[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Caron Lindsay

On Sunday, Peter Black, AM for South Wales East, a man with almost as many portfolios as there are days of Christmas, gave his keynote speech to Welsh Conference. He called on both Wales’ Labour Government and the UK’s Conservative Government to do more to help the Tata steel workers set to lose their jobs. He also unveiled the Welsh Lib Dems’ plan to tackle the housing crisis by building 20,000 more houses and implementing a rent to buy scheme. He also touched on political reform, devolution of power, the arts, broadcasting and sport. That’s quite something in just 15 minutes. Here is his speech in full:

Chair, I have been privileged to have served as a Welsh Liberal Democrats Assembly Member for nearly 17 years, representing my adoptive City of Swansea, Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend.

There are some key issues for me as a local representative, which also go to the heart of Liberal Democrats policy. These include the future of the Tata steel plant in Port Talbot, where job losses will have a devastating impact on the local community and on the economy of South Wales.

I have been pushing the Welsh Government to set up an urban regeneration company for the area, to work within the proposed enterprise zone, and also to cut the business rate burden for the plant.

But we also need the UK Government to step up to the plate and to reduce energy costs, and to take action within the European Community to prevent the dumping of cheap steel from China and Russia.

The UK Government also need to step up to the plate on the Tidal Lagoon planned for Swansea Bay. I believe that the company has now made an acceptable offer to the Treasury on the subsidy they will apply to this development and I urge Ministers to make an early announcement that this scheme can go ahead.

The tidal lagoon ticks all the boxes in our manifesto. It will produce clean, alternative energy, it is an investment in infrastructure that will bring employment to the area and it will also feature as a major tourist attraction.

As my friend, Denis Campbell would say, giving the go-ahead to this scheme is a slam dunk and it is time UK ministers recognised this.

In the time I have been in the Assembly I have worked hard to ensure that liberal values and policies are central to the governance of Wales. It has to be said, with mixed success.

What I am clear about though is the impact that we have had in that Assembly as the smallest party. Throughout the four terms of the Assembly we have hit above our weight.

I have been involved in negotiations that have secured an additional £283.5 million for Welsh schools since 2012 in the form of support for the poorest pupils through the Pupil Deprivation Grant.

The latest two year deal, secured an increase in the Pupil Deprivation Grant for next year so that from April each school will receive £1,150 for every pupil eligible to receive free schools.

We have secured an extension of the Pupil Deprivation Grant to include under 5s, worth £300 per pupil on free school meals.

We got the Welsh Government to implement a policy brought to this conference by IR Cymru, namely a Young Persons’ Bus Pass for 16-18 year olds worth nearly £15 million.

We secured funding for around 5,000 new apprenticeships, £95m worth of capital investment in infrastructure, which will provide a strong boost to jobs and the economy, and an agreement that no construction of the M4 relief road will start before the next Assembly elections alongside a detailed Environmental Impact Study.

In addition we got an agreement for extra childcare investment for further education students in Wales who are parents, investing in a pilot scheme promoted by the National Union of Students.

Those budget agreements are not just about implementing Welsh Liberal Democrats principles and policies, but they are also about refocusing the Welsh Government, trying to make devolution work for the people of Wales, and going back to basics to restore this devolution project to its original vision of an accountable, transparent government delivering made in Wales policies tailored to Welsh needs.

And there is no doubt in my mind that Welsh Labour have lost their way.

Labour has dominated the governance of Wales since we first walked into the converted computer room that served as our chamber in 1999.

Despite that they have failed to deliver on the promises and dreams of those of us who campaigned for a yes vote in the original referendum.

The Welsh Labour Government has been as unaccountable and as opaque as the Welsh UK Ministers they replaced.

Despite the hard work and professionalism of teachers, nurses, doctors and other public sector workers Wales is trailing behind the rest of the UK in educational attainment, key targets are being missed in the health service and our economy is falling further behind.

Nowhere can a government’s level of ambition be measured more so than in housing

Professor Holmans’ report into Housing stated that if future demand for housing in Wales is to be met, there needs to be “a return to rates of house building not seen for almost 20 years”

“Not seen for 20 years”

17 of those years have been under the Labour Government

There is no other way to look at it: that 17 years has left Wales with a housing crisis

As is often the case in politics, we see the two main parties fighting it out over ideological dogma

The Tories want to extend the Right to Buy

Labour wants to end it

Neither party says anything more than that

That is simply not good enough

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are the only party in Wales willing to talk about housing

And why?  Because it meets two of our key objectives: fairness and ambition.

According to the Homes for Wales campaign, house prices have risen by 16 per cent since 2008, more than six times the average person’s income.

Because of this, 27 per cent of young people still live at home with their parents, struggling to get on the housing ladder.

Over 5,000 households were accepted as homeless last year, and an estimated 90,000 households are on social housing waiting lists.

There are 8,596 families who have been on the housing waiting list since before the last election, with a further 2,000 waiting since the election before that.

And to meet current demand, 12,000 new homes are needed each year.

Wales needs a government that will invest in a house building programme so everyone can have a roof over their heads.

I assure you that social housing will be a priority for the Welsh Liberal Democrats so that there is quality, affordable housing for those who need it

We will double the current Social Housing Grant budget of £35million per year to £70million per year and set a target of 20,000 new affordable homes over the same period. This would be double the Labour Government’s target.

