Plans by the Conservatives to reintroduce grammar schools are being opposed by Lib Dems in the constituency of Lewes. Kelly-Marie Blundell, Parliamentary Candidate is arguing that they are socially divisive and could lead to children not being able to go to their local school.
“The Conservatives want to select children on the basis of their academic abilities at the age of 11,” said Kelly-Marie. “The flip side of identifying some children as a success at a young age means the rest are labelled as failures. They are then sent to schools that will be regarded as the place where the failures go. In this day and age, this is completely unacceptable.
Kelly-Marie Blundell, Liberal Democrat candidate for Lewes, Newhaven, Seaford and Polegate, has backed plans being put to the Party’s Conference on Monday to give the people of the UK the final say on the negotiated package to leave the EU.
Speaking to over 1000 delegates at the Liberal Democrat autumn conference in Brighton, Kelly-Marie Blundell, prospective parliamentary candidate for Lewes, called for people to campaign to remain in Europe.
Citing over 70 years of peace guaranteed by the EU, Kelly-Marie said:
"We do not just have an urge to campaign, we have a duty to campaign to remain, to British citizens and the citizens of Europe.
Kelly-Marie also called for a referendum on what Brexit looks like:
Lib Dem councillor Vic Ient has proposed that Lewes District Council invite the Department of Transport and Govia/Southern/GTR to come down to Lewes to be grilled over the current failing rail service.
Govia/Southern will be asked to present their plans for a resolution of the dispute currently running with the RMT as well as providing information on what steps they will take to significantly reduce train cancellations and late trains - whether or not there is a dispute with the union.
An additional call was made by fellow Lib Dem Councillor Sarah Osborne (Leader of the Lib Dem group on the Lewes District Council) to begin a longer term review of the state of transport in the Lewes District. Councillor Sarah Osborne said “Many of the residents of Lewes District face enormous difficulties accessing services like education and hospitals because of our relatively poor public transport and our clogged road network. People face expensive and limited ways of getting to their place of work and local businesses tell me it is becoming harder to attract employees because of this. I want LDC to fully consider the impact this has on our residents and businesses, and then work with their partners to action an improved transport network”.
Vic Ient commented about the desperate state of rail services in Sussex saying “commuters are again struggling to get to work, on this ninth day of dispute between Govia, the Government & RMT. These three organisations need to end this dispute. Despite Southern promising the restoration of some services to Seaford towards the end of this month, it is their intention not to restore full services till the end of October. And there is no mention of an end to the dispute with the RMT or exactly how they will restore the services which currently they seem unable to do”.
“Whether or not all or part of the services are restored this autumn the residents of our area need to be assured that they can look forward to going about their business including commuting, family and social activities as well as getting to school and college unhindered by disputes and train cancellations.
“We need to meet the government and Govia face-to-face. They have ignored our support for the Mayor of London’s suggestion back in July for Transport for London to take over the Southern operations”.
The Southern agreement is the only one across the UK’s rail network which sees revenues go into the Department for Transport (DfT) before a fee is passed on to the rail operator. This means that all of the risk is borne by the government and not the rail operator. Govia’s parent companies are not suffering financially over the dispute. It is the rail passenger who is suffering and no doubt any additional costs of the dispute will have to be paid for by us the taxpayer.
This dispute is rooted in Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains however, it remains unclear as to what the DfT has explicitly included in its service agreement with Govia/GTR on this subject. Publicly available documents on the subject do not mention DOO. The precise wording of the service agreement is not available to the public.
Kelly-Marie Blundell has been selected as the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Lewes constituency.
The Liberal Democrats are now ready to fight a general election, selecting candidates across the country in areas with a proud liberal tradition like Lewes.
This follows reports that the new prime minister might take the country to the polls early, before a possible recession and to take advantage of Labour in-fighting.
As a long time campaigner for the Lib Dems, Kelly-Marie has a strong record of fighting for people; having campaigned for our National Health Service, for better services for older people and to give European citizens the right to remain in the UK.
