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Category Archives: Liberal Democrats
John Crace’s review of the year: from sorry apology to solemn vow, 2014 was not a vintage year of political accomplishment
Politicians rarely find it easy to say sorry but, in April, culture secretary Maria Miller did manage to find a 32-second window in her diary to come to the House of Commons to mutter: “Yeah whatevs I dun nuthin wrong and though I’m sayin soz I don’t mean it cos what’s wrong with claimin to live in wun house and livin in anuva I mean everywunz at it innit?”
One of the shortest parliamentary apologies on record was the preface to one of the longest general election campaigns. The unforeseen consequence of the Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011, which was introduced to ensure the coalition’s survival for five years, was that parliament had little to do in the government’s final year. Time and again, the then leader of the house, Andrew Lansley, was forced to explain why there wasn’t much government business going on; his nadir came when he had to find a reason, other than inactivity, why the Commons was being prorogued a week earlier than usual at Easter. “I am surprised at the honourable lady’s argument that we are not busy,” he said wearily, before the tumbleweed carried him away. “We are busy. When we return from recess, we have a busy two days.”
No related posts.
Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments, including Nick Clegg’s Call Clegg phone-in
In another announcement flagged up in a written ministerial statements, the government has decided not to change the law to allow humanist marriages – or “marriages by non-religious belief organisations”, as they put it.
Even though a majority of people who responded to the consultation were in favour, the government has shelved the idea. This news release explains why.
The consultation raised a number of complex issues which have wider implications for the law concerning marriage ceremonies. In particular, the majority of couples with religious or non-religious beliefs are restricted in where they can marry, and so implementing this change for non-religious belief organisations would create a further difference of treatment in marriage law. There also needs to be further consideration of how to prevent inappropriate groups from registering to conduct ceremonies and guard against any risk in relation to forced and sham marriages and the commercialisation of marriage solemnisation.
Marriage is one of our most important and valued institutions and we need to make sure any changes to the law are conducted with care. In order to consider the legal and technical requirements and the range of relevant issues including those raised by the consultation, the government will ask the Law Commission if it will carry out a broader review of the law concerning marriage ceremonies.
More from the written ministerial statements. My colleague Frances Perraudin has looked at the one about the independent library report (pdf).
An independent report into the state of the public library service in England has come to some damming conclusions, warning of large-scale closures if services aren’t improved.
The report was written by William Sieghart, a philanthropist, entrepreneur and publisher, and recommended that more emphasis be put on the digital services that libraries provide, rolling WiFi out to every one in the country. Sieghart recommends that library services be provided in a “retail-standard environment”, with coffee and sofas provided – a detail that has been the main focus of most media coverage of the report.
This is what David Hodge, the Conservative leader of Surrey County Council, told the World at One about the council cuts.
The reality for Surrey is we are facing significant demands on school places and on adult social care and children’s services. When we have taken 40% out of our budget, it is extremely difficult to continue to do that. There is a limit. You can only cut local government so far.
In my own county I am now faced with a situation where I have made a statement that I am not prepared to put the county council into debt for £200 million to provide school places, which I believe is a duty of government to ensure that the Surrey residents have school places.
I think we’ve reached the tipping point … where we can’t just eat away at our back office services any more. We are going to have to do things in terms of home-to-school transport, cutbacks in a whole range of areas that people are going to really start noticing now.
We are going to have to make cuts of another £46m in the next three years, and those cuts are going to be felt by people.
Ed Balls has passed his grade 4 piano.
Thanks for all good wishes on my Grade 4 piano exam – just heard I passed – and 17/18 on sight-reading! On to Grade 5…
In the Commons Kris Hopkins confirmed that the government had cut the funding for the local welfare assistance fund. Centrepoint, the homelessness charity, has condemned the decision. This is from Paul Noblet, its head of public affairs.
In failing to ring-fence funding to protect those in crisis the government has made a young person’s journey from homelessness to independence even harder.
Applications for local assistance schemes were already oversubscribed, but councils, some of whom have worked hard to plug the gaps in funding, will struggle to maintain this much needed safety net.
The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England, says that the cuts required as a result of today’s funding settlement will be “the most difficult yet”. It says councils will have to cut £2.6bn from their budgets in 2015/16, and that, as a result, the total reduction in core government funding since 2010 amounts to 40%.
This is from David Sparks, a Labour councillor and the LGA chair.
Councils have spent the past four years finding billions of pounds worth of savings, while working hard to protect the services upon which people rely.
But those same efficiency savings cannot be made again. The savings of more than £2.5 billion councils need to find before April will be the most difficult yet. We cannot pretend that this will not have an impact on local government’s ability to improve people’s quality of life and support local businesses.
The government has today published a chart with salary figures for special advisers (pdf).
According to Labour, the cost of special advisers has risen 17% over the last year. This is from the Press Association.