Housing is important to the Welsh Liberal Democrats because we believe in supporting people’s ambition

Why work hard, why innovate, why contribute to our economy if all of this doesn’t lead to the simple business of owning your own home, rather than paying a fortune in rent your whole life

Again, Labour almost have a sneering attitude to the idea of home ownership – as if this is some sort of crass wish list

In contrast, we the only party in Wales offering real solutions and ideas so people can access their own home.

The 16 per cent in house prices since 2008 has resulted in an increasing proportion of young people still living at home with their parents for longer and longer, because they are struggling to get on the housing ladder.

The average age of a first-time buyer in Wales may be younger than elsewhere in the UK, but this figure hides the more worrying fact that home ownership has plummeted for the under-35s.

Just 36 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds now own their own home, down from 59 per cent ten years ago. It is an extraordinary decline.

Prices have simply got too far out of reach for too many young families, with some first-time buyers saving for 15 years to get onto the housing ladder at all.

Under the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ ‘Rent to Buy’ policy, young people in Wales would be able to buy their own home without a deposit

We would help young people onto the housing ladder by allowing them to build up a share in their home through monthly payments equivalent to rent – this will work just like a mortgage in the way that they will eventually own the house outright

This policy is not a replacement for affordable rented properties or social housing, which we would also seek to expand, but we would aim to deliver at least 2,500 newly built specific-to-the-purpose, rent-to-own homes over an Assembly term, through the social housing grant mechanism.

This is about ambition and fairness.

Under our proposals, it doesn’t matter what your background or family circumstance is, if you can afford your rent then we will help you own your home – something nearly everyone dreams of.

For too long Wales hasn’t been seen as a place for young people where they can fulfil their dreams and ambitions: We want to change that

Wales can reach its potential.  We want to make the best of Wales’ strengths: our culture, our resources and most of all, our people

And for that to happen, we must convince people to be part of it – especially our young people

We will support people’s ambitions so that people know that if you live in Wales, were born in Wales, have moved to Wales, work in Wales – then you are part of our project to revitalise Wales.

While the supply of housing is vital, we must also ensure that we do more to support those who are renting by protecting tenants from unfair practices and improving the quality and safety of poor private rented sector homes.

There have been big improvements over the last Assembly term. The Housing (Wales) Act 2014, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 and the introduction of the Rent Smart Wales scheme will help raise standards in the private rented sector.

However, standards are still not good enough.

Over the last decade, the private rented sector has expanded rapidly and currently houses as many people as the social rented sector.

Shelter Cymru highlights that nearly one in ten private tenants with dependent children said that their children’s health had been affected in the last year due to the landlord not dealing with repairs and poor conditions.

That means up to 10,000 children a year may be suffering worse health because of poor conditions in privately rented housing.

Furthermore, too many tenants are still being ripped off by excessive letting agency fees.

According to Shelter, one in four of those who’ve used a letting agency have been charged excessive fees, and more than one in three have been charged over £200 in administration fees at the start of their tenancy.

The legislation that we’ve passed in this Assembly has helped, and has made progress, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and scope for further legislation in the next Assembly.

In Government in Westminster, we forced letting agents to be up-front and transparent about the fees they charge.

We believe that letting agency fees on tenants should be prohibited and replaced with a schedule of set charges for specified services to ensure cost transparency.

Evidence by Shelter Scotland demonstrates that after abolishing letting agency fees for tenants, landlords in Scotland were no more likely to have increased rents since 2012 than landlords elsewhere in the UK.

Tenants should not have to suffer poor standards, poor maintenance and weaker rights than home owners.

We have the residential property tribunal in Wales, but we need to make it more effective to help resolve housing disputes and offer a more balanced forum where tenants are able to stand up for their rights.

We would empower this tribunal to act as a housing court dealing with challenges to rent increases.

It would adjudicate and mediate in disputes on fitness for human habitation, succession rights, failure to supply contracts and discrimination.

We would work with landlords to ensure energy rating targets are met to improve the standard and efficiency of homes, and work with student unions and tenant groups to ensure tenants know their rights.

We would also expand the remit of the Welsh Tenants Federation to include representation from private rented sector tenants so as to strengthen the representation of those renting privately.

These are all practical measures to help protect tenants from unfair practices and improve the quality and safety of poor private rented sector homes.

This election will rightly focus on key policies around the economy, education, housing and health. Like all of you I will be on doorsteps telling people about our unique offering in these areas.

However, my responsibilities as a party spokesperson cover many more areas. In some ways I have got the subjects nobody else wanted.

In addition to Housing, Communities, Social Justice, and Finance I also speak on equalities, on broadcasting, sport, culture and local government.

Many of these areas speak to our identity as Welsh citizens, as members of our local community and as individuals.

The importance of local culture to local communities, and developments such as the Bay Studios in Swansea and the S4C development in Carmarthen to the local economies, cannot be understated.

Our culture, our history and our heritage all act as powerful attractions for tourists from the rest of the UK and around the world. At least 100,000 people are employed in the industry in Wales. That is around 9% of the workforce. When you add jobs in retail and the purchasing power of tourism-based business in Wales, the impact is absolutely huge.

