A stronger economy – locally and nationally

In 2015, after five years with the Lib Dems in government locally and nationally, Cheltenham was enjoying its strongest economy in years with a big drop in unemployment, local businesses reporting healthy order books and both businesses and householders still enjoying low interest rates and mortgage payments.  As MP, Martin backed both the coalition government and Cheltenham’s LibDem-led council in taking the tough decisions necessary to build sustainable prosperity and worked hard to lobby for and promote local business.

All this is now at risk from the Conservatives’ suicidal drive towards ‘Brexit’ which could could see the UK drop out of the world’s largest single market like a crate of eggs out of the back of a lorry.  The Conservatives’ initial arrogance and aggressive approach towards the EU negotiations and their chaotic and unco-ordinated approach to Brexit generally is undermining business confidence further.

Click on the image to watch Martin working for local business when he was MP: opening the new Chamber of Commerce business centre

Back in 2010, the new coalition government inherited a massive financial crisis from the last Labour government.  Whoever you blame, the situation in the 2009/10 financial year was that:

  • Government was spending £153 billion pounds* a year more than it was raising
  • This represented 10.2%* of GDP (the value of the economy)
  • If this hadn’t been brought under control, our economy would quickly have gone the way of Greece and others and our interest rates – which set the cost of borrowing by businesses as well as your mortgage – might have skyrocketed, doing serious damage to the economy, increasing the cost of living for homeowners and throwing millions out of work
  • Unemployment in Cheltenham was already 2251 or  4.5%**, the highest in years
Martin at Safran (then Messier-Bugatti-Dowty)

To strengthen the economy, Martin and the Liberal Democrats backed the tough decisions – opposed by Labour – which did bring public spending under control, reduced that overspend by a third and reassured financial markets so that business borrowing and mortgage rates in Cheltenham were kept low as we fought off recession. By 2015:

  • Government overspending was expected to be £91.3 billion*, still very high but down by a massive £61 billion a year
  • This represented 5% of GDP* – half the value it was five years previously
  • The economy was the fastest growing economy of any of the G7 group of major economies, growing 2.6% in 2014/15 and it was estimated to keep growing at 2.5% a year – until the disastrous Brexit vote
  • Earnings were finally starting to go up too.  Together with the fall in fuel prices, this helped everyone by bringing the cost of living down this year.  The Office of Budget Responsibility confirmed living standards were higher in 2015 than they were in 2010.
  • Unemployment in Cheltenham fell to 854 or just 1.6%** Under the coalition, the UK had the strongest employment growth in the G7.  The number of young people claiming unemployment benefits was at its lowest since the 1970s.

Sources: * Office of Budget Responsibility 2014/15 ** Department of Work & Pensions

But a stronger economy isn’t just a fast-growing one – it must be sustainable too:

  • The coalition launched the world’s first Green Investment Bank and locked investment in low-carbon energy into energy markets through the Energy Act and has created a record number of green jobs. In Cheltenham, Martin has backed local companies like Tidal Lagoon Power and Commercial who have pioneered sustainable jobs and business
  • The coalition created more than 2 million new apprenticeships, 2,610 of them in Cheltenham, building skills for the future
  • Whether we were still in recession or growing again, the coalition kept investing in infrastructure, maintaining spending on public transport and committing another £6 billion investment to flood defences, including more flood defence work in Cheltenham to protect another 240 properties
  • The coalition committed to the largest ever sustained investment in Britain’s science base, including a £2.9 billion Grand Challenges fund to enable the UK to invest in major research facilities.  This progress is now particularly at riosk from Tory Brexit plans.

The economy was stronger locally too.  Cheltenham’s LibDem council faced cuts along with other local authorities –  their net budget fell in cash terms by about 12% over seven years, from £16.1m to £14.2m – but despite the cuts, there was no crisis at Cheltenham Borough Council:

  • £8.5m was found in savings and additional income and ‘austerity’ has had little impact on frontline services. Savings have been made by radical management efficiencies, sharing back office functions and major functions like waste collection with other councils, and turning arts and leisure management over to a charitable trust of which Martin is now an unpaid trustee.
  • Martin and the borough council worked together to win major new investment in developments like the Brewery, North Place and in local transport, including £5m for local sustainable transport, £45m for the redoubling of the Swindon/Kemble line to improve services  to Swindon, Reading and London and an ambitious plan to upgrade parking, access and facilities at Cheltenham Spa station which has now won widespread backing.

