General Election 2017

Very pleased to be standing again at GE2017 on June 8th as Prospective MP for Harrogate & Knaresborough constituency.

Of course, Brexit will be the major issue in focus. My stance is for a softer approach to Brexit, one that, in particular, would guarantee UK access to the single market.

But there are wider issues here.

Frankly I don’t think the country can endure another decade of austerity. Under the Conservatives :

  • wages have stagnated, with no real growth since the crash
  • the NHS is being progressively starved of proper funding
  • schools budgets are being cut–nearly all schools in our area will have to cut numbers of teachers by 2019
  • progress towards sustainable energy has stalled and the green agenda seems irrelevant to the Tories

The fact is the Tories like to rule–to be in charge–but have not got a clue about how to govern.

Their reckless approach to a hard Brexit, the NHS, schools and the green agenda is the wrong path for our great country and will bring it to its knees by 2022 if they continue in office.

There is a progressive choice in Harrogate & Knaresborough, if you don’t like the way the Tories are running the country.  Please support us by donating to the campaign now, or signing up to deliver our message.  You can donate here:

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/HelenFlynnNextMPforHandK

Contact me at helenflynn@me.com, follow me on twitter, @flynnhc, and join the Facebook page: Harrogate & Knaresborough Liberal Democrats.

Hope to see you during the campaign!

Why I oppose fracking: the facts

At the moment, I am out on the doorstep most days talking to people in the Pateley Bridge division area where I am standing for election in the North Yorkshire County Council elections, and fracking comes up a lot.  People are concerned that with the second fracking licence in the UK having been granted in Ryedale, North Yorkshire appears to be “open for business” as far as fracking is concerned.

I have had a few people contact me  via email about fracking.  So I thought I would use this blog to expand on why I oppose fracking:

  • Not a long term solution.  We know that oil and gas are finite resources.  What investment that is available to improve and enlarge our energy supply should go to sustainable, clean technologies, such as solar, offshore wind and tidal, etc (we are an island, after all!)
  • Not clean energy.  UK air pollution is linked to 40,000 early deaths a year*.  The sooner we can wean ourselves off the fossil fuels that are contributing to air pollution, the better.
  • Not a good use of money.  Why continue to invest in an energy source that we know is going to run out, when that investment could be going into clean and sustainable energy sources?!  In these straitened times, we must invest money wisely and not throw it away.

If you don’t believe me, listen to what Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb and many other devices dependent on electricity, said 86 years ago!

 ”I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy.  What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait ’til oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Some 86 years later, this Conservative Government still seems to be stuck in the past, reliant on an old and dirty fuel source that we know at some point will run out. It does not make sense to me.

So, let’s look after our countryside, look to the future and invest in sustainable energy!

 

* According to the Royal College of Physicians. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-35629034

The Crisis in Early Years Education Funding

With much of the focus of public concerns understandably being with respect to the funding of the NHS and social care, a significant funding issue is falling under the radar that will have significant impact in our local area here in North Yorkshire, and other parts of the country.

The Government policy to offer 30 hours free care for three and four year olds is a great policy, forged in the coalition years, that has now come into legislation.  This makes it much easier for working parents to plan for the care of their young children in an affordable way.

However, the way that the funding formula has been devised means that some local authorities are winners and others are losers, with North Yorkshire very firmly being a loser.

The funding now provided does not cover the actual core costs of the daycare providers, and with 30 hours being on offer, there is little “wiggle room” to provide other hours that can be chargeable at a sustainable rate.  This has been compounded by increases in the minimum wage that many day nurseries, in particular, have been affected by.

It is great to have a policy that gives working parents a helping hand in difficult financial times.  But this will turn out to be rather hollow if too many early years providers go to the wall because of their inability to cover their costs, leaving parents with nowhere to “cash in” their entitlement.

There is no doubt that going forwards, many early years providers will have to close their doors if this funding issue is not somehow resolved.  And the fact is that all the evidence shows that investing in early years education represents the single best way to reduce gaps in educational outcomes between disadvantaged youngsters and their more advantaged peers.

As with the NHS and social care, this is yet another example of more Tory cuts to education in particular and public services in general, that we simply should not stand for.

