In the first week of full campaigning for Lewes District Council elections, the Lib Dems have set out a bold vision for the future of the District. Their proposals focus on fighting for a fairer future for Lewes District and providing opportunities for all, with key policies on low cost housing, improving green spaces and supporting our local high streets; as well as a central pledge to bring more transparency to council decision-making, to ensure that the District Council is more accountable to the voters and council tax payers of the Lewes area.
There is currently no overall control on Lewes District Council and the Lib Dems are the main challengers to the Conservative group, the Lib Dems have a dynamic new team standing across the District and are pushing to take control.
Senior Liberal Democrat District Councillor Stephen Gauntlett (Seaford Central) said: “Over recent years, we have seen a handful of Tory councillors making key decisions behind closed doors in a ‘cabinet system’, they are out of touch with the needs of our community and have failed to listen to changing needs across the District.
“While national budgets have been squeezed, local budgets have been slashed and local people have been let down. The Liberal Democrats will open up the council, letting all councillors contribute. We’ll also run a regular residents’ survey to ask local people what matters to them; and we will ensure that the council provides more information so that you can see how your taxes are spent and make sure they are spent fairly.”
Councillor Janet Baah (Lewes Bridge) said: “We will focus on fairness of opportunity, including support to local start-ups and small businesses and put buying of council services from businesses in the District at the heart of a Liberal Democrat council; while reducing our impact on the environment, such as reducing plastic waste and improving recycling.”
“Local Liberal Democrats are committed to improving opportunities for all our residents. We want to ensure young people have a future here and will enable them to build their lives by developing low cost housing and thriving high streets so that no one is left behind.” added Councillor Julie Carr (Newhaven North).
“This is our council,” Lewes Town campaigner Oli Henman said, “We believe that everyone should have a say in its decision making. A vote for your local, hardworking Liberal Democrat candidate will make this a reality”.
The Liberal Democrat local manifesto sets out a bold vision to deliver a fairer deal for residents, ensuring budgets are available to tackle the major issues in our District: a cleaner and greener local environment; low cost housing; support for local businesses; and a more open inclusive council. The manifesto is available here (4MB download).
The Liberal Democrats’ campaign to save Ringmer swimming pool is gathering pace, with the launch of a petition to save the facility that was built in the 1980s thanks to community fund-raising.
Within minutes of the Lib Dems breaking the news that the pool is threatened with closure, a local Facebook page had picked up the story and brought out massive support for keeping the pool open. The pool is currently run by Wave Leisure, but its contract with East Sussex County Council runs out on 31 March, and there’s currently no arrangement for what happens after that.
The February issue of the Lib Dems’ newsletter Ringmer Focus broke the story. Three days after it hit the first doormats, Lewes Liberal Democrats launched a petition, which reads: "We call on East Sussex County Council to guarantee that Ringmer Swimming Pool will remain open, and that, before any decision is taken that would result in a significant reduction in community availability, it will discuss all options with Ringmer residents, the school and other authorities."
Lib Dem county councillor for Ringmer and Lewes Bridge, Philip Daniel, said, "I now understand that with Wave Leisure’s contract to manage the pool expiring on 31st March, the county council invited proposals for a new management contract for the pool but received no bids. This is obviously worrying, and we need to find out why, as the pool may well be viable under a different management model.
"That’s why I'm encouraged that the council is trying to negotiate a one-year extension with Wave Leisure (and with cooperation from Kings Academy that shares use of the pool) which would allow us time to fully assess the pool's use and how we can keep it open in the long run. I am obviously monitoring developments closely."
The pool was built in the early 1980s after a massive fund-raising campaign among people in Ringmer. It was originally open-air, but a roof was built shortly after. For many years it ran with volunteer lifeguards, but stricter retraining and refresher requirements reduced the numbers of lifeguards, and the management was contracted out first to Freedom Leisure and then to Wave Leisure.
Ringmer Lib Dem Chris Bowers, a district councillor from 2007 to 2015, added, "We learned about this because, as good local campaigners, we have our ear to the ground in Ringmer. Given the way the pool came into existence, the most important thing is that the community of Ringmer has a chance to retake control if no commercial entity is willing to run the pool, perhaps along similar lines to the way Ringmer Library has been relaunched under voluntary local management.
"We know it's not easy to make pools pay for themselves, and we know council funding has been cut to the bone. We just need the future of the pool to be decided with full community involvement - that’s what we're fighting for."