Some of the proposals we will put before the electorate in this area in May include reinstating the Culture Ministry with responsibility for Culture, Tourism, Heritage and Broadcasting, and creating a cross-cutting cabinet sub-committee to raise Wales’ international profile.

We will give Councils a statutory duty of care for the cultural infrastructure and organisations, sport, leisure provision and youth provision.

And we will continue our campaign to reduce VAT on Visitor Accommodation and Attractions from 20% to 5%.

We will establish a Cultural Enterprise Agency with economic development funding to give grants, advice and mentoring to those with small enterprises in arts, publishing, media and cultural retailing.

And we will protect the Welsh Arts Council grant.

We will push for the Welsh Government to be responsible for appointing Welsh members of the BBC and Ofcom and ask for the devolution of community radio licencing to the Assembly.

The u-turn by the UK Government on funding for S4C this week is very welcome but there is a need to secure longer term funding for that station so as to guarantee its future, enable it to invest in HD and other new technologies and allow it to develop a quality programme of productions which builds on the success of Hinterland.

As a season ticket holder at Wales only premier league football club I am keen to see what can be done to advance soccer as well as many other sports.

Specifically though we will work with the Sports Ground Safety Authority to prepare guidance under which domestic football clubs may introduce safe standing areas, to create a better atmosphere.

And we will work with major sporting bodies and local councils to maximise investment in grass roots sports facilities as well as in elite sports men and women.

I have been a member of Swansea Council now for nearly 32 years.

I would get a lesser sentence for murder.

But what that lifetime of work has taught me has been invaluable as an Assembly Member.

In particular, it has taught me the value of local democracy, of communities taking responsibility for themselves and determining their own future.

It has also taught me that process and structures do not improve service delivery, that Ministers based in Cardiff have no idea what local communities need and want and should keep their nose out and that local accountability improves transparency and gives us better services.

That is why we have fundamental problems with the Williams Commission report on local government and specifically the proposal by Labour to institute a top-down reorganisation of local government that will produce eight over-large councils, remote from the people they serve and with no clear community identity.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe in devolving power from Cardiff Bay into our communities, giving councils the tools to be able to properly deliver services for local people.

Wales does have too many Councils, many of which are too small and are underperforming.  However, if councils are going to be larger, then it is essential that they reflect the way that people voted.

Without introducing a fair voting system and without the devolution of powers to local communities, any reorganisation process is pointless.

The boundaries of new Councils should not be drawn by politicians. That is a job for the independent Boundary Commission.

They should be tasked with coming up with proposals that balance the interests of effective strategic management and service delivery with local accountability, that reflect community identities and which have demonstrable public consent.

We do not agree that major cities should be merged with large rural hinterlands, as neither community will find their needs met.

We do not agree that the return of Dyfed or Gwent meets any recognisable definition of local.

Nor can we sign up to Plaid Cymru’s super-structures, keeping 22 councils but imposing a further seven bodies on top with responsibility for health as well as education and social services.

I do not want Swansea’s hospitals run from Cardiff, as Plaid Cymru propose and I am sure that my colleagues in Ceredigion and North Wales feel the same with regards to their health services.

Instead of playing with lines on maps the Welsh Government should be empowering councils to do the job they are elected for.

Giving them more responsibilities.

Responsibility for public health;

A strategic role in transport provision:

Devolving budgets for community regeneration and tackling poverty to people who understand how best to spend it in their own area.

That is a liberal agenda for local democracy.

Conference, the opportunity for introducing Liberal Democrat policies and principles into the next Welsh Government is in front of us.

We can campaign with our heads held high that we have improved the lives of many people over the last five years through our interventions and our successes out of all proportion to our size.

But we know that if devolution is to succeed then the Welsh Government needs to better connect with people and start to deliver the key services that we rely on day-in day-out.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are best equipped to succeed in that endeavour, both in terms of what we have already achieved and in the policies we are putting in front of voters on May 5th.

Now is our time.

Now is the time for Wales to move forward and realise its potential as a self-governing country.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

supergee: (book)

Adaption

Feb. 9th, 2016 06:18 am
[personal profile] supergee
Books where characters react to each other. (Ignore clickbait title.)

Thanx to Metafilter
[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

And those “studying” under Richard Murphy.

The section of this blog you want is “Ragging on Ritchie“.

And we would be hugely amused to see any class notes, instructions and so on that Murphy has handed out as part of his teaching. To timworstallATgmail.com, please.

Rilly?

Feb. 9th, 2016 10:35 am
[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

The UK is ahead of the game here, but the £50 note still needs to go. The £20 I can see use for but it is amazing that 18% of all UK cash is a note I never see.

The argument seems irrefutable.

The UK’s largest banknote should be smaller than the cost of a tank of petrol? Really?

I am not proposing the abolition of cash

But no one legitimately needs these notes

Sirsly?

Murphmonster questions we can answer

Feb. 9th, 2016 10:27 am
[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

In other words, the IoD who want to get rid of all taxes on capital to increase inequality in the UK get a voice but the supporters of the positive role tax has to play in society do not.

Why is that?

Because they decided to ask people who actually knew something about tax.