The local and national crisis in health and social care

Few people can be in doubt about the enormous crisis our beloved NHS is facing, and the plight of adult social care.  Here in North Yorkshire, despite a higher than average population of over-65′s, and the number set to grow as a proportion of our population over the coming years, North Yorks County Council has to find an additional £42 million cuts to services over the next three years.  That is in addition to the £100 million cuts already made since 2010.

How can this be achieved without seriously compromising the care that elderly and vulnerable adults receive?  I don’t think it can, and a second decade of austerity is simply not sustainable to my way of thinking.  Local council budgets have been hacked to the marrow and there is little scope to actually make meaningful and responsive local decisions anymore, such is the level of national Government centralisation.

A sight that some of us may have seen since the Autumn is ambulances queuing at A & E and patients waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors. Some of us will have seen the situation at first hand, waiting with a relative or waiting for treatment. Bed occupancy has been dangerously high in many hospitals, with senior managers and doctors having to take decisions that, in some instances, are literally life or death.

Upsetting as these images are, they show only the tip of a very large iceberg that is threatening to sink an NHS and the social care system unable to cope with demand.

Now, to add more pressure to services, the Conservative Government has imposed the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC), which from next month will charge employers, including those in health and social care, who bring in doctors and nurses from abroad on a Tier 2 visa, £1000 a year. This may not seem a large amount of money, but it adds up to £3.5m for doctors, £1.6m for trainee doctors and £0.65m for nurses. This is money diverted away from the front line and could discourage employers from recruiting essential staff.

Liberal Democrats are clear that we must find £4bn right away to address the current funding crisis in health and social care. In the budget statement last week, all that we got was the promise of £2bn over three years for social care and a bit extra for A&E. That is simply not enough.   I look forward to the final report of the independent commission on funding of health and social care, set up by Norman Lamb MP to find a long term sustainable solution.

It’s time politicians stopped using health and care as political footballs, and the national Government stopped starving local councils of funding to address their own specific issues in their own areas.  The crisis facing our NHS and care system is not going to diminish anytime soon if things remain as they are.

 

Why Liberals should embrace the steady state economy

Published on Lib Dem Voice 9 December 2016

One of the saddest things about the lurch to extremism and the right wing of the political spectrum over the past few years—and especially these last few months—has been that attention has been taken away from the significant problems with capitalism and its reliance on continued growth that the 2008 crash had exposed.

The Classical Economists, in particular Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, had already theorised centuries ago that growth could not go on forever and that eventually states would enter the condition of being a “stationary state”.  John Stuart Mill wrote that the “increase of wealth is not boundless….the end of growth leads to a stationary state”.  In addition, John Maynard Keynes thought that economic growth should not be infinite and that eventually we should reach a place where we could focus on more spiritual issues.

A steady state economy is an economy made up of a constant stock of physical wealth (capital) and a constant population size.  Though the term typically refers to a national economy of a particular country it can also be applicable to the economic system of a city, a region or the entire world.  The beauty of the thinking behind the theory of the steady state economy is that it broadly recognises that the world we live in is one of scarce and finite resources and uses other metrics than GDP to measure true value in any society.

Arguably countries such as Japan and maybe even the UK, Italy and other developed European countries are approaching becoming stationary states.  In the case of Japan it has been shown that citizens have been able to get by well on no or low growth for well over two decades.  By contrast, one European state, Germany has actively been pursuing economic growth by using immigration policies to halt population decline and fend off stasis, Angela Merkel describing immigration as “an opportunity” .

However, politically, putting forward policies that would bring about a steady-state economy here are difficult and there is no doubt that the Conservatives would not and could not support such policies.  Progress is not in their DNA but the pounds, shillings and pence of business and banking transactions is in their DNA, so the leap  required to get to this point of thinking so differently about the economy is quite literally beyond them.  Also, many of their number are climate change sceptics who clearly think that we live on a planet with inexhaustible resources.

But it should be a naturally liberal policy, as a more equal society where we consume less, have more leisure time and use more sustainable energy all attest to our strong and basic liberal values and heritage.

Also, there is evidence at the edges to show that it is state we are heading towards anyway.  In particular, the fact that this generation of young people will earn less than their parents is already a sign that growth in our economy is destined to be on the wane:  There is also evidence that this generation is consuming less than the older generation. .  Finally the sharing economy is here and looks destined to stay.  This combined with the gig economy means that consumption will be decreasing over time as people brought up in this new world begin to outnumber those from the “old world” of unending growth and “consumption for consumption’s sake”.