Lewes District Council’s budget, passed on Monday night, included a number of amendments put forward by Opposition Liberal Democrat group leader Sarah Osborne to safeguard jobs and the environment.
The Lib Dem amendments include: spending £10,000 on a citizens science project to measure air quality around the district; spending £10,000 on projects to improve and preserve local biodiversity; and spending £28,000 to replace litter bins with dual litter and recycling bins to make it easier for residents to recycle “on the go”.
Cllr Osborne’s amendments also included the appointment of a trade and investment account manager. They would be responsible for attracting investment and supporting businesses within the district.
Cllr Osborne said: “Never before have local authorities needed to do more to attract new businesses to their areas.
“We know we will soon be partially reliant on business rates for much of our income and of course we face the challenge of a possible Brexit.
“Thus we need to resource and have a focused approach to boost the start-up and growth of businesses in the Lewes area.”
A final amendment sets out plans to use empty council-owned assets as ‘pop-up business spaces’ in Lewes and Newhaven, in an effort to provide office space for small scale businesses and start-ups.
Speaking after the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill was passed in the House of Commons tonight by just 58 votes, former Liberal Democrat Care Minister Norman Lamb MP said:
“Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people are at risk of unlawfully having their freedom restricted and receiving inappropriate care. That is the deeply flawed system this Bill should have fixed, but instead the Conservatives produced one of the worst pieces of legislation ever seen.
“I set the Government two tests at the beginning of this process. Does the new system safeguard individuals’ human rights and does the new system result in very vulnerable people being better protected? Conservative Ministers have failed both of these tests.
“It is incredibly worrying that the Conservative Government are still pursuing this change in legislation when there has been overwhelming and united opposition from parties and care organisations. People deserve better, and the Liberal Democrats will keep fighting for the rights of the most vulnerable.”
“When are weekend rail closures going to end & when is the government going to stop jamming up our narrow streets in Lewes with rail replacement buses?” asks Lewes District Councillor Vic Ient.
The 9-day closure of the rail network between Lewes and London scheduled for the 16th to 24 Feb was intended to bring an end to weekend rail closures but it is not so. Vic Ient says: “I am absolutely fed up with the line closures on Southern! If the Lewes to Uckfield line hadn't been closed in 1968 there would be an alternative route to London, but government policy is to put ‘all eggs in one basket’ and route all trains up the crowded Brighton mainline!”
Cllr Ient continues “Not only have the residents of Lewes and the surrounding areas put up with years of weekend line closures with replacement buses jamming the narrow streets of Lewes, we now have a 9 day closure from the 16th to 24 February plus several weekend closures which will close the line between Lewes and London. This 9 day closure was meant to avoid lots of weekend closures but Network Rail are continuing with closures both before and after. Here in Lewes the ancient Southover High Street was crowded with replacement buses last Sunday, which has become a typical Sunday scene.
Councillor Ient is exasperated at the continued weekend closures and the lack of information on the Brighton mainline and Southern websites. He says “Neither the new special ‘closures’ Brighton mainline, nor the Southern Railways websites give you enough detail. Regarding the 4 day closure in March locally, Southern say on their website ‘We are awaiting further details of how Southern are affected by engineering work on this date’. The Southern website doesn't tell you to go to the Network Rail website but that is the only place where you can find actual details needed to plan a journey. It seems there is a complete lack of coordination on providing information between Thames Link/GTR, Southern, Network Rail and the Dept for Transport. Why isn't all this information directly available on one website?”
Cllr Ient who is a retired project manager, concludes “If Network Rail and the Department of Transport were running this as a professional project, they would have all the downstream dates logged and published in one place. I wonder if their plans have been worked out in detail or are these rail closures like the timetabling debacle of last year? Chris Grayling, the Government’s Secretary of State for Transport, refused to take blame for rail timetable chaos and I guess he'll remain true to form and distance himself from any rail closures problems. I have written to him and asked him when weekend rail closures going to end and why doesn't he reopen the Lewes to Uckfield railway line.”