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_forbes_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

This little story does rather amuse. It shows that the Indian government has got part of the way to understanding that the Licence Raj needs to be abolished. But not quite all the way to understanding quite how to do that. The background is that there are restrictions on who may own and run retail stores in India. This is protectionism of the worst kind of course, protectionism of the people who currently own and run India’s notably chaotic and grossly inefficient retail sector. But there it is, in any democratic polity there are going to be problems in removing inefficiencies, precisely because some number of people are going to be making their livings through such inefficiencies. Roughly speaking the limitation is that a company may run its own retail stores to sell its own goods. But a foreigner or foreign corporation cannot own retail outlets that sell the goods of many different manufacturers or suppliers. This applies online as well as to bricks and mortar stores.

So, Apple thinks it would like to run its own retail stores in India. Should be no problem, right? Well, not so fast:

Apple, the maker of popular iPad and iPhone devices, will have to submit a fresh application for opening single brand retail stores in the country, as certain gaps have been found in the initial proposal.
The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) has explained the gaps to the company and wants them to submit a fresh application, seeking more information on their proposal for further processing, according to sources.

What?

The problem is that while you are allowed to do this, run your own stores, you have to go and ask permission to do so. At which point of course you meet the wondrous Indian bureaucracy, something that has been mystifying foreigners since the Mughal days.

At present, 100 per cent FDI is permitted in the sector. But beyond 49 per cent, the FIPB permission is required.

And it’s not quite as simple as an application reading “We’re foreigners, selling our own stuff, can we open stores?” Because nothing is ever that simple in that interface between the bureaucracy and the real world.

Last month, the company had filed its proposal seeking permission for single brand retailing and sell its products online.

Apple had not mentioned the amount of investment and number of stores it wants to open.

An e-mail query sent to Apple remained unanswered.

In a reasonable socio-economic polity the amount of investment, number of stores, are issues for the company alone and not the government. There’s echos here of a lovely story from early 1990s Russia, as they were destroying the encumbrances of their socialist idiocies. Anatoly Sobchak (at the time, Vladimir Putin’s boss as Mayor of St Petersburg as it now newly again was) announced that you no longer needed permission or a licence to go into business. Just get on with it and send a letter into City Hall saying what you’re doing so that the tax stuff could all be sorted out later. He came into work the next day to see a vast queue spiraling around the block of people wanting permissions.

“You don’t need permissions!”

“Yes, but we need the permission detailing that we don’t need permissions”.

That story might have grown a little in the retelling but it is at heart true. And it’s also the bit that India hasn’t quite got yet. The way to deregulate is not to say that you can apply for a new permission to do this at this office. It is to say that no permission is needed to do what you are allowed to do.

That is, if India wishes to keep the ban on foreign ownership and operation of multi-brand stores (I don’t think it should but understand the political reasons why it is there) then the law should be “no foreign ownership or operation of multi-brand stores.” If foreign ownership of single brand stores is allowed then there should be no law or regarding such, nor even the possibility of asking for permission to do so. This is how a free and market economy works: the law is to describe what you may not do and once those things are outlined then everything else is legal to do with or without permission.

Deregulation, that lifting of the Licence Raj, is thus not about changing what permissions are possible, but entirely removing the need for licences, agreements, permissions altogether. Not changing regulations but abolishing them and the system that grants them. India will have a vastly better economy when that idea is firmly in place.

rmc28: Photo of me shortly before starting my first half-marathon (Default)

Hugo nomination PINs

Feb. 9th, 2016 10:48 am
[personal profile] rmc28
The PINs were sent out over the weekend. Neither Tony nor I received ours (and yes, we checked the spam folder). I saw this tweet from MidAmeriCon II which says:

"If you have not received your Hugo PIN, please email hugopin (at) to check membership & email address details."

So I did, for me and Tony, and our PINs were returned remarkably quickly. We had supporting memberships in 2015 and have attending membership to 2017, either of which would have entitled us to make nominations.

I encourage anyone else in a similar position to make sure you get your PIN, just like I encourage everyone to nominate stuff they have really enjoyed from last year, whether you think you have "read widely" or not, whether you can fill every slot or not: if you loved it, nominate it.


I have a placeholder post which I'm still working on; for other recommendations you can try:

(for short fiction)
Clarkesworld short fiction, sorted into Hugo categories
Uncanny Magazine short fiction, sorted into Hugo categories
Strange Horizons reader poll for 2015

(for everything)
Nicholas Whyte's many reviews of Hugo-eligible media
Ladybusiness recommendations spreadsheet

[syndicated profile] craig_whittaker_twfy_feed

The record shows, particularly in the Calder valley, which was flooded in 2012, that the Government invested quite a lot of money in flood prevention schemes, allowing people to invest in their homes. One problem we have, of course, is that although people live beside the rivers, they do not particularly prepare for these things. The evidence does not really show that putting flood prevention in reduces the risk with insurance companies. That is one of the serious issues that needs addressing.

Meanwhile, while the big boys talk some more, the businesses in Hebden Bridge are looking at a scheme called Watermark, which will give customers the choice of paying the normal price or the Watermark price for goods. On top of that, businesses will have the choice to pay into a generic pot as well—almost a savings plan. Although they accept that the pot will not cover all the damage done if and when the floods hit again, it will give them access to a pot that will allow some of their uninsured works to be done. That is something the ABI and some of its members perhaps need to start looking at, thinking out of their box and perhaps accessing some of their moral and social justice conscience.