In stark contrast, The Conservative-led county council has lurched from crisis to crisis – taken to court over its library closures, signing up to a wasteful incinerator contract turned down by its own councillors then forced through by the administration, slapping new on-street parking charges on small business areas and leaving our roads in a total mess.

Martin on a return visit to the Cheltenham business where he worked before being elected MP

As MP, Martin lobbied for and promoted local companies from publisher Edward Elgar to worldbeating clothes retailer SuperDry, from engineering firms like Spirax Sarco, DIS and CF Roberts to IT firms like Innov8ive software.  He worked with business organisations like the Chamber of Commerce, Gfirst LEP and Cheltenham Connect to promote and support local business.

He promoted Cheltenham’s Festivals in Parliament with an eye to drawing even more valuable visitors to the town and encouraged council backing for areas like the Lower High Street that deserved more support.  He supported a more determined strategy to market Cheltenham to visitors, investors and relocating businesses which has now happened with the recent creation of Marketing Cheltenham.

Cheltenham EU citizens deserve right to remain

Cheltenham’s Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Martin Horwood has called on the government to accept their defeat in the Lords on Wednesday and accept the right of EU citizens already in this country to remain after Brexit.

Speaking to a meeting of Cheltenham’s Polish Tenants & Residents Association earlier this week he strongly condemned the government’s plan not to guarantee the right to remain of citizens of other EU countries until reciprocal rights for British citizens in the rest of the EU had been secured as part of the ongoing Brexit negotiations – ‘as soon as they can’.

“Those negotiations could drag on for many years and agreement might never be reached” Martin told the TARA. “Yet the government could sort this tomorrow if it wanted.  It is just immoral to use people as bargaining chips in this way. People have lived here for years and have always been told they had the right to remain here.  They have jobs, families, children that can’t simply be uprooted. They are working hard, paying taxes and keeping the NHS and care sector functioning.  No-one imagines that a sane British government would actually deport them on the day we leave the European Union but employers and landlords and banks would start to ask for evidence of their right to live and work in the UK and make life more and more difficult.  Yet it is entirely within the power of the UK government to guarantee their right to remain regardless of the negotiations.”

Cheltenham is thought to have thousands of citizens of other EU countries living and working here, including in the NHS and in local technology companies.  Martin Horwood criticised Theresa May’s hardline stance on this issue during the Conservative leadership contest last year (http://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/martin-horwood-criticises-theresa-may-over-eu-citizens-stance/story-29478677-detail/story.html).  The TARA meeting heard many Polish Cheltonians complain about the uncertainty the row had suddenly caused them and how current Home Office systems to grant permanent leave to remain were simply not set up for people who had always had that right and never before needed documentary proof of permanent residence.

Following Wednesday’s House of Lords vote Martin Horwood added: “The House of Lords have shown the government the way by amending the Brexit bill to guarantee EU citizens’ right to remain.  The government should accept this defeat gracefully and do the right thing for our European friends, neighbours, family members and workmates.  The House of Lords isn’t seeking to stop Brexit, just impose some moderation and humanity on the process.  The government should follow their Lordships’ lead and make the guarantee now.”

Stopping climate change

Martin has campaigned tirelessly at local and national level for tougher action to stop climate change – and for smart planning for the inevitable effects of climate change too.  As MP, he was a member of the Aldersgate Group which brings together leading MPs, businesses and green organisations committed to fighting climate change and was on the advisory board of the Energy & Climate Change Information Unit which actively promotes accurate and accessible facts about climate change in the UK media.

He campaigned hard for climate change to be prominent in the Lib Dem election manifesto and was delighted that, despite some Conservatives trying to put the brakes on green policies, LibDems in the coalition government achieved great progress on the environment:

  • the biggest carbon dioxide reduction on record for a growing UK economy
  • the world’s first Green Investment Bank
  • investment in low-carbon energy locked into UK energy markets through the Energy Act
  • 200,000 green jobs
  • a million trees planted
  • renewable energy generation in the UK more than doubled with solar energy generation going up 60% just in the last year

Many of these achievements have been put at risk since the Conservatives took power on their own in 2015 with support for renewables cut, the Green Investment Bank sold off, the energy efficiency Green Deal plan scrapped with no replacement and greenhouse gas targets now likely to be missed.