Finally, this new state we find ourselves in is almost certainly one of the reasons why more and more politicians, think tanks and academics are considering the Universal Basic Income as a serious policy.

There is a strong reaction to the way that things are going in much of the developed world, and it is no wonder that the extremists on the right wing are having a field day.  Change is scary, especially fundamental change that shakes up norms.  But it is also an opportunity to move to a sustainable way of living that we as liberals should be embracing and advocating.

 

It’s the Inequality

Originally published on Lib Dem Voice on 8th November 2016 (www.libdemvoice.org)

Gary Lineker has been coming out with some pithy, relevant comments recently on Twitter, and much like an essential feature of the game he professionally played, the result of the US election reveals a country of two halves.

Like Brexit, this result and the corresponding lurch to the right, stem from inequality. Unfortunately, and quite to the contrary of what these dispossessed people have voted for, the resulting administration now has the propensity to make their situation far worse.

It is one thing to be a demagogue and stand up and say what you think people want you to say. It is another thing to deliver that change, especially when your agenda is probably quite different to the one you used to get into power. So those people who voted for him must get used to the idea of getting disillusioned–especially with reference to “building the wall”–pretty soon.

But who can guess what is going on in Donald Trump’s mind? It is certainly the case that he has supported Democrat candidates in the past and has sometimes appeared liberal in what he has said. But he will feel the pressure of a resurgent Republican party and all the extremes that such an establishment contains and has no choice but to act accordingly.

So the lurch to the right is now here to stay and may be enlarged by forthcoming elections in Europe. All of us who are liberal and progressive are undoubtedly fearful. We are fearful, in particular, of right-wing policies connected to: climate change; civil rights; growing nationalism; welfare; taxation and the handling of the economy in general.

The opportunity is there to be seized for liberalism, but we need to make the argument and in particular appeal to those who have been left behind. In reality, no party has truly represented them for years.

In particular our ideas, campaigns and resulting policies must specifically address and advance how changes that have been brought about by exponential growth in technology and growing globalization can and will be a benefit to all and not some. Inequality is the great social evil of our times for those living in much of the developed world and has to be countered head on.

The right will not do this, much as they may claim otherwise. Post Brexit and post Trump, if you are progressive, it’s not enough to stand around and despair. There has to be hope. This is the time for liberalism and progressives everywhere.

 

Let’s Think Again About Universal Basic Income

Originally published on Lib Dem Voice on 28th October 2016 (www.libdemvoice.org)

I was disappointed that the working group on welfare at the recent Brighton conference decided not to back a Universal Basic Income (UBI). An amendment (defeated) put forward by members from Calderdale called for negative income tax. But actually, fundamentally, a UBI is both far more essentially liberal and—in any case–the current societal context and demographic trends demand that we should look far more closely at this, especially as we are a progressive party.

The current welfare system, introduced just after the Second World War, has become complex, bureaucratic, top-down and increasingly intrusive—note that all these descriptors are fundamentally illiberal. Remarkable as it was at the time in terms of its radical policies, and essential in modernising our society, now it is out of date and struggling to cope with 21st century society.

The two huge current issues we cannot ignore are the nature and rate of technological change, and the fact that we have an increasingly ageing society. Though full employment should be the goal of any society, increasingly it is not looking like it will ever be achievable again in the UK in a globalised world, especially the concept of full employment with an adequate, living wage for all workers. This is, at the most simplistic level, mainly because of: outsourcing basic, non-specialist work to cheaper labour markets in emerging economies; and advances in technology which will increasingly automate many forms of work undertaken by people.

Low wages have become a stubborn factor in the UK since the 1990s, and it is difficult to see how these can be shifted upwards anytime in the near future. The “gig economy” looks like it is here to stay for lots of us, with the accompanying lack of financial stability that it brings to many households.

The RSA has been investigating a UBI for well over a year and its report can be found here. In addition trials have begun in the Netherlands and are expected to begin soon in Finland. In fact the Finnish Government is designing a national Basic Income system to replace large parts of their current welfare system. There was a referendum to introduce a Basic Income in Switzerland in June this year, which though heavily defeated, shows how the idea is gaining currency. Think tanks in the USA, Germany, UK, etc, are increasingly looking at UBI as way to ensure all can lead a decent life in the modern world.