To be fair, some insurers I have seen have done excellent work with their clients; in fact, they have behaved incredibly well. They include companies such as Aviva, which has pledged that the claims of their current small and medium-sized enterprise customers will continue to get cover and that those with excesses of more than £350 will not see those excesses rise when they next renew. Unfortunately, that is only for existing customers.

The British Insurance Brokers Association is in the process of creating a scheme for SMEs that will specifically include businesses at risk of flooding. BIBA’s expectation is that it will enhance the current situation by enabling up to 2,000 BIBA brokers across the UK to place those more difficult risks through the scheme, offering cover to the vast majority of businesses that have struggled in the past. My understanding is that BIBA is in advanced negotiations and that it aims to launch the scheme this year. However, I have spoken with BIBA, and the scheme uses only products that are already on the market. It also seems to be quite a complex system of protection for the carrier and protection for the property that is to be insured, with a further policy to reduce high excesses. How will the scheme assist businesses with the excessive terms and conditions that act as a barrier to insurance already? Will it help to reduce some of the unreasonable levels of excess that make cover unaffordable in many cases?

May I request that, in communities such as the Calder valley, the Government work alongside small businesses to identify the gaps in the market and to understand what prevents some businesses from receiving adequate flood cover? Relying on the DEFRA report is just not good enough; the evidence is not there, and we need to go out there and get it.

It remains to be seen whether BIBA’s new scheme is the innovative solution the market requires. However, I do know how desperate businesses are in my constituency and in those of other hon. Members—those constituencies have probably not suffered quite as badly, but these things are pretty grim for anyone who is in this position. These businesses are relying on a long-term solution being found. I sincerely hope that the Government are able to identify the gaps in the market, to better understand the nature and extent of the problem and to work with the insurance industry to develop a new facility to address these issues.

[syndicated profile] craig_whittaker_twfy_feed

The hon. Lady is right. As she knows, the Calder Valley is made up of high-sided valleys, so there are few places for those businesses to relocate locally. If they move out of the Calder Valley, we will lose the job skill sets and the local communities will wither and die. I shall return to that.

Although I am encouraged by the words of the Prime Minister and his assurances that he is looking very closely at this issue, my experience leads me to believe that there are potentially hundreds of businesses in my constituency which are unable to access flood insurance. The examples I mentioned are the tip of the iceberg and serve only to illustrate the difficulties that some businesses are experiencing because of the lack of adequate cover. If this situation is replicated nationally in communities susceptible to flooding, which I imagine is the case, this means that thousands of businesses across the UK are experiencing these difficulties.

Every community that is susceptible to flooding has its unique challenges and this is certainly the case in the Calder Valley. Towns in my constituency such as Todmorden, Walsden, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd, Elland and Brighouse are located next to the River Calder at the bottom of steep-sided valleys. They are proud communities and their small businesses and independent traders are the lifeblood and the beating heart of our area. The topography of those areas is very challenging and the transport links are limited. This means that there is limited land for development, as I said to the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), so locating to another premises in the area is not a viable option for many businesses. This underlines the serious economic challenge that communities such as the Calder Valley face. If these businesses close down or move away from the area, we are in grave danger of losing the vast employable skills and expertise built up over generations, and our local communities are in grave danger of withering on the vine and dying. The importance of this issue, then, cannot be overstated.

With Flood Re, which is for domestic properties, the Government have shown that it is possible to work with the insurance industry to create a scheme that can fill the gaps in the existing market. They are currently talking with the Association of British Insurers about business insurance. The ABI feels that it is the Government’s responsibility to fix this issue, while the Government, I am sure, feel it is for the market to fix it. However, I suspect the solution is somewhere in the middle—

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Jackie Doyle-Price.)

[syndicated profile] craig_whittaker_twfy_feed

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have given a commitment to look at that funding to see how they can help. I dare say the Minister will give us an update on that.

Of the many businesses across the Calder Valley which are experiencing these difficulties, I will cite just three of the many examples coming in daily to illustrate some of the concerns that I have become aware of. I will not name the companies as we do not want their customers to lose faith any more than they have already. The first is a leading high-end British furniture manufacturer located in Mytholmroyd which is experiencing difficulties similar to those faced by other businesses. It is a very successful manufacturer of sofas, employing some 100 local people. On Boxing day, it was flooded for the second time in just four years. After the last flood it could get insurance only for stock, not for machinery or anything else relating to flooding. It is facing a loss of around £500,000. The business will survive and continue, but of significant concern is the insurance position going forward. Its insurance cover was due for renewal only last week and it has been told that it will not be able to access flood cover again, even for stock.

At the other end of the Calder Valley, located in Brighouse, is a nationally acclaimed climbing centre which opened in 2011 and now has over 30,000 members. Together with its sister business, a bar and a restaurant, it employees 30 local people and occupies a strategic site that is central to the regeneration of the wider area. As the business is located between the river and the canal, it has been unable to access any flood insurance since it was set up. The business incurred losses when it was flooded in 2012 and now, following the latest floods, it faces a very substantial bill and a battle to stay in business. Once again, the business is in limbo.

