Thousands of Rochford residents benefit from Lib Dems’ tax break

Three years ago Labour abolished the 10p tax rate, caning the country’s poorest workers. Next month the Liberal Democrats in government are increasing personal tax allowances by £1000 a year. This simple act – the first instalment on one of the promises on the front page of our election manifesto – will take 880,000 people out of income tax altogether and help many thousands more. In Rochford alone 32,500 people can expect to pay £200 a year less in income tax.

 

The Hanningfield expenses saga drags on …

Read about it here on the BBC site.

A pre-trial hearing has been held by a judge in the case of a Conservative peer facing accusations that he fiddled his parliamentary expenses.

Lord Hanningfield faces six charges of false accounting between March 2006 and May 2009.

They are said to relate to overnight allowances for staying in London when records allegedly showed he was driven to his home near Chelmsford, Essex.

Lord Hanningfield is the former leader of Essex County Council.

 

Tories wrong on AV – again!

The latest Conservative newsletter distributed in Rayleigh contains some inaccurate and misleading comments about AV.

1) they say it is complicated. It isn’t. Instead of marking an X by your preferred candidate, you number candidates 1, 2, 3 and so on, in order of preference. If you find that tricky, you can still use the old X method. (If our MP finds it tricky, we might need to look for a new MP!)

2) they say some votes are counted several times, some votes only once. Not true. What happens is this: all the votes are counted. If no candidate has more than 50% of first preferences, votes for the lowest scoring candidate are re-allocated to their second choice, and ALL VOTES ARE COUNTED AGAIN. Everyone has one vote. All votes have the same value.

3) they tell you what Churchill said about AV. They don’t tell you what he said about our current first-past-the-post system:

“The present system has clearly broken down. The results produced are not fair to any party, nor to any section of the community. In many cases they do not secure majority representation, nor do they secure an intelligent representation of minorities. All they secure is fluke representation, freak representation, capricious representation.”

Local Lib Dem spokemsman Sid Cumberland says: “It’s about time we had some honesty in politics. Trying to pull the wool over voters’ eyes like this in order to keep the old, broken system is deceitful and patronising. The old guard don’t like AV because they’ll have to work harder and their safe seats won’t be quite so safe any more.”

For more information:

A Fair Voting System At Last – part 2

Ten reasons why the ‘Labour No’ campaign are wrong on AV

(The same reasons apply to the Tory No campaign as well.)

Close the Cabinet – and ease the cuts

Chris Black

Chris Black

I hope the editor of the Rayleigh Times won’t be too cross with me … but I want to write about a couple of things I’ve recently seen in another newspaper – the Daily Mail.

The first item was on their front page last month.

There were headlines screaming “DOING YOUR CIVIC DUTY NEVER PAID SO WELL – HOW COUNCILLORS’ PAYOUTS HAVE SOARED AS LOCAL SERVICES FACE SAVAGE CUTS”. The newspaper went on to say:

“The highest single increase over the past five years was at Rochford council in Essex, where allowances increased by 158 per cent – almost ten times the rate of inflation over the same period … Rochford spent £287,000 on allowances last year, which amounts to 2.5 per cent of its entire £11.3million spending budget. By contrast, it spent £199,000 on grants for equipment to help the disabled, and £447 on leisure and play facilities.”

The first thing to say is that the Daily Mail has one big whopping mistake here – it’s that last figure about leisure and play facilities. In fact if you asked a bright six-year-old who was actually using our play facilities they’d probably give a more accurate figure than the journalist who wrote this. Because the actual total spend in 2009/10 on leisure, parks and play facilities was about £4.5m, including capital investment.

The second thing to say is that most councillors aren’t receiving big allowances – the increase is largely due to the council setting up an all-Conservative ‘cabinet’. But otherwise the Mail is right – introducing a cabinet has certainly increased the council spending on allowances.

Having a cabinet system means that:

• things are less democratic
• money is spent on councillors’ allowances that could be spent on protecting services
• because we are wasting funds this way, the council loses credibility when asking the government for more money.

You may be wondering what a cabinet system is. A ‘cabinet system’ means that 8 Conservative councillors are given special powers so that council staff can meet with them individually to agree with things. This is instead of the council staff having to take things to a committee of 10 or 20 councillors. It sounds speedier – and it usually is. But the advantage of a committee is that it makes use of the experience of ‘ordinary’ councillors – councillors with young children, or councillors with up-to-date business experience, or councillors with local knowledge, or just councillors who say ‘hang on a minute, you haven’t thought about this…” Sometimes the cabinet system is just a speedier way of agreeing to the wrong decision.

But things are worse than that – because under the cabinet system you pay those councillors a much bigger allowance – which is why the cost has shot up so much. And now the cabinet allowances are creating a credibility problem for the council. The Daily Mail reported that the leader of Rochford District Council has a higher leader’s allowance than the leader of Canterbury City Council. That’s pretty astonishing. After all, when we have a local priest come to say prayers before one of our council meetings he or she isn’t on a bigger stipend than the Archbishop of Canterbury!

Council services are under threat in our district. Grants to voluntary groups are being cut. Rayleigh’s public toilets are at risk of closing. Residents – even those on low incomes or pensions – are now going to be charged a fee if they call in the council to deal with rats or mice. If our local Conservatives got rid of the cabinet system we would save enough money to avoid most of this.

The second item in the Daily Mail was on national politics. An online opinion poll on the Daily Mail website asked its readers “How will you vote on the Alternative Vote system?” Interestingly, the answer was that 61% of them would vote with Nick Clegg and vote for the Alternative Vote system.

I don’t trust the accuracy of online opinion polls – but it’s still an encouraging sign. A very similar system is used for electing the London Mayor – and nobody seems unhappy about that.

And having the Alternative Vote system would mean that there were fewer safe seats in British politics – which would mean that more of our elected representatives in Britain would have to a bit work harder to get re-elected.