Budget fails Cheltenham

Philip Hammond’s first and last Spring Budget today has failed Cheltenham, say local Liberal Democrats.

‘This was the crunch moment for NHS funding and an opportunity to put right the looming financial crisis facing many Cheltenham schools as well’ said Martin Horwood, Cheltenham’s Lib Dem parliamentary candidate and former MP. ‘And on top of that he has hit our 6,800 strong army of self-employed workers with a bigger bill too.’

‘Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust (which runs Cheltenham General and Gloucestershire Royal) is in the red and going deeper into the red’ he said ‘and after the failure of the Fair Funding campaign headed by our own MP, we now know many local schools are heading that way too.’
‘The Chancellor could have sorted out both these problems today but he failed on both counts’.

‘The NHS got an extra £425m but that won’t even clear this year’s deficit of nearly a billion pounds. The NHS could have received a much bigger cash injection while all parties discussed a long-term solution to the funding of social care, acute hospitals and mental health in this country, as the Lib Dems in parliament have been calling for. We heard more for social care which is welcome but won’t get Cheltenham General off the critical list’

‘And the Chancellor announced money for new grammar and faith schools but nothing at all that will help secondary schools like Balcarras, Pate’s and Bournside and many local primary schools which are now facing the prospect of growing deficits and some very hard choices after the failure of the Fair Funding campaign. Far from correcting the historic underfunding of Gloucestershire schools, the government’s proposed new national funding formula is actually going to leave many existing local schools worse off and the Chancellor did nothing to help with this looming crisis today.’

‘To cap it all, he has hit the self-employed with a National Insurance hike as well, breaking a clear Conservative manifesto pledge. Cheltenham has a big self-employed population – over 6,800 people according to a recent survey and the Conservatives have told them that instead of sharing in the benefits of the economic growth they are helping to create, they basically have to cough up more.’

Schools funding ‘hoax’ condemned

Cheltenham’s Lib Dem parliamentary candidate and former MP Martin Horwood has condemned as a ‘hoax’ the government’s planned National Funding Formula (‘NFF’) which was supposed to deliver ‘Fair Funding’ for local schools and correct the historic underfunding of counties like Gloucestershire but is actually going to mean two Cheltenham secondary schools LOSING £161,000 a year between them and gives only a fractional increase in funding to a third.

The figures buried deep in a Department of Education spreadsheet reveal the following changes from the planned ‘NFF’ for Cheltenham schools.  The first year of the NFF limits losses to 1.5% in Year 1 but the table below shows the hit schools will take if the NFF is later implemented in full:

Baseline funding 2016/17 Funding under NFF Loss/gain % change Protected Yr1 funding under NFF Loss/gain % change
Pate’s £2,675,000 £2,614,000 -£61,000 -2.3% £2,636,000 -£39,000 -1.5%
Balcarras £4,499,000 £4,399,000 -£100,000 -2.2% £4,434,000 -£65,000 -1.4%
Bournside £6,174,000 £6,189,000 £15,000 0.2% £6,189,000 £15,000 0.2%
Pittville £3,135,000 £3,238,000 £103,000 3.3% £3,225,000 £90,000 2.9%
All Saints £4,147,000 £4,461,000 £314,000 7.6% £4,268,000 £121,000 2.9%

Source:Department for Education (http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/schoolsnet/article/122078/DfE-Announcements-on-a-national-funding-formula-for-schools, spreadsheet at https://consult.education.gov.uk/funding-policy-unit/schools-national-funding-formula2/supporting_documents/Impact%20of%20the%20proposed%20schools%20NFF_20161220.xlsm)

So Pate’s stands to lose at least £39,000 in Year 1 and then £61,00 a year if this formula is implemented in full.  Balcarras stands to lose £65,000 in Year 1 and then £100,00 each year if the formula is then implemented in full.  Bournside gains only a fractional 0.2% increase under the formula.

Martin said: “We fought a cross-party ‘Fair Funding’ campaign for years to correct the historic underfunding of Gloucestershire schools.  If the government presents this as the answer to that long campaign, then this is a complete hoax.  Two out of our five secondary schools are going to lose out even more – over a hundred thousand pounds a year between them even in the protected first year.  Our biggest school Bournside gets only a derisory 0.2% increase.  This doesn’t only do nothing to correct the longstanding unfairness in school funding for Gloucestershire, it’s actually going to make things worse for thousands of Cheltenham students.