Last but by no means least, I will mention a large manufacturing firm which has been flooded on four separate occasions over the past decade. The business has been able to access flood insurance in the past, but has been told in no uncertain terms by its insurers that it will not receive flood cover in the future. Its inquiries of other insurers have been unsuccessful on account of the ridiculous terms and conditions that have been quoted. The difficulties in accessing insurance, and the losses incurred by being flooded so regularly, now mean that it is likely that this business will close, with the loss of 40 jobs.

[syndicated profile] craig_whittaker_twfy_feed

I am not quite sure that that is entirely the Government’s responsibility. The ABI has a huge responsibility for this too. As I shall highlight with the things that have been done in the Calder Valley—doubtless they have been done in York Central too—it is the responsibility of business, but it is also everyone’s responsibility to make sure that we have viable businesses, otherwise we do not have communities going forward.

[syndicated profile] craig_whittaker_twfy_feed

Of course, we would always welcome the APPG in the Calder Valley. In fact, we welcome anyone who would like to come and have a look. Indeed, if it helps us to make progress in this area and others affected by flooding, the whole group is very welcome, and I will help to arrange for businesses to talk to it too.

To appreciate the true extent of the problem, the Government and the ABI need to speak to businesses in areas of high risk, including those located in communities that have experienced a high frequency of flooding in recent times such as the Calder Valley. Calderdale Council says that between 40% and 50% of businesses cannot access flood insurance in five of my six communities, while our local insurance broker in the upper Calder Valley tells me that 20% of his clients cannot access flood insurance—ironically, including himself. True to the spirit of people in the Calder Valley, he has a desk and a mobile phone set up in the middle of all the building works in what was his office, working to ensure that his clients are sorted out. After the floods he, along with other brokers from around the UK in high flood-risk areas, were invited to London to highlight cases to the ABI. The journey turned out to be an absolute farce, as the ABI refused to look at those cases, saying that it was not allowed to do so because of data protection. The ABI says that there is no evidence of businesses not being able to access flood insurance, and cites DEFRA’s own report, which I have highlighted, to say that there is no evidence.

[syndicated profile] craig_whittaker_twfy_feed

I am not sure that that is the sole responsibility of the Government. I think that there needs to be a joint approach between the insurance industry and Government, but, again, I will come on to that during my speech.

Although the ABI said that it would not turn down any small business for flood insurance, I can tell Members that, having spoken to hundreds of businesses in the Calder Valley over the past few weeks, it has become apparent that many small businesses are experiencing difficulties in accessing flood insurance and that this uncertainty, coupled with the crippling costs that now face some businesses as a consequence of the floods, is jeopardising their future. Although I note the Minister’s response that the Government are not aware of any evidence of a systemic problem, I question the basis on which that conclusion has been reached.

Last July, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published the report “Affordability and Availability of Flood Insurance: Findings from Research with Businesses”. A cursory look at the report might lead one to conclude that there is not a problem after all. The research found that uptake of insurance across businesses is high. The survey showed that the vast majority of small businesses arrange commercial insurance cover for their premises and that there is no significant difference between small businesses that are located in high flood-risk areas and those that are not.

However, a more detailed consideration of the report, particularly the basis on which the evidence has been collected, provides a different picture. The headline figures from the report come from a secondary source, a small business survey run by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The DEFRA report acknowledges that the BIS survey data contain only small numbers of businesses located in high flood-risk areas. As such, one may legitimately question how valuable such data are when considering the issue of insurance for businesses in high-risk areas. The main focus of the DEFRA report was a series of in-depth interviews with businesses, and it is that component that forms the main evidence base. Only 25 businesses were interviewed, the majority of which were not in high flood-risk areas. The overwhelming majority were very small businesses, employing fewer than 10 people, and only one manufacturing business was included in the sample. My point is that the evidence base of the DEFRA report is not particularly credible and, as a consequence, the report is of limited value. If they are to appreciate the extent of this issue the Government and the Association of British Insurers need to speak to businesses in areas of high risk.

[syndicated profile] craig_whittaker_twfy_feed

I will come on to what I want the Government to do a little later, but I will also explain what is currently taking place. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the excesses for small and medium-sized businesses are phenomenally unaffordable, as are some of the premiums on offer.

In addition to the written question that I mentioned earlier, the Prime Minister recently stated that he was looking very carefully at this issue and that, although some small businesses are highlighting concerns, the insurance companies, via the Association of British Insurers, state that they would not turn down any small business for flood insurance.

[syndicated profile] craig_whittaker_twfy_feed

The floods that hit the north of England over the Christmas period brought untold misery and suffering to a record number of people. In the Calder Valley, 2,700 homes and 1,635 businesses were flooded. In addition, four schools were affected, two of which are likely to remain closed for the foreseeable future, several bridges were destroyed and the total repair bill for damaged infrastructure currently stands at £32 million.

The Government’s response so far has been most welcome. A £12 million package for households and businesses was made available within days of the flooding to help with the initial incidental costs. Since then, we have seen £5.5 million for the rebuilding of Elland bridge and, most recently, funding to repair and improve flood defences in the village of Mytholmroyd, which was particularly badly affected.

As welcome as the Government response has been to date, there is still far more to do. The communities in my constituency will need a great deal of support over the coming months and years as they get back on their feet.

The Environment Agency is due to complete the long-awaited flood prevention modelling work for the length of the Calder Valley in October. Although improved flood defences and upland management schemes cannot guarantee full protection in the future, there is an urgent need to move ahead with such projects. In addition to flood prevention work and the cost of repairing the damaged infrastructure, there is also the need to work with businesses to ensure that they are able to recover. An essential part of that is ensuring that small businesses are able to access flood insurance.