Join our call to reopen the Lewes to Uckfield line- sign the petition here
Rail closures coming up are listed on the special Brighton mainline website:https://brightonmainline.co.uk/ and on Southern Railway's website. They include:
- Saturday and Sunday the 9th and 10th of February
- 9-day closure from the 16th to 24 February
- Closures on the 2nd and 3rd of March
- 4 days of closures between the 7th & 10th March for routes east of Lewes*
- March continues with closures on the 23rd/24th and the 30th/31st
- Further closures in April
* Network Rail say that local closures from the 7th to 10 March will include closures to services between the following stations:
- Wivelsfield - Lewes
- Falmer - Lewes
- Seaford - Lewes
- Polegate - Lewes
Details of engineering works can be found here: http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/service_disruptions/currentAndFuture.aspx
The Lib Dem Opposition on East Sussex County Council today rejected the County budget as damaging to vulnerable residents, unsustainable, and obscure about where cuts would really fall. The Lib Dems blamed central government for withdrawal of grants, failure to reform local authority finance, and negligence in delaying a solution to funding of adult social care.
Group Leader Cllr David Tutt (Eastbourne, St Anthony’s) labelled the budget “a betrayal of our responsibility to local people”. He went on: “it is time to take a stand against hollowing out of local services, and send the government a message to put local authority cuts into reverse.” Cllr Tutt continued: “As last year, we don’t really know where £5m or more of further cuts will really fall – there’s no detail. Even with those cuts, the budget numbers don’t properly add up – and certainly not in the following year and the one after that. The council is relying on one-off sources of money.” Cllr Tutt called upon the Conservative Leaders to stand up to their Government and said: “if you do I will stand firmly beside you and accept whatever sanctions that results in. The time has come to say that further service cuts would be too damaging to our community”.
Lib Dems attacked further cuts proposed to children’s services. Deputy Leader Cllr Kathryn Field (Battle and Crowhurst) said: “Support for looked-after children has been a bright spot in County services; the excellent work of our staff will be threatened by planned funding cuts.”
Lib Dems also pointed out that capital spending on infrastructure would fall, and the Council’s reserves would decline sharply. Finance Spokesperson Cllr Philip Daniel (Ringmer and Lewes Bridge) said: “The capital programme should create new school buildings, roads and community infrastructure – not only is capital spending falling from next year onwards, but maintenance items have been shifted into it. The Council plans to make the sums add up by paying nothing from the revenue budget towards capital next year. That’s not a secure future.” Cllr Daniel added: “We need strong money reserves, but the Council’s plan sees reserves fall from last year to April 2019 by 15% and to go on falling in the years ahead.”
Lib Dem Councillor Carolyn Lambert (Seaford South) said: “The money from extra business rates retention isn’t certain and other Councils aren’t relying on it – I don’t want to see further cuts happen because revenue sources aren’t really there.”
Following the House of Commons’ vote on an 30th on the Crime Bill, the Liberal Democrats have pledged to continue to fight in the House of Lords for a guarantee that evidence provided by the UK will not result in people facing the death penalty.
At Report Stage, Conservative MPs blocked a Liberal Democrat amendment that would have restored that guarantee and instead passed a weaker amendment requiring only that the Government must seek a death penalty assurance – not that they must receive one.
The Bill will now return to the House of Lords for “ping-pong”, where the Liberal Democrat peers will fight to restore a guarantee on the death penalty.
After the vote, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey said:
“The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle.
“That is the longstanding policy of Governments of all political parties, but it’s just words unless we’re prepared to use our influence with one of our closest allies to work towards its abolition.
“The Liberal Democrats support a data-sharing agreement with the United States to allow terrorists, paedophiles and other serious criminals to be brought to justice. But any such agreement must make clear that evidence supplied by the UK will never be used to sentence anyone to death.
“If Donald Trump and his Republican Senators refuse to provide that assurance, it would be them potentially allowing criminals to go free – not the UK.
“Conservative Ministers should be standing up for fundamental British values, including our opposition to the death penalty, not cravenly submitting to Trump’s will.”
Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Home Affairs Brian Paddick said:
“When this matter returns to the House of Lords, Liberal Democrats will ensure there is a proper death penalty assurance guarantee.
“The Government’s alternative amendment to the Bill only requires the Secretary of State to seek death penalty assurances, not guarantee them.
“This means people could be executed in other countries based on evidence provided by the UK. The Government’s argument, that the US might not sign a data-sharing agreement if we insist on death penalty assurances, suggests the Government is prepared to see people lose their lives in order to secure the deal.
“The UK is a signatory to an international convention against the death penalty in all circumstances and yet this Government is prepared to send people to the electric chair. We should be upholding people’s human rights, particularly the right to life, not sacrificing people for the sake of an agreement with the United States, or any other country that still has the death penalty.”
The Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill creates a legal framework for an agreement with the United States for law enforcement agencies to share electronic data to investigate and prosecute serious crimes.
In the House of Lords, Liberal Democrat and other opposition peers passed an amendment to require that any agreement must include assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed in any case in which UK data is used. However, the Government removed that amendment at Committee Stage in the House of Commons.
On Holocaust Memorial Day we have to consider who we will be - the ones who stand and watch or the ones who help.
Primo Levi, "If This A Man", on his experience of the Holocaust*:
". . . [We] are the untouchables to the civilians. They think, more or less explicitly, - with all the nuances lying between contempt and commiseration - that as we have been condemned to this life of ours, reduced to our condition, we must be tainted by some mysterious, grave sin. They hear us speak in many different languages, which they do not understand and which sound to them as grotesque as animal noises; they see us reduced to ignoble slavery, without honour and without names, beaten every day, more abject every day, and they never see in our eyes a light of rebellion, or of peace, or of faith. They know us as thieves and untrustworthy, muddy, ragged and starving, and mistaking the effect for the cause, they judge us worthy of our abasement. Who could tell one of our faces from another? For them we are 'Kazett', a singular neutral word.
"This naturally does not stop many of them throwing us a piece of bread or potato now and again, or giving us their bowls, after the distribution of 'Zivilsuppe' in the work-yards, to scrape and give back washed. They do it to get rid of some importunate starved look, or through a momentary impulse of humanity, or through simple curiosity to see us running from all sides to fight each other for the scrap, bestial and without restraint, until the strongest one gobbles it up, whereupon all the others limp away, frustrated."
He also describes a "more excellent way".
". . .[A]n Italian civilian worker brought me a piece of bread and the remainder of his ration every day for six months; he gave me a vest of his, full of patches; he wrote a postcard on my behalf to Italy and brought me the reply. For all this he neither asked nor accepted any reward, because he was good and simple and did not think that one did good for a reward."
Responding to the latest official figures which have revealed a 19% rise in violent crime recorded by police in England and Wales, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey said:
“We are facing an epidemic of violent crime. Behind these shocking figures lies hundreds of tragedies of young lives cut short. All Conservative Ministers have done is make things worse.
“From severe reductions in the police budget to the weakening of security at our borders, the Prime Minister bears personal responsibility for decisions that have left people and communities in danger.
“Conservative Ministers ought to be getting a grip, yet they have farmed out responsibility to Police and Crime Commissioners and asked them to sort it out.
“The Liberal Democrats demand better for our communities. We demand more police, more youth services and people working better together to stop the violence epidemic spreading even further.”
After many months of waiting the Conservative Administration on East Sussex County Council have at last published details of their proposed budget for the coming year. Delays came partly from late Conservative Government announcements on local government finances and also from uncertainty about the so-called “core offer” of minimum services. The plans will be discussed for the first time in public at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 22 January, leaving very little time for the public to comment upon them before the budget is set on the 5th February.
Details of the plans reveal just how bad things have become as following years of service cuts and Council Tax hikes, the plans for 2019/20 bring more of the same. In addition to a 2.99% rise in Council Tax, in excess of £5m of cuts will be made on top of those already working through from last year’s budget. The impact of these cuts is likely to be felt across the board, including services to adults and children. Whilst details of precisely how they will be applied is still unclear, the Liberal Democrat group will be requesting this information at the Cabinet meeting.
Liberal Democrat Finance Spokesperson, Philip Daniel, explained that “the true state of the County finances is even worse than it may appear as the Conservatives are using a number of “one off” grants to prop up services. These monies can only be used for one year and will result in a bigger challenge to make the books balance in 12 months from now. The budget doesn’t balance beyond next year and foreshadows yet more cuts from 2020 onwards.” Cllr Daniel continued, “it is interesting to see that the Conservatives have taken up some of the ideas the Liberal Democrats put forward last year, such as the way that the “Minimum Revenue Provision” is calculated, in order to reduce the pain, but they are still shying away from the need to completely change the way in which the Council is organised in order to provide a sustainable future”.
Liberal Democrat Leader, David Tutt commented, “we know that many of the problems stem from major cuts in the grant provided by national government. These cuts are destroying communities and taking away vital services which local people need and expect. I recognise that all parties have been lobbying Government on this issue, but I believe that the time has now come for East Sussex Conservatives to stand up to their own Government and tell them that enough is enough”.