Lights out across Hertfordshire

The Mercury newspaper is right to express concern about the County Council’s decision to turn out street lights after midnight across Hertfordshire which will be implemented in East Herts in the summer. The policy will cost £4.5 million while saving only £1.3 million a year.

Labour is very concerned about the lack of publicity, its impact on the opportunity for crime (which the Tory Council are obviously trying to hide) and the restrictions it will place on people walking home at night after a late shift or evening out through concerns about personal safety. 

As a minimum; there needs to be local consultation on key routes which local people would like to stay lit so as to minimise the distance that people have to walk in the dark.

We’re NOT all in this together

There has been a lot of discussion as to whether we are any better off following the Budget which delivered tax rises to pensioners and tax cuts to people earning over £150,000 a year. Labour thinks that we are much worse off. 

For example; following the Budget, a family with children earning just £20,000 loses £253 from this April – on top of VAT hit costing on average £450 per year.

Instead of cutting taxes for the richest 1%, Labour would have invested the money in keeping police officers on Hertfordshire’s streets, helped young people into work (with a levy on bank bonuses) and supported small businesses to grow and take on new workers by cutting their National Insurance contributions. Of course there needs to be tough decisions on tax, spending and pay.  

But the deficit will not be paid off by simply cutting taxes for the rich. We need a plan for jobs and growth to get the economy moving again, to get people off the dole and so earn our way back to prosperity. It is also wrong to remove Working Tax Credits from hard working families working less that 24 hours a week. It will lock families into poverty and mean that many households will be better off on welfare benefits than in work.  

With unemployment at a 17 year high and economic growth flat as a pancake; asking millions to pay more so that millionaires can pay less is the wrong priority. It is the people in East Hertfordshire and beyond who don’t get invited to private dinner parties with Dave at 10 Downing Street who will suffer.

What have the Tories got to hide on NHS reorganisation?

A quick quiz. Who said this in June last year?

“This incredible demand shows the power of transparency, and why we need more of it. Information is power. It lets people hold the powerful to account, giving them the tools they need to take on politicians and bureaucrats. It gives people new choices and chances, allowing them to make informed judgements about their future. And it lets our professionals judge themselves against one another ….”

Yep David Cameron.

Now he and the rest of the Tory Government say they will not publish the transition risk registers on the NHS changes because of confidentiality. This is despite a legal ruling ordering the Government to do so. How can the Lords properly debate the final stages of the Health and Social Care Bill without the full facts?

The Tories use the excuse that Labour did not publish risk registers when it was in Government. But that is a false comparison as Labour was investing in the NHS not cutting £20 Billion over 5 years (the biggest cut in history) or engaging in wholesale privatisation of the health service as the Tories are.

What are they hiding?

Tory Spending Priorities in Hertfordshire

Evidence of the hypocritical nature of Tory rule and their spending priorities in Hertfordshire becomes clearer by the day. Two council chief executives are allowed to negotiate ‘staggering’ retirement payoffs at huge cost to the taxpayer – which we only discovered thanks to the Mercury – while council workers’ pay is frozen and council jobs are cut to save money.

A Tory Minister visiting Welwyn Garden City also has the brass neck to claim that spending nearly £2 million of our money in November electing a Police Commissioner will improve policing in Hertfordshire. This is rubbish.

What will improve policing is spending that money employing more Police Officers. Instead; Tory cuts mean that 63 front line police officer posts will be lost in Hertfordshire this year. These cuts will threaten Hertfordshire’s hard won reputation as somewhere safe to live.  

So let’s have no more lectures from the Tories on the need to spend wisely and save money. The people of Hertfordshire deserve better.

Dysfunctional East Herts District Council

If Chief Inspector Jon Speed was a school inspector and had said that a school was ‘Dysfunctional, No leadership, No Direction (Mercury Front page, Jan 26th) Ofsted would have quickly moved in, closed the school down and removed the head teacher. So why doesn’t the same standard apply to East Herts District Council? Why isn’t the council under ‘special measures’ with outside experts brought in to run it like a school would be?

As Ofsted knows, poor performance starts from complacency at the top. The Tories won 46 of the 50 of the seats (92%) on East Herts District Council last May but on the back of only 52.9% of the vote – yes only just over half.