I am not proposing that this should be a policy “fix” that is “magicked up” overnight and done to people. This seemed to be one of the reasons for the working group to not include it in their conference motion, as they saw the difficulties with implementation. But in truth, that should not have been a constraint for them. For huge systemic changes to occur, there has to be a conversation with the public that lasts years, probably in this case, decades. There has to be long time for people to get used to the idea and thoroughly understand its benefits, what has changed and why it is needed.

We should be actively encouraging that conversation, and be seen as prime movers and advocates for significant changes in welfare. A poll of members on Lib Dem Voice has already shown that members support the idea of a UBI.

Freedom from being in government can have benefits. We should not longer be content with merely tinkering round the edges. We have to be liberal, think big, and UBI is a great place to start.

 

Sorting out the Political Mess

Originally published on Lib Dem Voice on 28th June 2016 (www.libdemvoice.org)

I am concerned about many of the issues that people have been discussing on Lib Dem Voice and the media over the past few days. The big issues being:

  • The referendum was actually about issues other than the EU and indeed immigration–in particular: gross inequality in our country; how austerity has created winners and losers when it comes to many cities and regions; and the opportunity this represented for people to punish the political elites.
  • The Leave campaign seem to have pedaled out a lot of untruths—especially the inability to be able to stem immigration in the post-Brexit world and our inability to pour £350 million into the NHS each week.

But time to dissect the politics and ponder the political landscape after this momentous decision. Who is fit to run the country both during this period of massive division and after the dust has settled?

First, the Conservatives. I hope most people are seeing now that the referendum was brought about solely because of a Conservative problem. They were and still are deeply divided on the EU and Cameron thought it worth the political gamble to have a referendum to keep part of his party content (and also to keep Ukip at by during the last General Election). We can see that he lost his bet because he felt he had to resign—at a moment when the right thing to do would have been to stay on and try to sort the mess out. This is very poor leadership, to say the least. Osborne disappeared for three days when the markets were in turmoil and prominent Tory Brexiters were left at a loss for meaningful words, apparently because they did not think they would win.

It emerges that there was no plan from the Brexit camp or the administration, despite what Osborne has said since, for the situation we now find ourselves in. It feels like we have just been part of an almost unwitting right-wing coup, with no-one knowing how to pick up the pieces and move forward with purpose at a time when the country is crying out for leadership.

Who will next lead the Conservative party? I am wondering if Boris Johnson, has in fact played this all wrong. How can someone who campaigned so passionately for Brexit lead a country (or indeed a party) so deeply divided on Europe? There is a need to have a moderate leader and someone who can unite the party and country. That is not Boris Johnson or Michael Gove.

Then there is the issue of competence. The Conservatives have long been touted as the responsible and competent party. For how long did they play the old tune that the Labour party had let down the country through being financially incompetent? But now the charge can clearly be levelled at the Tories that they have been politically incompetent and have thereby put the country at risk. But who is going to call them out for this incompetence?

This brings us onto Labour. At a time when the main opposition party should be calling on the Conservatives for leadership and a plan to sort the political mess out, they are engaged in an internecine war over their own leadership. And it seems that this is going to run and run, as Corbyn will not back down.

Also, Labour came to the party late over the referendum, their leader being seemingly lukewarm over membership of the EU and not grasping the nettle early enough. The fact that they were unable to engage their heartlands shows a clear disconnect between the party and what have traditionally been their natural supporters. Labour seems to be in a crisis.

So what now? The Tory and Labour political classes have fallen into themselves at a time when the country needs them. Serious issues of competence and putting the country first over party politics must come into play here. This has been a desperate moment for party politics and has shown it in its worst light.

There has never been a more important moment for liberal ideas and values in our country. I sincerely hope that, as people all across the country have been joining the liberal cause, those MPs who are more liberal in the Labour and Conservative parties, think seriously about whether they can serve their electorates more effectively as part of a liberal party, united behind its leader and its policies.

Seismic shifts are afoot. It is difficult to see how what have been the two main political parties in this country for around a century can return to “business as usual” after this crisis is over.

 

What is Nicky Morgan Doing to School Governance

Originally published on Lib Dem Voice on 22 March 2016 (www.libdemvoice.org)

I’d love to know who is advising the Tories and Nicky Morgan with respect to much of what is contained in the education white paper.

