From Vince Cable:
It is with great sadness that I have to inform you that Paddy Ashdown passed away earlier this evening following a short illness.
This is a hugely sad day for the Liberal Democrats and for the very many people across political and public life who had immense affection and respect for Paddy.
Paddy was famous for his politics, but his talents extended well beyond that arena. He was an accomplished author and had spent many years serving the country before he got near the House of Commons. Once in Parliament, he made a real mark. He was always listened to, in particular, on international issues and defence. He took up unpopular causes where he was respected for his convictions.
He inspired the Liberal Democrats from a polling position he famously described as ‘represented by an asterisk’, to become a formidable campaigning force laying the ground for the strength which later took the party into government.
In recent years, he has been a powerful voice of real significance to the pro-European cause. He will be sadly missed in all parts of politics and Parliament.
We have set up an online book of condolence should you wish to share a message or simply leave your name. All messages will be sent to Paddy's family.
You can add your name and comments here: www.libdems.org.uk/book-of-condolence-paddy-ashdown
Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Responding to Government figures that nearly 600 homeless people died on the streets last year, Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said:
“These deaths are absolutely tragic. As a wealthy country, we simply cannot accept people dying on our streets.
"The Conservative Government’s failure to look after these individuals is a shameful dereliction of duty. Conservative Ministers must recognise the urgent need to build more social homes. The Liberal Democrats want to see 50,000 social houses to be built every year, rising to 100,000 as soon as possible.
"These figures also bring into sharp focus how homelessness services for mental health and substance abuse desperately need more funding.
"The housing crisis is a human crisis. It is depriving people of a roof over their head with devastating consequences. The time for warm words and little action has long gone."
Local government finance hits poorer communities the hardest
Responding to the Local Government Finance Settlement, Liberal Democrat Local Government Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said:
“This settlement does nothing to address the growing inequalities across our country. The highly regressive council tax system means that, as the Conservative Government continue to underfund local government, subsequent council tax rises hit poorer communities the hardest.
“There must be a reform of council tax to prevent the places with the highest demand for services for vulnerable people, struggling the most to fund it.
“Liberal Democrats demand better than the sticking plaster that has been presented today. The Tories are once again kicking the can down the road, instead of setting out a long term financial package that provides security for our local services."
Liberal Democrat Local Government Spokesperson for the House of Lords, Baroness Pinnock added:
“The local government funding settlement that was released today is a drop in the ocean. The offer of £650 million for social care in 2019-20 falls drastically short when the funding gap is expected to reach £3.5 billion by 2025.
“Social care should not be a post code lottery.”
And it's even worse in East Sussex because the ruling Conservatives here want to strip services back to the bare minimum.
For too long, tenants have been made to pay additional, unnecessary fees when renting a place to live.
After years of LibDems putting pressure on the Government, on Tuesday they agreed major concessions on the Tenant Fees Bill.
We campaigned to:
- significantly limit the fees that could be charged to a tenant by their landlord or lettings agent,
- require a greater amount of transparency when deciding not to refund a holding deposit, and
- limit the maximum security deposit a landlord can require to five weeks rent.
These changes will make a huge difference to tenants - giving them savings of hundreds of pounds every year.
Many of the provisions in the Tenant Fees Bill were proposed in Olly Grender's Rights of Renters Private Members Bill in the last parliamentary session, and we are glad that the Government has been persuaded of the arguments in that bill.
It is the vulnerable in our society who are most affected by the extortionate fees imposed by unscrupulous landlords and lettings agencies. The inability to pay these fees upfront can even lead to terrible debts and at worst, homelessness.
While we welcomed the Government bringing forward this Bill, there were a number of loopholes that could have had severe consequences for low income tenants or tenants on benefits in the private rented sector.
There is still more work to be done to get tenants a fairer deal, but we are delighted that the Government have listened and improved this Bill. The task now is to get this change for tenants through this dysfunctional Parliament as quickly as possible before it implodes altogether.
We are grateful for the support of Shelter, Citizens Advice and Generation Rent who have worked so hard to get this Bill in the right place.
Responding to recent reports that Lewes schools are being encouraged to consider a move towards a Multi-Academy Trust, local Lib Dems are pushing the Conservative-controlled County Council for greater clarity on the proposed schools budget. Lib Dems support local democratic accountability for schools and believe parents and teachers should have a say over academy conversions.
We're wondering what other parties on East Sussex County Council have to hide. They voted down a Liberal Democrat motion to have People and Place scrutiny committees broadcast via the web. These committees are very important: a great deal of work is done in them, and members of the public can see how the Council is held to account.
Sarah Osborne, LibDem member for Ouse Valley West and Downs said, “I think many of the arguments against webcasting the scrutiny committees are completely inconsistent. You are saying you cannot perform your function on the committee if anybody is watching you, which is ridiculous. “If a whole load of the public turn up are you suddenly going to immediately change your behaviour? Are you not going to be able to function as a scrutiny committee?”
