltenham General – one of his many campaigns for local health services – and repeatedly won assurances from Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust that Cheltenham A&E would not close.  Martin believes Cheltenham A&E has been under threat since acute services began to be centralised in Gloucester in 2006 and will keep campaigning against the drip-drip downgrade at Cheltenham.  He was the only local MP and the only Cheltenham politician to present evidence against the decision to downgrade Cheltenham A&E at night in 2013 when the decision was actually taken.  Current MP Alex Chalk – then the Conservative candidate – and Cotswolds MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown both missed the meeting.  You can still sign Martin’s petition calling for a rethink of that decision here.

 

The background

Back in 2006 Martin led the campaign which successfully saved Cheltenham maternity ward and warned that centralisation of acute services like neonatal intensive care posed a long-term threat to a full-service A&E at Cheltenham.  Martin has always believed that a town of nearly 120,000 people needs key services like maternity and A&E in its own district general hospital and was concerned at the drip-drip-drip shift in services to Gloucester.  In 2011 children’s emergency assessments shifted to Gloucester and in 2012 Gloucester was chosen as the county’s centre for major trauma care (such as serious motorway accidents) but still we were told A&E was safe.

Then in 2013, in the middle of an an NHS reorganisation, Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust suddenly asked for Cheltenham A&E to be downgraded at night with ambulance admissions going to Gloucester.

The trust claimed this was because they hadn’t been able to recruit the 20 consultants needed to fully staff two full A&E departments in Cheltenham and Gloucester and it would be safer to downgrade Cheltenham.  In fact, it’s now clear that they had never really tried recruit 20 consultants and were told by local medical training chiefs that their supervision of junior doctors was inadequate. Comparisons with neighbouring NHS trusts showed they had all managed to recruit a nearly full complement of consultants.

Challenging the decision to downgrade

In July 2013, Gloucestershire NHS clinical commissioning group (CCG) considered the plan to downgrade Cheltenham A&E at night.  Martin was the only local MP present and the only one to submit evidence based on academic medical and social research that the downgrade would be socially divisive and dangerous for higher risk groups in Cheltenham including:

  • those with particularly urgent conditions such as asthma, perforated ulcers and acute peritonitis
  • elderly people at risk of falls in Charlton Kings
  • children at higher risk of emergency admissions from neighbourhoods including Hester’s Way, Springbank, Whaddon and St.Peter’s.

You can request a copy of Martin’s submission and the minutes of the CCG meeting by emailing martin@martinhorwood.net.  No Conservative MP or candidate such as Costwolds MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown or new Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk (then the Conservative candidate) even bothered to turn up to the meeting or submit evidence to it. The only parliamentary candidate supporting Martin was Costwolds LibDem Cllr Paul Hodgkinson.

One committee of councillors could have influenced the decision and Cheltenham LibDem councillors Klara Sudbury and Iain Dobie asked the Health and Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee to vote for it to be made temporary at least.  The only Cheltenham Conservative councillor present helped to defeat their motion, voting for the downgrade to be permanent instead.

In 2016, it was revealed that Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust was facing a serious financial deficit.  Liberal Democrats in Cheltenham and in Parliament backed a substantial boost to NHS funds from a 1p increase in income tax but all local Conservative MPs backed the Chancellor’s spending plans which continue to starve the NHS of the funds it needs to restore services like Cheltenham’s A&E to full health.

Fairer society

Liberal Democrats in government locally and nationally have worked hard for a fairer society as well as a stronger economy, including tax breaks for those on low pay, delivering the pupil premium now worth a million pounds a year to Cheltenham schools and targeted at the least well-off kids, more free childcare, the first net increase in British social housing in 30 years – and the first new social housing in Cheltenham for decades.

In coalition government at national level between 2010 and 2015, the Liberal Democrats were the champions of fairness.  Many of these successful LibDem policies would never have been implemented if the Conservatives had won seats like Cheltenham and an overall majority in 2010 as they did in 2015:

  • The first £11,500 you earn is now tax-free.  By raising this allowance during the coalition, Lib Dems took 4,000 of the lowest paid Cheltonians out of income tax altogether (they had paid tax under the previous Labour government on an income of just £6,475 a year), and gave a tax break worth £800 a year to nearly 50,000 more.  LibDems still want the government to go further and make at least the first £12,500 you earn tax-free.
  • The LibDem pupil premium now pays money to schools to spend as they wish on helping the least well-off kids.  Schools facing the biggest challenges in Cheltenham now have the help they need to succeed: a quarter of a million pounds each to All Saints Academy in Hester’s Way and to Pittville School and hundreds of thousands each to primary schools like Springbank Primary, Oakwood School, Rowanfield Infants and Juniors and St Thomas More. The money has been spent on extra teaching, special support for struggling pupils, parental outreach, behavioural support, breakfast clubs and much more.

    Martin shares a healthy drink with Oakwood School pupils – just one of the many Cheltenham schools now benefitting from the Lib Dem pupil premium
  • Nick Clegg personally championed extending free childcare to 15 hours a week for all 3 and 4 year olds and least well-off 2 year olds
  • The ‘triple lock’ on the state pension increases it by earnings, prices or 2.5% whichever is the greatest.  This policy led directly to the biggest ever cash rise in the state pension and restored the link with earnings broken long ago by Mrs Thatcher.
  • Equality under the law for gay and lesbian citizens, including equal marriage.
  • The first net increase in UK council and housing association homes in 30 years – up 47,000 compared to a net loss of social housing of 420,000 under Blair & Brown’s Labour government, and a net loss of a million under the previous Tory government.
  • The historic achievement of the 40 year old target of spending just 0.7% of our national income on helping the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.  This helped millions of Syrian refugees, a million people threatened with Ebola, 77 million kids vaccinated against measles and rubella, 120 million against polio, millions more sleeping under 9 million anti-malarial bed nets.  The 0.7% goes up or down with what the economy can afford  and right now we’re legislating for it to be fixed in law.

And not just that – we stopped the Conservatives from:

  • Introducing fire-at-will rights for employers as recommended by the Beecroft Report
  • Ditching the Human Rights Act
  • Raising the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million, giving a tax break to wealthier families
  • Introducing profit-making schools as advocated by Michael Gove
  • Introducing lower regional pay for public sector workers in regions like the west of England
  • Implementing a worse tuition fees deal for students which could have meant unlimited fees, payback at a lower pay threshold for graduates and less well-off graduates paying more
  • Making even more drastic cuts in public services and benefits

Locally, the LibDems have promoted a fairer Cheltenham too:

  • LibDem-led Cheltenham has seen the first new social housing for decades in Brighton Road and St.Paul’s and over 80 former garage sites across town – and there’s more new affordable housing planned at the Brewery and North Place and more at St.Paul’s too.
  • The LibDem council has invested over decades in neighbourhood and community projects in Hesters Way, Springbank, Whaddon and St.Paul’s, helping local regeneration and providing hubs for local clubs, services, residents’ organisations and small businesses
  • Despite big cuts to its budget, Cheltenham’s LibDem council froze both council tax and local car park charges for five years in a row, helping everyone’s daily cost of living
  • Martin and his casework team took up thousands of individual cases over the years as well, helping people challenge unfair laws and rules or poor decisions or treatment at the hands of companies, regulators, hospitals, councils, government ministries, colleges, schools or hospitals. All for no charge.