Worse still, the deficits I warned about in the election campaign if Tory spending plans went ahead are still on the cards and this will do nothing to stop them.  Within two years, schools across Cheltenham are either going to be plunging into deficit like our NHS trusts or cutting back on classes and facilities.  The speed with which this Conservative government is unravelling the good financial mnanagement of the coalition years is breathtaking.”

Autumn Statement means no extra cash for desperate local NHS

Today’s Autumn Statement by the Chancellor Philip Hammond includes no extra cash for local NHS trusts facing spiralling deficits and looming cuts to local services.

The Chancellor said in his speech: ‘The government, Mr Speaker, has pledged to invest in our NHS and we are delivering on that promise: backing the NHS’ Five Year Forward View plan for the future with £10 billion of additional funding a year by the end of 2020-21.’

But this ‘additional’ funding was a re-announcement of current plans and was first promised during the General Election campaign after the Liberal Democrats manifesto raised the issue of NHS finance.  The Government’s version of this funding has been condemned as misleading by the Commons Health select committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston who recently wrote to the government telling them that they were giving a “false impression that the NHS is awash with cash” and that they had “given the NHS what it asked for” when this was not true and that in fact local NHS trusts faced “overwhelming” financial pressures. 

Liberal Democrats in parliament had called for an urgent extra cash injection of £4 billion for health and social care this year, on top of already announced plans.

Meanwhile, according to a recent report by the independent health think tank, the King’s Fund, two-thirds of NHS trusts across the country are now in deficit and the trend for the NHS as a whole is going sharply downwards [see link to King’s Fund charts below]. Nothing in today’s statement changes this.

Cheltenham Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Martin Horwood said today: ‘Astonishingly the Chancellor barely mentioned the NHS and only then to repeat an earlier funding announcment which has already been exposed as misleading.  It is quite clear from independent analysis that there is a mounting financial crisis in the NHS and that two-thirds of local NHS trusts are now deficit – in contrast to the situation under the previous coalition government.  We now know this includes Gloucestershire with Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS hospital Trusts alone facing an estimated £24 million pound deficit this year.’

‘This poses a direct threat to valued local NHS services like A&E, mental health services and local maternity units’ he said.  ‘Without that extra cash injection local NHS chiefs will be forced into making damaging cuts.  I understand that Brexit has made the financial situation much tighter with lower projected growth next year and for years ahead.  But the government has found enough money to put off the fuel duty increase and spend welcome billions on infrastructure, so they should have realised that the NHS needed invetsment too.’

‘The time for our local MPs to speak out is now. Most of them have a record of complete loyalty to Theresa May’s Brexit government so far – Cheltenham’s new Conservative MP has voted as the party whips have told him in every single vote.  But this Autumn Statement poses a direct threat to valued local NHS services.  So now is his moment to break ranks and speak up for and vote for local NHS services.’

NOTES

  • Commons Health select committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston’s letter to the Chancellor accusing the government is giving a false impression of NHS finances can be found here.
  • Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb MP’s call for extra tax revenue for the NHS can be found here.
  • The independent King’s Fund report into NHS finances can be found here but key charts highlighting how the NHS is funded and its deteriorating financial situation are shown in the previous news release post.

Hinkley C a ‘bad deal’

Cheltenham Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Martin Horwood today [Monday] moved a motion at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton to oppose the planned nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C.

He quoted a National Audit Office report that confirmed the likely cost of Hinkley to UK energy billpayers had risen from £6 billion (estimated in 2013) to £30 billion. And he criticised the Conservative government for reversing Coalition support for renewables and ditching the promise not to provide public subsidy for nuclear power.  He warned that the 35 year Hinkley deal would burden a generation with higher energy bills.
“There hasn’t been a single nuclear power station built anywhere in the world on time, on budget and without public subsidy” he told delegates in Brighton. “And the EPR model being used at Hinkley hasn’t actually been built at all yet. And the two in progress, in Finland and France, are billions over budget and years late.”
“Just four new large offshore windfarms would add as much electricity to the grid as Hinkley”.
“Hinkley C is a bad deal. We need a UK energy policy based on renewables, energy efficiency and storage and interconnection with other countries.”
The motion opposing Hinkley C was passed overwhelmingly.
NOTES

Tories break broadband promise

The former Cheltenham MP who first raised the issue of poor broadband service in parts of Cheltenham has accused the new Tory government of breaking its promises and his Tory successor of dropping the ball.