In response to a recent written question on this issue, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) said:

“While we recognise the difficult challenges that some small businesses could face in accessing commercial flood insurance in areas of high flood risk, we are not currently aware of evidence that there is a systemic problem. Therefore, we have committed to work with the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and other interested parties to monitor the insurance market for small businesses. We are keen to work across government, and with a range of business interests, to better understand the nature and extent of any problem that might exist”.

[syndicated profile] markpack2_feed

Posted by Mark Pack

Denis Healy, Lib Dem

Great to see Denis Healy added to the list of Liberal Democrat Police & Crime Commissioner candidates.

A view that of course is in no way influenced by the fact that it reminded me of the best Labour leaflet headline, ever.

But back to the present. These are set of elections which, as Judith Woodman put it so eloquently a few days ago, it is crucial the party takes seriously.  So here’s the full story about Denis:

The Liberal Democrats have announced that Denis Healy will be the Lib Dem challenger in May’s Police and Crime Commissioner election in Humberside.

Denis said: “I want to be a different kind of Police & Crime Commissioner – listening and available to local residents. My first pledge is to hold an open surgery in every city, town and parish in the force area once a year.”

“The current Police & Crime Commissioner is too remote and out of touch. Few people have seen or heard from him since he was elected, and even fewer know how to influence the priorities of the Police in their area.

“Worse still, inspectors have slated the management of the Force on his watch. Front-line Police feel they have been held back from offering the service they want to offer to residents. Police officers on the ground in communities work very hard and need proper support from the top.

“Local people deserve the very best front-line Policing and too many people feel they’re not getting the local community service they want or need. That’s why I am looking forward to taking the fight to the incumbent Police & Crime Commissioner in May.”

In 2012 the Lib Dems finished a strong second place to Labour in the Hull City element of the Police & Crime Commissioner election. This time the election will be on the same day as local government elections in Hull and North East Lincolnshire, which contain many strong Lib Dem areas and will be a boost to Denis’ campaign.

Denis has lived and worked in Hull and the East Riding for over 25 years and has the skills and experience to lead a large organisation. An experienced manager, Denis has had a long career in business and manufacturing, supporting local manufacturing companies and helping their apprentices and engineers improve their skills.

Denis has a clear plan to improve policing in Hull, East Yorkshire and North and North East Lincolnshire. If elected in May, Denis will improve front-line policing, getting more Police visibility on our streets. He will fight for more support for victims of crime and work with all four local Councils to boost crime-prevention, and will be setting out his plans in more detail over the coming weeks.

[personal profile] miss_s_b
... which I suspect they won't publish:
(to the tune of Jerusalem)

And did the Brits
In Ancient time
Pinch all your country's wealth from you?
And did we pinch
Your words as well
To add to England's language true?
We shall pretend the world is ours
By some divine right or something
But really we're the bestest thieves
You see we even nicked this tune
If you want to have a go, you can find the details, such as they are, at the bottom of the page detailing the winners of their last competition.
[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Harriet Shone

International Office_with textSupported by the Liberal Democrats International Office, the Africa Liberal Network (ALN) has grown to become the largest network of liberal parties outside Europe, with 47 member parties from across 30 African nations. Taking place from 27 – 31 January 2016, the ALN held its 12th General Assembly in Johannesburg, South Africa, hosted by South Africa’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA).

With the theme of “Winning elections: the strategies, policies and solutions for success”, the General Assembly brought together nearly 80 delegates from 30 countries across the continent to discuss strategies to win elections and champion liberalism in their home countries. Through sharing techniques and approaches to campaign strategy, policy development and youth mobilisation, the ALN focused its efforts on helping member parties to win elections, emerge out of opposition and make liberal government a reality across Africa. Olivier Kamitatu, the ALN President, said in his opening speech:

ALN GA 1

The ALN has grown because Africa is at a crossroads and needs a liberal offering now more than ever. Our goal now must be to win elections across Africa in 2016-17.

The ALN has a vision of a prosperous and integrated Africa of flourishing democracies that are at peace with one another, in which every person has the right and opportunity to fulfil their potential and be what they want to be. This year the ALN grew to encompass three new member parties, the Independent People’s Party of Ghana, the People’s Liberal Party of South Sudan, and the Alliance of the Republic, the ruling party in Senegal. With these new members, the ALN is now the largest network of liberal parties outside of Europe, second in size and scope only to the Alliance of Liberal Democrats in Europe (ALDE) Party.

ALN GA 2This year, we were hosted by the Democratic Alliance (DA), our liberal sister-party in South Africa and the country’s main opposition party. Addressing the entire Assembly, the DA’s Party Leader Mmusi Maimane laid out the DA’s plans to build a liberal South Africa, challenging the politics of racial division and fear which has held South Africa back under President Zuma:

Nelson Mandela fought for democracy in South Africa. He did not fight for the right of the ANC to cling on to power forever. The ANC and EFF are dividing South Africans with campaigns based on race. As liberals, we are uniting people around our shared values.