Such bias means that the Tories assume they just have to turn up and win as they have done for decades. This breeds complacency and flabby thinking from the elected members down as everyone knows nothing will change. There will be no Opposition to test ideas, to hold senior officers properly to account, to argue for new policies or challenge spending priorities. David Cameron is rightly critical of schools in prosperous areas which just coast and muddle through – why do we have to put up with the same from the district council?

In an ideal world, with a more diverse council which reflected the percentage of votes cast, you can also be sure that there would be more openness with the people of East Herts about the terms of departure of a Chief Executive – we are paying for it after all.

As Chief Inspector Speed says; “The local taxpayers deserve so much better.”

Hertford Urgent Care Centre closure – Tories did nothing

Cllr Tony Jackson’s meetings with his Tory colleagues reported in this week’s Mercury to discuss Hertford’s Urgent Care Centre are too little and far too late. It was on February 17th that the Evaluation Panel, including Tory Councillors to ‘represent’ the local community, voted unanimously to close the Urgent Care Centres in Hertford and Cheshunt. Yet only now, four months later, has Cllr Jackson done anything.

In April I went to 10 Downing Street to hand in a letter asking the Prime Minister to intervene to save Hertford’s Urgent Care Centre. Last month a health minister replied to me pointing out that closing the Urgent Care Centre was a local decision and that the Evaluation Panel had voted to close it. There was no reference to the Government’s NHS reforms or other excuse.

When Broxbourne’s Tory MP raised the issue of the closure of Cheshunt’s Urgent Care Centre in Parliament, as well as organising a protest march and petition, the Government again pointed to the Evaluation Panel vote as justification for its closure. But at least Cheshunt will have a Minor Injuries Unit and extra GP service funded by Tory led Broxbourne Council. And what was Mark Prisk MP doing to save Hertford’s Urgent Care Centre? Well; he did write a column in the Mercury attacking the local Labour Party about the issue.

So yes Cllr Jackson; I am emotional. The NHS matters to me, it matters to people in Hertford and its sickening the way that you and your Tory colleagues have let us down in East Herts. A little more action and emotion and Hertford would have got a better deal.

Future challenges facing Hertford and Stortford

There are many challenges facing Hertford and Stortford. Looking ahead I see four particular issues:

  • An aging population – there are a higher than average number of pensioner only households. Fuel poverty is a big concern as many pensioners are on low incomes in dwellings with high heating costs,
  • The need for more affordable housing within sustainable communities as the local population grows as more people move here for employment and the good quality of life in East Hertfordshire. We need to ask the question ‘Where will our children live?’,
  • The impact of climate change with higher levels of rainfall in shorter periods leading to flooding (central Hertford particularly) but other areas also. Summers will become hotter and longer. This will cause problems for older and other vulnerable people not used to the heat; with a knock on impact on health and social services
  • Transport capacity as more people move away from London but continue to commute to work in the centre.

Graham Nickson Delivers Petition for Urgent Care Centres to Number 10

‘Last, desperate attempt’ to save urgent care centres
By Martin Ford – Herts Mercury

CAMPAIGNERS from local Labour parties have made a “last, desperate attempt” to save the urgent care centres in Hertford and Cheshunt, taking their pleas to the Prime Minister.

A letter was hand delivered to 10 Downing Street by Cllr Malcolm Aitken (Lab, Waltham Cross) and Graham Nickson, parliamentary spokesman for the Hertford and Stortford Labour Party, asking for the Government to intervene.

The letter highlights the anticipated extra pressure on already overburdened GPs and A&E departments and the distance patients would have to travel.

They also pour scorn on the reason given for the centres’ closure – that too many patients were using it instead of their GPs or A&E.

“We believe that it is outrageous to blame local people for the closure of popular services that are filling a vital need,” the letter read.

“Whilst you conduct a ‘listening period’ in order to respond to concerns about the Government’s proposed NHS reforms, we hope that you will also listen to local people in Broxbourne and East Herts and stop the Urgent Care Centres from being closed.”

Speaking after delivering the letter, Mr Nickson said: “The Prime Minister needs to know that the councillors who voted to close the centres do not represent the views of local people.”

Cllr Aitken added: “I’m delighted to be handing a letter to Number 10 on behalf of the residents of Broxbourne, to hopefully get the Prime Minister to intervene.

“Let’s hope they listen to the people of this borough, and in Hertford and Stortford.”