Kelly-Marie Blundell said: “I am really proud to have been selected. It would be a huge honour to represent this truly beautiful area.”
“I am looking forward to working with our excellent local councillors and delivering for the people of Newhaven, Polegate, Lewes, Seaford and the villages."
“Nationally the country is in crisis. Both the Conservatives and Labour are focused entirely on in-fighting while the economy worsens, threatening jobs, public services and our efforts to build the houses Britain so badly needs.
“The Liberal Democrats are well placed to fight a general election whenever it is held and I am raring to build on our local tradition of delivering for local people. Since the referendum we have signed more than 17,500 new members nationally including a large number across Lewes constituency.
Norman Baker, former Lib Dem MP for Lewes, said:
"I am delighted that a candidate with the depth and commitment of Kelly-Marie has been chosen to fight the Lewes seat for the Lib Dems. Every day I meet people who tell me they again want an MP who will be effective in Parliament and will respond properly to casework. Kelly-Marie is that person. They don't have one at the moment.
"And every day people who voted Labour or Green in 2015 tell me how bitterly they regret their vote: it was like drinking champagne on election day and then getting a five-year hangover. The sooner we have an election to return another Lib Dem MP, the better."
Kelly-Marie works as a consultant with national charities to improve fundraising and communications, and was formerly an advisor to the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Kelly-Marie Blundell continued with a strong case for growing the national support of the Lib Dems:
“Only the Liberal Democrats are an open, optimistic and united party committed to spreading opportunity for the next generation and focus on re-building the British economy to protect jobs and services.”
Note to editors:
1. Photo shows new Lib Dem PPC Kelly Marie Blundell (centre) with fellow Lib Dem members after the hustings meeting at the Linklater Pavilion in Lewes.
2. Although the Boundary Commission have published a series of proposals which could affect the Lewes seat, these proposals, if accepted, would not come into effect until 2018 in any case and the Liberal Democrats were keen to have a prospective parliamentary candidate in place as soon as possible to help fight for our local communities.
Seaford's Lib Dem County Councillor, Cllr Carolyn Lambert, has written to the new Secretary of State for Transport to call for Southern Rail to be sacked following the removal of most train services to the town.
In her letter, Cllr Lambert says: "I would ask you therefore as a matter of urgency to remove the franchise from Southern, who have unilaterally reduced our train service by 80 per cent, and take back this route, at least temporarily, into central government control. You managed it with the banks and train services on the East Coast line so perhaps you could now intervene to rescue thousands of ordinary people from daily misery and prevent the damage being done to our local economy, access to education and family life."
Lib Dems launch campaign to save Erasmus programme for students at Sussex and Brighton Universities
The Liberal Democrats have launched a campaign to safeguard access to the Erasmus exchange scheme for over 1,500 students from Sussex and Brighton universities. A petition has been launched that urges both the government and EU leaders to preserve Erasmus opportunities for UK students in the coming Brexit negotiations.
The latest figures show almost 1,300 students from Sussex and Brighton universities have studied abroad using the Erasmus scheme since 2007. Around 1,500 more students from Brighton and Sussex universities were expected to benefit from Erasmus from now until 2020.
Young people going on the scheme benefit from free tuition and a monthly grant of around £240 to help with living costs. Separate schemes also give young people in vocational training the opportunity to do apprenticeships abroad.
Post Office Ltd has outlined how they are looking for a local business to take over the Post Office in Newhaven - most probably as a concession within an existing shop. With no local businesses with sufficient space to take this on, there are concerns that the Post Office will simply be closed and Newhaven residents, yet again, will lose a vital and regularly used service that they depend on.
Liberal Democrats on Lewes District Council are set to call for Southern Rail to lose its franchise to run rail services at a meeting of Lewes District Council this Thursday (21st July).
Cllr Vic Ient (Lib Dem, Kingston Ward) said: "Enough is enough. They have made a compete mess of running our rail services. Too many people's lives have been disrupted. It is time for Govia Thameslink Railways to lose their franchise."