In 2014, the ALN, with support from the Liberal Democrats, provided technical assistance to the Botswana Movement for Democracy in their election campaign, helping them to become the main opposition party in the country. In the upcoming year, the ALN will build on this model, working closely with its members to help them to out-perform their opposition and build a liberal, progressive and prosperous Africa. By working together as a network, the ALN aims to bring liberalism out of the shadow of opposition and work together to build a brighter, more liberal future for Africa.

* Harriet Shone is the International Projects Officer in the Liberal Democrats’ International Office.

How to keep your gym habit

Feb. 9th, 2016 09:05 am
[syndicated profile] tim_harford_feed

Posted by Tim Harford

Undercover Economist

‘Might a commitment strategy allow you to pay yourself to go to the gym?’

How are those resolutions going? Still going to the gym? If not, you’re not alone.

Let’s think about incentives. If some benevolent patron had paid you a modest sum — a few pounds a day, perhaps — for keeping your resolution throughout January, would that have helped you keep fit now that January is behind us?

The answer is far from clear. An optimistic view is that by paying you to look after yourself in January, your mysterious patron would have encouraged you to form good habits for the rest of the year. The most obvious case would be if you were trying to give up cigarettes; paying you to get through the worst of the withdrawal period might help a lot. Perhaps diet and exercise would be similarly habit-forming.

Yet some psychologists would argue that the payment is worse than useless, because payments can chip away at our intrinsic motivation to exercise. Once we start paying people to go to the gym or to lose weight, the theory goes, their inbuilt desire to do such things will be corroded. When the payments stop, things will be worse than if they had never started.

The idea that external rewards might crowd out intrinsic motivation is called overjustification. In a celebrated study in 1973 conducted by Mark Lepper, David Greene and Richard Nisbett, some pre-school children were promised sparkly certificates as a reward for drawing with special felt-tip pens. Others were given no such promise. When the special pens were reintroduced to the nursery classrooms a week or so later, without any reward on offer, the researchers found that the children who had previously been promised certificates for their earlier drawing now spent half as much time with the pens as their peers. Only suckers draw for free.

There’s a big difference between exercising and colouring, however: while many children like felt-tips, many adults do not like exercising. A payment can hardly crowd out your intrinsic motivation if you don’t have any intrinsic motivation in the first place. Systematic reviews of the overjustification effect suggest that incentives do no harm for activities that people find unappealing anyway.

So perhaps the idea of paying people to exercise is worth thinking about after all. In 2009, two behavioural economists, Gary Charness and Uri Gneezy, published the results of a pair of experiments in which they tried it. Some of their experimental subjects were paid $100 to go to the gym eight times in a month, while those in two alternative treatment groups were either paid $25 for going just once, or weren’t asked to go to the gym at all.

The results were a triumph for the habit-formation view. The payments worked even after they had stopped. In one study, the subjects were exercising twice as often seven weeks after the bonus payments stopped than before they started; in the other, the increase was threefold 13 weeks after payments had stopped. People who were already regular gym-goers didn’t change their behaviour — so there was no crowding-out — but there was a surge in exercise from people who hadn’t previously done much. A later study by Dan Acland and Matthew Levy found a similar habit-forming effect among students, although, alas, the good habits often failed to survive the winter vacation. In other experiments, incentive payments have been shown to be modestly successful at helping smokers to give up.

There is much to be said for a benign patron who pays you to stay healthy while you form good habits. But where might such a person be found? Take a look in the mirror — your patron might be you.

Inspired by the ideas of Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling, economists have become fascinated by the idea of commitment strategies, where your virtuous self takes steps to outmanoeuvre your weaker self before temptation strikes. A simple commitment strategy is to hand £500 to a trusted friend, with instructions that they are only to return the cash if you keep your resolution.

Might a commitment strategy allow you to pay yourself to go to the gym? It might indeed. Economists Heather Bower, Mark Stehr and Justin Sydnor recently published the results of a long-term experiment conducted with 1,000 employees of a Fortune 500 company. In this experiment, some employees were initially paid $10 for each visit to the company gym over a month. Some of them were then offered the opportunity to put money into a commitment savings account: if they kept exercising, the money would be returned; otherwise it would go to charity. The approach was no panacea: most people did not take up the option, and not everyone who did managed to stick to their goals. But even three years later, those who had been offered commitment accounts were 20 per cent more likely to be exercising than the control group.

That chimes with my experience. I once wrote a column about sending $1,000 to a company called Stickk, which promised to give it away if I didn’t exercise regularly. The contract was for a mere three months — and I succeeded. Eight years after my money was returned, I’m still sticking to the habit.

Written for and first published at ft.com.

matgb: Artwork of 19th century upper class anarchist, text: MatGB (Default)

British Liberal, house husband, school play leader and stepdad. Campaigner, atheistic feminist, amateur baker. Male.

Known to post items of interest on occasions. More likely to link to interesting stuff. Sometimes talks about stuff he's done. Occasionally posts recipes for good food. Planning to get married, at some point. Enjoying life in Yorkshire.

Likes comments. Especially likes links. Loves to know where people came from and what they were looking for. Mostly posts everything publicly. Sometimes doesn't. Hi.

Mat Bowles

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I'm the Chair of the Brighouse branch of the Liberal Democrats & the membership secretary for Calderdale Lib Dems and run the web campaign for the local candidates. I have a job, a stepdaughter and a life.

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