The pay bill for ministers’ special advisers has risen to more than £8m, according to official figures.
Labour said the rise – to a total of 8.4 million for 103 “Spads” in 2013-14 – represented a 17% increase on the previous year.
The government has announced that it would like to stop police cells being used to hold under-18s with mental health conditions. Publishing the findings of a review into this issue, Theresa May, the home secretary, said:
I am determined to put an end to children who are suffering a mental illness being detained in police cells. There is no place for this in our society.
Too frequently it is a police officer who responds to a person in crisis. Vulnerable children and adults should be treated by police with respect and compassion, but I am very clear that it is the job of health professionals to provide the healthcare and support required.
Although there is no space remaining in this parliament to make these changes, I believe there is a general consensus that these issues must be addressed. Therefore I hope that in the next parliament the momentum that has been generated will be maintained.
Thanks to everyone who has offered Christmas wishes BTL. Happy Christmas to you too. And Happy Christmas to everyone.
The Unite union has said that council funding settlements are “not sustainable”. This is from its national officer, Fiona Famer.
Local councils are already at breaking point with services being cut to the bone or stopped completely. Many are staring into the financial abyss of bankruptcy because of this latest round of cuts which will eat into key services we all rely on.
Local government needs a fair funding settlement. It is simply not sustainable to expect councils serving some of the poorest communities in the country to bear the brunt of the Tory-led government’s addiction to austerity.
And this is what Tony Travers, the local government expert, was saying.
Professor Tony Travers says “local government has continued to have surprisingly good satisfaction measures” #wato
But that has led to a confidence in the Treasury of being able to cut further – Tony Travers on #wato
On the World at One council leaders have been talking about the impact of the cuts.
Surrey Council leader: “When we’ve taken 40% out of our budgets, it’s extremely difficult to continue, continue to do that.” #wato
“I think we’ve reached the tipping point.. people are really going to start noticing now” – leader of Buckinghamshire County Council #wato
Bucks Council Leader: “We’re going to have to make cuts of about another £46m in the next 3 yrs & those cuts are going to be felt by people”
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn asks Hopkins if he realises what the impact of these cuts will be. His council (he’s MP for Islington North) will face cumulative cuts worth 50%, he says.
Hopkins says Corbyn should remember what state Labour left the economy in.
Hilary Benn, the shadow communities secretary, has been tweeting about the council funding settlement.
Once again, it is the poorest communities that are being hardest hit in the local government settlement.
Now clear that Eric Pickles lost his battle with George Osborne to save funding for the local welfare assistance fund.
Labour’s Jack Dromey says Birmingham is losing £338m over the next two years. It is losing more than Surrey.
The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE) has said that today’s cuts will push some councils “to breaking point”. This is from its director, Graeme McDonald.
This settlement reminds us that the financial challenge facing local government is immense. Cuts of up to 6.4% will push some authorities to breaking point.
Government is beginning to recognise that councils have led the way on deficit reduction, but with cuts and demand increasing, fragility is beginning to show. The financial future of local services is unsustainable without a more ambitious plan for public service reform.
Here’s the start of the Press Association story about the cuts.
Councils in England are to face an overall cut of 1.8% in their total spending power in 2015/16.
Announcing the settlement in the House of Commons, local government minister Kris Hopkins said that the reduction would leave councils with “considerable total spending power”.
Hopkins is replying to Benn.
He says he is disappointed by the tone of Benn’s statement. Benn did not recognise Labour’s role in the financial crisis.
Hilary Benn, the shadow communities secretary, says council resent the suggestion that the cuts are modest.
Councils serving the most deprived areas have been hit the hardest, he says.
Hopkins says over the last year councils have increased their reserves by £2.2bn. They now have reserves of £21.4bn.
He says the government will make funds available to allow councils to freeze council tax.
Councils (+ police) can raise council tax (+ precept) by up to 2% without referendum…victory for Theresa May over Eric Pickles
Hopkins is delivering this statement very badly. He keeps stumbling over his words. ITV’s Simon Mares says Eric Pickles, who is sitting beside him, is not helping.
Stumbling delivery by minister Kris Hopkins as he details council cuts to MPs – not helped by a running commentary by his boss Eric Pickles.
Hopkins says the best authorities are transforming the way they do services.
He says they need to prioritise the way they do business.
Hopkins says it is not just about the amount of money the government gives to councils.
The government has given them the tools to help themselves. Now they can keep business rates revenue. Hopkins says 91% of them expect to increase their business rates revenue.
Kris Hopkins, the local government minister, is speaking now.
He says local government has made a significant contribution to putting the public finances back on track.
Actually, it is Kris Hopkins, the local government minister, making the statement, I’ve been told.
He is due to speak any minute now.
Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, is due to make his statement about council spending in the Commons shortly.