She also suggested that webcasting proceedings might improve behaviour, citing examples of the sexist behaviour she ahs experienced from other councillors.
Ofsted's annual report has provided a damning assessment of secondary schools undertaking 'off-rolling' and has identified a 'worrying gap' in the provisions for schools attended by pupils with special educational needs or disabilities.
The education watchdog warned that thousands of pupils could be "disappearing" from the school system as a result of illegal off-rolling.
The report found that 19,000 children dropped off school rolls between January 2016 and January 2017, during the time that students are undertaking their GCSE exams.
Around half (9,700) of those dropping off rolls between Years 10 and 11 are not reappearing on the roll of another state-funded school.
'Off-rolling', a practice where schools move difficult-to-teach pupils off their rolls to boost performance data, is illegal and leaves the child without access to educational support.
Commenting on the report by Ofsted, Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson Layla Moran said:
"It is shameful that thousands of children are being let down in this way. Every child has the right to an education and should be supported to achieve to the best of their ability in our schools.
"This Government is fostering a culture of senseless competition between schools, where results from a single set of narrowly focused, high-stakes exams, are made to feel like the be all and end all when it comes to judging a school's success.
"All this does is force schools to give up on pupils who are struggling - a decision which will have devastating consequences for their education, job prospects and self esteem for years to come."
The Liberal Democrats, alongside Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green party have written to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, asking for his consideration of a motion that the Government have held Parliament in contempt.
The Government have failed to provide parliamentarians with the 'final and full advice provided by the Attorney General to the Cabinet concerning the terms of any withdrawal agreement' that was requested by the House on the 13th November, and was not opposed by the Government.
Commenting on the letter that has been sent to the Speaker, co-signatory of the letter, and Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said:
"The Attorney General, in his most bombastic court-room manner has shown Parliament two learned fingers and refused to comply with Parliament's request to publish the full legal advice.
"This must constitute contempt of Parliament which will be pursued by all legal means.
"The Liberal Democrats demand better than this sorry mess of a Government."
Councillor Vic Ient at Station Street, Lewes, pollution bottle neck
Councillor Vic Ient, Liberal Democrat environmental spokesperson at Lewes District Council, berated the Conservatives at the Full Council meeting this week for not implementing a set of motions designed to deal with air pollution from the Council's July council meeting. He said after the meeting "I checked on the progress to implement the motions passed over 4 ½ months ago and sadly nothing seems to have been done. If the Conservatives are serious about tackling air pollution, then they should have been ordering new air monitoring stations and the 'cut engine pollution' signs already".
Motions passed in July included agreement on the purchase of 2 new air monitoring stations, a bid to the government to request financial support to implement air quality programmes including: expanding the number of NOx tubes throughout the district especially near schools and to undertake a publicity campaign to help reduce CO2 and other polluting emissions into the atmosphere.
There was further debate on tackling air pollution when Councillor Olivia Honeyman (Seaford South) reminded councillors at the meeting that the air monitoring station at Newhaven was still out of service after over 18 months. She asked the Leader of the Council to ensure that swift action was taken to bring the station back into operation. Cllr Steve Saunders (Newhaven Valley) said during the debate on a campaign to persuade drivers to switch off their engines near schools "we need permanent signs not just the temporary ones". He asked the Conservative controlled council to introduce permanent signs not only at schools but in key places where there is regular traffic congestion. Cllr Steve Saunders continued, "Newhaven suffers from very heavy traffic pollution on the A259 ring road, the worst in the district. We need permanent signs here to ask drivers to switch off their engines whilst stationary".
Liberal Democrats on Lewes District Council say a taskforce must be formed to consider how Newhaven Port will be affected if the Brexit chaos continues.
They have presented a motion for debate at Monday’s full council meeting.
Councillor Vic Ient (Kingston and Ouse Valley West) said “We are presenting a motion to try and force the authorities to take action.
“Chaos seems to be the only word one can use for the present state of the government.
“I, like the majority of people in the Lewes constituency, wanted to stay in the EU and after months of wrangling we seem no further forward as to what the Brexiters want.
“I hope we have a People’s vote and this country draws back from the brink.
“But failing all of this, we must prepare for the worst-case situation and investigate the risks for the port of Newhaven and act responsibly on behalf of the thousands of residents who may be affected.
“Is there a plan to deal with the massive number of lorries which may back-up in the case of there being customs difficulties?
“The only way into Newhaven is via the A26 for HGVs.
“Even a small delay could cause major problems.
“If there are jams, how will the government and the county council keep traffic flowing for local businesses and residents?
“Vehicles will try and find alternative routes along the A259 and through my own council ward along the C7 between Lewes and Newhaven.
“We need joint action and we are calling for a taskforce to be set up so that risks and mitigating actions can be prepared in advance.”
Sarah Osborne, leader of the Liberal Democrats at Lewes District Council, said: “We must get ready for all eventualities.”