Former LibDem MP Martin Horwood called a special debate in Parliament in November 2014, just months before the May 2015 general election, once it became clear that many hundreds of houses across Cheltenham with historically poor broadband speeds were being left out of both commercial upgrade opportunities by BT and Virgin AND the government subsidised programme administered in Gloucestershire by the County Council under the name ‘Fastershire’.

‘The Tory minister spent most of that debate on his mobile phone but he did promise to ‘knock heads together’ and get the problem sorted. And the coalition government’s pledge was that by 2016 everyone in the country would have a decent basic connection speed of at least 2 megabits per second’ said Martin. ‘Both those promises have been broken: the gaps in Cheltenham haven’t been filled despite the fact that just before the election I supplied both commercial suppliers and the County Council with the addresses of more than 600 affected homes so they had no excuse that one side wasn’t telling the other who had been left out. Parts of Cheltenham are still plagued with very low connection speeds and still have no prospect of an upgrade, making it nearly impossible to do business, online homework, online banking and shopping and many other transactions many of us now take for granted.’

‘The Tory County Council’s Fastershire programme hasn’t solved the problem and the Tory government has dropped the coalition’s 2 megabit pledge, pretending the only places affected are in the Outer Hebrides or other far flung rural areas where people ‘don’t want to be connected.’

‘My team and I were hot on the heels of ministers, commercial suppliers and the County Council right up to the election. Since then my Tory successor seems to have completely dropped the ball. He was very quick to jump on the bandwagon during the election campaign but seems to have fallen right off it afterwards.’

 

NOTES

  • The worst affected areas combining both poor connection speeds and inability to upgrade are in Pittville, Up Hatherley and Benhall wards. Cheltenham councillors in some of these these areas include Cllr Dennis Parsons 07540 398914, Cllr Roger Whyborn 07960 240090 and Cllr Nigel Britter 07752 109307.

Technical note: the historically slow broadband speeds in Cheltenham are due to the unusual centralised telephone exchange which leaves outlying areas with a really poor broadband service, often under 2Mbps. Commercial suppliers, principally BT and Virgin have delivered ‘superfast’ broadband upgrade availability across much of the town where they believe this is commercially viable – mainly via large BT cabinets serving whole neighbourhoods. But newer estates like the former Midwinters site off Tommy Taylor’s Lane in Pittville ward, Manor Farm in Up Harherley ward and Grace Gardens in Benhall typically have cabinets serving smaller populations and failed the commercial suppliers’ viability test. The County Council has been subsidised by the government to provide for less viable areas but has exclusively targeted more rural areas (see  http://www.fastershire.com/where-when ), having broadly categorised entire Cheltenham postcodes as ‘commercially viable’ and so ineligible for subsidy under EU competition rules – but failing to find out from commercial suppliers which exact addresses, for instance in newer estates, were not actually commercially viable.  This subsidised programme – which they have called ‘Fastershire’ – has completed much of its work and is due to end by 2018.

LibDems vote to ban fracking

Fracking.JPG
The Liberal Democrats Spring Conference in York has voted for an outright ban on fracking – the extraction of shale gas using the high-pressure hydraulic fracturing of underground rocks.

 

Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for Cheltenham voted for the successful motion: “Fracking poses really significant risks to the local environment wherever it is allowed” said Martin, “from the millions of litres of water pumped below the water table and lost to local water systems, to the pollution and disruption caused by the thousands of trucks transporting water and gas to and from the wells. I’m horrified that the Conservatives even plan to allow fracking in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty like the Cotswolds.”

“It’s also a crazy energy strategy. We’ve just committed to a low-carbon future for the planet in the Paris Climate Change Agreement. So why put direct investment into a new fossil fuel industry instead of energy efficiency and renewables? Fracking for gas won’t even displace coal because dirty coal will be on the way out anyway by the time fracking delivers any significant supply in the 2030s.”
During the General Election campaign last year, Alex Chalk – now Cheltenham’s Conservative MP – promised to oppose fracking in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But in December 2015, he voted to support it.

Local pharmacies face cut in government spending

 

Millions are being cut from the government’s support for local community pharmacies and Cheltenham’s former LibDem MP has added his voice to those of pharmacists who are raising the alarm. The cuts are to the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework which pays local pharmacists to provide minor ailment services and public health advice, reducing pressure on GPs and the NHS.

The Department of Health (DH) plans to reduce funding by £170m from October 2016 as part of the government’s comprehensive spending review.