Seaford Lib Dem Councillor Olivia Honeyman (pictured above with Cllr Ient) added: "I think is important for GTR to understand how this mess is affecting everyone. Employees and businesses are being affected in Seaford and elsewhere across the District because of the commuting difficulties. Prolonged disruption will affect tourism and put people off from having days out to our towns, and especially at the start of the school holiday."
And in a letter to the new Secretary of State for Transport, Cllr Ient says: "GTR’s main focus should have been to tackle things such as how to overcome the problems at London Bridge by closer working with Network Rail; getting down to detail on the problems of the critical Brighton mainline service; introducing extra coaches to overcome crowding on services like the Brighton to Ashford link as well as in other parts of the network. Instead we’ve ended up with a bus service operating between Lewes and Seaford, a reduced timetable to places like Brighton and Lewes, ticket offices closed or closing and disgruntled passengers and workforce."
"New management for Southern Railways is urgently needed...The government should immediately bring in a management team focused on the service and not on fighting the unions."
A full copy of Cllr Ient's letter to the Secretary of State is below:
GTR franchise and the problems on Southern Railways
Southern Railways wasn’t without its problems before Govia Thameslink Railways (GTR) fully took over the network in July 2015 but since then things have gone from bad to worse. With an already overloaded network, particularly the Brighton mainline, and with no plans to expand the number of rail tracks in the near future along with the problems of the delays in the works at London Bridge station, the directors of GTR should have been concentrating on how to get trains to run on time without cancellations and delays. Instead they chose to focus on things like boosting the staff of their Twitter team, giving computer tablets to their station staff, and closing ticket offices. I can verify that these were the priorities as they were spoken about by Alex Foulds, the Passenger Service Director of Southern Railway at the East Sussex Transport Summit called by Amber Rudd, MP, for Hastings & Rye back in March. Along with Alex Foulds was his boss Charles Horton, CEO of GTR and also David Statham, the managing director of Southeastern Rail.
At no time in the meeting did Charles Horton or his colleagues refer to proposals to change the role of the guards on the trains. Nor did they refer to actually closing ticket offices. They alluded to ticket offices by way of talking about bringing staff out of the ticket office to help customers around the station.
Whilst acknowledging that there were problems running the trains they did not provide any significant information as to what they were going to do about the fact that only 20% of Southern trains arrived on time in the year from April 2015 to March 2016.
Clearly they’ve shown themselves unable to manage the real problems in the network and at the same time quite able to manufacture problems and make the situation worse.
The mess that we the public have been caught up in has been entirely artificially created by the directors and the senior management of GTR. What they should have been doing is getting out themselves onto the network and talking to staff as to how they can overcome the critical problems of trains arriving late or being cancelled.
In just over a year GTR have brought the network to its knees whilst at the same time introducing a troublesome and bug ridden web ticket service. Neither have they looked into the integration of contactless card payment at ticket barriers on the Southern network which is what has been already been introduced across London. This would speed up passenger flow at stations.
GTR’s main focus should have been to tackle things such as how to overcome the problems at London Bridge by closer working with Network Rail; getting down to detail on the problems of the critical Brighton mainline service; introducing extra coaches to overcome crowding on services like the Brighton to Ashford link as well as in other parts of the network. Instead we’ve ended up with a bus service operating between Lewes and Seaford, a reduced timetable to places like Brighton and Lewes, ticket offices closed or closing and disgruntled passengers and workforce.
New management for Southern Railways is urgently needed. I understand the government is simply paying a fee to this organisation for them to run the service so there isn’t a question of loss of profit as such. The government should immediately bring in a management team focused on the service and not on fighting the unions. Whilst we are getting the service back to a reasonable norm the government should reassess the franchise with key criteria as to what the franchisee is supposed to achieve and not what senior management have as a bee in their bonnet about unions.
Ticket office closures were bad enough but then getting rid of the guards when they provide a useful service on a busy network keeping passengers safe seems to be a crazy measure, especially in these times of heightened security. Please act swiftly and allow people to commute to work across the South and to London without being caught in the middle of this unnecessary dispute.
Victor S Ient
Lewes District Councillor