What I sense overall is panic. They are terrified that we will not have the skilled individuals to make us globally competitive. So they are embarking on a series of measures that they think will give more flexibility in the education system and modernize it in terms of structure and accountability, on the one hand, but rigidly defining what children should learn, particularly at primary level, and sticking with archaic, sudden death-style examinations for GCSE and A Level on the other. It really is the worst kind of schizophrenia.

To say it is confused would be too generous. The problem is that the Tories are predominantly in the business of wanting to rule for its own sake and have no idea really about how to get sensibly to where they want to get to through effective policy formulation. So we get this confused mish-mash and then, when it has been passed into legislation, the schools and professionals are left with the truly awful task of trying to make something of it for the sake of the learning and life chances of the actual children.

But an issue that is falling under the radar in terms of this white paper is what it is proposing for governance. The white paper includes:

  • The legal obligation for academies to have parents as governors in schools will cease.
  • Those sitting on a governing board will have to pass a skills test to ensure the board have the ‘right skills.’
  • New national database to be implemented to record all those on governing boards.

So now it’s governors as well who are coming under an unbelievable level of scrutiny. Bear in mind that all governors are currently volunteers who give time for free in the service of their communities. So now they are going to be tested to see if they are up to the job, and will be listed on a national database. And not be paid, it would seem. That sounds really attractive!

They are turning governors into unremunerated non-executive directors, and, of course, the number of them will dwindle. We have already seen academy chain E-ACT’s move to get rid of governing bodies, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35347602.

Academisation of the schools sector, let’s not forget, is the corporatisation of education–as all academies are companies–and these proposals for governance make this all too clear. There is an urgent need for a Liberal Democrat response to the white paper in general and its proposals for governance, in particular, as we are losing the vital link between communities and their schools . This is not something we can tolerate, I believe.

Turkeys won’t vote for Christmas, but may vote for brand new, unnecessary council office buildings

The big decision on the new office accommodation scheme for Harrogate Borough Council, championed by the ruling Conservative Group, takes place on 15th July.

Having seem lots of the detail, finally, on the scheme, I am deeply concerned that this plan will reap no real extra annually recurring savings over and above a scheme of retaining and updating our current town hall at Crescent Gardens and retaining one other adjacent building, Springfield House (“Plan B”).  Though, of course, we are only being given the potential cost savings based on a comparison with the status quo—that of remaining in five offices—that everyone absolutely agrees is not tenable.  So there have been no costings assembled on “Plan B”, that would give us at least some figures and projections where we could truly “go compare”.

Because of the ever-growing amount of information that we democratically elected councillors have to keep secret from the very people who are paying for these schemes, I cannot divulge any of the detail—especially the financial details as yet.  But it seems that a vital step has been missed out—or not even been started yet—at HBC which makes this whole exercise seem rather “previous” to say the least.

We have not looked strategically at our options at becoming a unitary authority, and the very significant cost savings that this would undoubtedly bring annually.

In more recent years an already impoverished Local Government has been expected to play its part in balancing the nation’s books by the end of the decade.  For example, North Yorkshire County Council and Districts have had to make significant savings, in the County’s case alone, around £168 million (actual and projected) between 2011-19.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has published a report that reckons that local authorities could be in the red to the tune of over £19 BILLION by 2020 unless something is done. Many District Councils up and down the country, with much smaller budgets than county councils, could be facing bankruptcy.  And many are already exploring ways of providing shared services or moving to unitary or combined authority status.

Recently, Lord Heseltine, in his review of the regions, has come out strongly in favour of unitary authorities at the expense of District and County Councils.

Unfortunately, the conclusion must be drawn that the two tier system is a system we can no longer afford. One recent convert to unitary, Northumberland, has reported savings over a three year period of over £80 million, whilst a recent survey in Lincolnshire has reckoned that a single unitary alone in the county could save up to £30 million.

In the case of North Yorkshire and its districts just think of the salary savings from cutting down from a Chief Executive per authority, savings in sharing back office functions and reducing the number of councillors.  But there lies the problem, it would seem.  Turkeys just don’t vote for Christmas, but some at least may be inclined to vote for a brand new and unnecessary council office building, it would seem.  The 15th July meeting will bring a decision.

Shame we are debating the wrong issue