National pharmacists’ representative Sue Sharpe has said the cuts “will deliver a destructive blow to the support community pharmacies can offer to patients and the public.”

Former Cheltenham LibDem MP Martin Horwood says the cut could have a real impact in the town. “Local pharmacies like Badhams have hugely increased the range of services and advice they provide to local people. They don’t just dispense pills these days. They can take your blood pressure, give you lifestyle advice and review medication. The clear direction in Gloucestershire and nationally in recent years has been to support community pharmacy and take pressure off GPs and the local NHS.  Now the new Tory government is putting that policy into reverse.”

The cuts are all part of Chancellor George Osborne’s plan to cut faster and deeper than the coalition government.  Lib Dem ministers distanced themselves publicly from Conservative spending plans before the 2015 election.

Leading local pharmacist Peter Badham says “The future of community pharmacy is at a crossroads.  Patients are receiving mixed messages: pharmacy first, use your local pharmacy for minor ailments, flu vaccinations, advice on medication and so on.  And then that up to 3,000 chemists will close!”

“It is clear the cuts are going to implemented, with no negotiation or consideration of impact on patients'” he added.

NOTES


Martin champions LibDem mental health campaign

Martin Horwood has strongly welcomed the Liberal Democrats’ new commitment to mental health services, which has been outlined in the new publication Manifesto for the Mind, and has backed equal treatment for mental and physical health in Cheltenham and Gloucestershire.

Martin, Cheltenham’s MP since 2005, understands the importance of proper funding to mental health services, having met with many mental health charities and organisations over his ten years as MP, including the Suicide Crisis and Gloucestershire Beat (Eating Disorder) Support Group.

Speaking in Cheltenham today, Martin said “One in four of us in Britain will experience mental health problems in our lives, and for too long it has been stigmatised by society and ignored by successive governments. I am proud of the work Liberal Democrats have done in government to address this historic problem, including the first ever waiting time standards for mental health which will take effect tomorrow (1 April).

“I strongly welcome my party’s Manifesto for the Mind which sets out an even more ambitious vision for mental health services, and know that many organisations and charities in Cheltenham and Gloucestershire will benefit from the proposals, which include plans to ensure all front line public service professionals, including in schools and universities, get better training in mental health – helping them to develop their own mental resilience as well as learning to identify people with mental health problems.”

Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg said “Liberal Democrats believe that no matter who you are, where you come from and what your circumstances, you should not be denied the opportunity to fulfil your potential. Yet, in Britain today, millions of people are denied the opportunity to get on and live happy, fulfilling lives because they live with mental health issues.

“In the coalition government’s final Budget we secured more than a billion pounds to revolutionise services for children and young people, alongside the first ever waiting times standards and a plan to roll out talking therapies across England. But we cannot and must not rest there. Equality for people with mental health issues is a liberal mission.

“That’s why I am so immensely proud that we are the first party to put equality for people with mental health problems on the front page of our full General Election manifesto.”

NOTES

Cheltenham MP demands equal treatment for our security services

MP for Cheltenham Martin Horwood has written to the Treasury calling for a full commitment on maintaining pensions for the widows, widowers and civil partners of Intelligence Services personnel who die in the line of duty.

In the budget statement on Wednesday the Chancellor explicitly outlined changes to the current pension arrangements for the spouses of firefighters, police and security service members, to reverse “historic injustices”. However, in the text of the Budget itself, it states that immediate changes will only be made for firefighters and police, and only commits to “examine the possibility of making similar changes” for members for the Intelligence Services.

In his letter to the Treasury, Martin wrote, “I am concerned that ‘examining the possibility’ is not a clear commitment to reversing historic injustices, especially when members of the intelligence services who do die in the line of duty are often in a position where their service cannot be publicised, and in fact their service connections deliberately (and properly) obscured.

If we cannot give them the public honour they deserve, at the very least we can commit to giving their remaining families the same survivor benefits which will now be afforded to police officers and firefighters.”

Martin has also taken the opportunity today to raise the issue with ministers from the Department for Work and Pensions in the budget debate. Speaking in the House of Commons he said “Many of my constituents here in Cheltenham work tirelessly in the security services to protect our country. It is fantastic that these pension injustices have been reversed for our firefighters and police men and women, but it is unfair that the government has not yet made the same revisions for the Intelligence Services. I am raising my concerns at the highest level and will press for rapid clarification from the relevant ministers.”

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.