Martin has consistently spoken out for tougher action both to stop making climate change worse by reducing greenhouse gases but also adapting to the now inevitable impacts of climate change, including at the 2014 LibDem conference – you can watch Martin’s speech here.

From 2006 until 2010 Martin was his party’s shadow environment minister, and jointly tabled the amendment to the Climate Change Bill in 2008 that increased the reduction target for UK emissions by 2050 from 60% to the 80% all serious scientific opinion believed was necessary.

He also helped to develop Liberal Democrat policies on achieving a Zero Carbon Britain and on protecting the natural environment – which the party has followed up with a pledge to pass five green laws covering issues from access to green space to zero waste to green transport and green planning.

He called for higher standards of energy efficiency and reduction in energy use, as well as championing huge expansion of renewable energy at international, national, community and household level. He opposed the new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent, supported a moratorium on fracking and spoke out in parliament in favour of more wind, tidal, solar and other renewable forms of energy.

Protecting animals

Martin was President of Cheltenham & East Gloucestershire RSPCA and a member of the all-pFox arty parliamentary group for animal welfare.

He has been active in Cheltenham and in parliament promoting the welfare of animals in the UK and abroad.  He opposes repeal of the hunting ban, has called for an end to commercial whaling and successfully supported legislation to ban wild animals in circuses and to introduce universal microchipping of dogs.

He has consistently opposed the Gloucestershire badger cull and supported alternative approaches to keep both badger and cattle populations healthy as advocated by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.

In 2009 he was voted Animal Welfare Champion 2009 by his parliamentary colleagues of all parties.  He was nominated by Cheltenham charity Naturewatch.

Martin microchipping back in 2008 Martin was one of the leading MPs to successfully promote the routine microchipping of dogs, now a cheap and easy technology that will identify many of the 100,000 dogs dumped and lost each year in the UK. The coalition government has agreed to make this compulsory from April 2016. It will also help local authorities, charities like Cheltenham Animal Shelter and the police to correctly identify the owners of dangerous dogs and take firmer action and rehome the dogs more easily. Martin also supported moves in Parliament to extend restrictions on the docking of puppies’ tails.  Locally, he has been a friend of Cheltenham Animal Shelter and particularly its innovative Halt project which helps humans as well as animals.  Martin also pressed for reform of dangerous dogs legislation which has now begun to shift the emphasis away from a list of obscure breeds – often difficult to identify – towards a focus on dangerous behaviour and the poor ownership that causes it.

He also strongly supported the ban on wild animals in circuses which was passed into law by the coalition government and pressed for its early implementation.

Martin opposes repeal of the Hunting Act and was targeted by pro-hunting Martin welcomes the tail of a whale to Westminsteractivists in both the 2015 and 2017 General Elections as a result.  They moved hunt supporters in from the Cotswolds in both elections to support the Conservative candidate Alex Chalk who nevertheless repeatedly refused to say where he stood on the ban.

Martin strongly backed the international ban on whaling and met with the Japanese ambassador as part of the campaign to persuade Japan to drop its remaining hunting of these intelligent mammals in the name of ‘research’. He tabled motions in Parliament criticising Canada’s seal hunt and calling for a Europe-wide ban on commercial seal products.

As shadow environment minister in the 2005-10 parliament, he was a strong supporter of the Marine Act 2009 that helped to protect fish stocks for future generations and added to the protection for vulnerable marine birds like the puffin. He supported calls for new marine reserves around British overseas territories and tougher action to stop illegal birdhunting on the UK’s sovereign bases in Cyrprus.

He backed national campaigns like the RSPCA’s Freedom Food standard that promote animal welfare.

key_Martin_and_friend_support_the_Marine_Bill-small.jpg

Martin also worked with local Cheltenham-based charity Naturewatch to oppose all animal testing for cosmetics and promote the ‘3Rs’ in animal research – reduction, replacement and refinement. This approach seeks to promote alternatives to animal research, eradicate unnecessary use of animals and improve animal welfare where research continues.  Another Naturewatch campaign has succeeded – during the coalition, LibDem minister Lynne Featherstone confirmed the government would ban the testing on animals of ingredients used in household products, a pledge included in the 2010 Coalition agreement

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 Lib Dem 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.