He will present the funding grants for 2015-16. Last year the government signalled that councils would face a cut of 1.8%.
Here are the key points from Nick Clegg’s Call Clegg phone-in.
Apparently, according to Kerry Smith, he was on sedatives. Of all the excuses for this kind of bile and racist, homophoboic vitriol, was “I was on a sedative”. Most people on a sedative don’t become Alf Garnett on stilts, do they. Most people on sedatives go to sleep. But apparently in Ukip, if you are on a sedative, you just become even unpleasant.
What we are seeing in Ukip is what I always predicted would happen, which is that the more they try and become like a political party, rather than just a movement of angry blokes – it’s almost always angry blokes in suits just saying they are against everything – and the more they are being pressed on what they would do, the more the problems emerge.
If that’s what they do on sedatives, just imagine what they would do on Red Bull.
They’ve got it wrong. It’s a comedy, for heaven’s sake. It’s just extraordinary that in a free society we are allowing these online thugs from this police state to intimidate people having a bit of fun … There’s a big issue of principle here. We can’t have police states, through hacking and online intimidation, stopping free societies like ours having films shown on the cinemas that we want to see.
Do I enjoy sitting there watching Ed Miliband and David Cameron, week in, week out, tear strips off each, and I can’t get up and say my piece – it’s not my favourite place to be …
David Cameron, to be blunt, is not speaking as prime minister of a coalition government, increasingly, at prime minister’s questions. He’s basically using it as a platform to advertise Conservative party policy. Now, it’s not really my job to sit there, on my hands, politely helping him along …
Q: Were Sony right to pull the comedy about North Korea?
No, says Clegg. They were wrong. They should not back down in the face of threats from “online thugs from a police state”.
Q: At our school, where people are supposed to get free school meals, they are just getting packed lunches, including frozen sandwiches and donughts.
Clegg asks for the name of the school. The caller says she does not want to give it on air. Clegg says what she is describing is “completely wrong”. He will get the details of the school and look into it.
Clegg says Ukip said Smith made those comments because he was on sedatives. Sedatives are supposed to calm you down, he jokes. Imagine what he would be saying without sedatives.
Q: Do you support the EU’s decision to take Hamas off its list of terrorist organisations?
Clegg says the EU decision is a bit more complicated than that. It was to do with definitions affecting financial sanctions.
Q: Why don’t you just not turn up at PMQs?
From time to time, I don’t, says Clegg.
Q: Why do my partner and I no longer get child benefit, when child benefit is being paid to children living abroad?
Clegg says the caller is right. That system is wrong.
Q: At PMQs yesterday you looked very grumpy?
Clegg says it is not his favourite time of the week. He has to listen to David Cameron and Ed Miliband and cannot say anything.
On Call Clegg Nick Ferrari asks about a story that has just broken about a European Court of Justice ruling.
Here is the Press Association snap about it.
The European Court of Justice has ruled that British-Irish citizen Sean McCarthy should be allowed to bring his Colombian wife to the UK from their home in Spain without her having to apply for a travel visa, potentially opening UK borders to large numbers of non-European Union nationals.
Back to the Myners report about the sale of the Royal Mail. Lord Myners was on the Today programme earlier talking about it. He said on balance it was a “well-executed” exercise.
Actually it was on balance a well-executed, complex exercise. The government managed to achieve its objective; privatising the Royal Mail, exposing it to market discipline and importantly access to private capital should it require further capital in the future. So, this was something which governments over the last twenty years or so had tried to do but had failed. And the government was successful in the privatisation …
The important thing is that the panel of experts concluded that it’s possible that the Royal Mail could have been sold for 20p or 30p more a share, but that would have taken considerable risk into the transaction.
Q: What are you going to do about the epidemic of child abuse? [The caller says she is an abuse survivor.]
Clegg says the government has set up a child abuse inquiry.
Q: There is a report today about the shortfall when the Royal Mail was sold. Shouldn’t those responsible have to pay?
Clegg says Lord Myners says the sale of the Royal Mail was done professionally, very well. People said the sale was undervalued by £1bn or so. The Royal Mail was sold for £2bn. Myners says the government could have got £180m more. But it says that could not have happened without the government taking a risk, and that the government was entitled not to take a risk.
The Commons is sitting today for the last time in 2014. This may also be my last live blog of the year (I’m working some days next week, but probably won’t be doing a daily blog, unless a big story breaks) and it’s going to be a bit patchy, because I’ve got to disappear after 10am until lunchtime for a meeting.
That means I won’t be doing minute by minute coverage of the Eric Pickles statement on council spending cuts, which is due at about 11.15am, but there will be coverage at theguardian.com/politics and I will pick up reaction later.
1. Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills: UK Anti-Corruption Plan
2. Chancellor of the Exchequer: Annual European Union Finances Statement