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”.
Responding to the no confidence vote tabled tonight in the House of Commons, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said:
“This is the beginning of the end of Brexit. With Parliament in deadlock, it is time to go back to the public.
“Labour have finally lodged a no confidence motion, after weeks of failing to do so. I have signed it and the Liberal Democrats will vote against a Conservative Government which is now in meltdown.
“However, a General Election will not offer a way forward for the country so long as Jeremy Corbyn continues to procrastinate, backing Brexit while pretending not to. And while the Conservatives are more divided than ever, they are likely to unite with their friends in the DUP if only to keep themselves in office.
“Jeremy Corbyn must listen to Labour members and MPs, and back a People’s Vote on the Government’s plan versus staying in the European Union.”
Commenting on the latest news about the Phoenix Centre in Lewes, Philip Daniel, Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Ringmer and Lewes Bridge said: “There’s been too much uncertainty from ESCC about the future of the Phoenix Centre. Residents want to see continuity of both service provision and the thriving community centre.”
He was responding to the decision by County Councillor Carl Maynard, ESCC Conservative Lead Member for ASC and Health, on Tuesday 8 January to resume direct provision by ESCC of adult day care services at the Phoenix Centre. This followed a failed tender process where proposals from SCDA, the existing provider and only proposer, were deemed “non-compliant” by the Council.
Councillor Daniel continued, “With government cuts threatening local government finances everywhere, not least in East Sussex, how secure will the Phoenix Centre service be? We need a guarantee of funding for at least three years. I am concerned that this move is simply a back-door way to cut these services after the next budget.
“ESCC’s proposal has no business plan. I have asked that one be prepared and published. Any private provider would have to give one.
“There is an agreement with the League of Friends of the Phoenix Centre over the property but there is no evidence that they have been consulted on these proposals.
“The fact that so much of the background information on which this decision has been based is barred from public scrutiny will only add to disquiet about how the Conservative County Council has handled this issue.
“Substantial and scarce public money is involved here, and it is in the public interest for the County Council to make a full disclosure of the reasons for this decision and the financial basis on which it is being made.”
Liberal Democrats today condemned reports that the Government is charging victims of illegal forced marriages to bring them home.
The Times has today reported that women who are sent abroad by their families for forced marriages are charged by the Foreign Office for the cost of rescuing them.
Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Christin Jardine said:
“The Government cannot surely think it’s acceptable to ask victims of illegal forced marriages to pay to be rescued.
“These young women who have been through traumatic circumstances are being asked to repay their repatriation costs and then punished if they can't by having their passports confiscated until they pay the Government back.
“The Conservative Government needs to explain exactly why they think this is acceptable.”
Responding to the Home Secretary's comments regarding asylum seekers, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey said:
"The Home Secretary's comments about refugees crossing the Channel show that the Tories' nasty, hostile environment is alive and well.
"Many of these people have fled war in Syria or persecution in Iran. For the Home Secretary to suggest – on the basis of no evidence whatsoever – that they are not 'genuine' asylum seekers is completely unacceptable. For the Government to summarily deny their claims would be unlawful and inhumane.
"The Liberal Democrats demand better. We demand an effective and compassionate response: investing in a stronger Border Force to stop the smugglers and traffickers, while ensuring safe, legal routes to sanctuary for those forced out of their homes."
Responding to the reports that HMV is on the brink of collapsing into administration, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said:
"Although there is nothing to stop the march of technological progress, the issues HMV and other high street stores are facing have been compounded by the out of date business rates system.
"While separate action is needed to ensure online retailers pay their fair share of corporation tax, Liberal Democrat proposals to replace the business rates system would offer a lifeline to struggling high streets.
"As we witness yet another company about to go into administration, the need for reform is clearly urgent.”
The Liberal Democrats published a report earlier this year calling for the abolition of business rates and its replacement with a tax on land values.