Saturday 22 May 2010

Tuition Fees = Upsetting the Conservatives

I am a bit more of a fan of the coalition than my colleague Steve Tierney, overall I think the agreement is pretty decent, yes the Euroscpeticism is toned down, but it is still there and, especially, we sit in a position where, despite the most significant political change of our time, the Conservatives remain committed to not joining the Euro, the fact that we have taken the Lib Dems along with us for the life time of this Parliament has to be a good thing.   My main reason for caution remains a lack of trust of the Lib Dems.  I do think Nick Clegg is one of the good guys, but behind him there is almost certainly a whole mass of people who sit, knives at the ready, all set to do some evil deed as soon as they see an opportunity for political advantage. That’s what Lib Dems do; Menzies Campbell was one of the good guys and look what they did to him.

One of the things I hoped was that the few sensible aspects of the Lib Dems manifesto would be kept.  Of course, there is a whole mass of stuff that was there for opportunism and, of course that could never have been kept in the coalition Government.  The ludicrous amnesty for illegal immigrants was a great example.  The reason that policy was there was because both the Conservatives and Labour Party had adopted reasonably strong stances on immigration and so it would have been tough to squeeze any more votes out if they had taken a similarly strong position, so they target the voters that are disappointed with strong immigration policies.  It wasn’t about right or wrong (which is why the policy was eaten alive during the TV debates), it was about vote hunting.  So, of course, that policy had to go when it came to a coalition.

This bit is where I upset many in my own party.  One of the areas I agreed with the Lib Dems (it really hurts saying that!!) was on tuition fees.  One of the questions I often ask is “What is the purpose of education?”  For a young person it is surely about giving them the best possible start in life?  Can someone please tell me how saddling someone with a £20k plus debt contributes to that?  Sending a message to a 21 year old that significant debt is OK is not a positive way to move society forwards either.   We have too much debt, we need to be encouraging people to live within their means, but instead we have a policy that creates the inherent impression that debt is the way to go.

However, where we seem to be headed is to increase tuition fees.  To saddle students with even more debt, to strengthen the message that debt is OK.   I was one of only a few Conservative candidates at the General election to sign the NUS’ pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees.  I meant it.

One of the reasons people say that tuition fees are OK is because Degrees increase their earning potential.  Except, that is not true for every Degree course, but also every party wants to increase the number of students going to University.    If that happens, the advantages gained from getting a Degree are lessened and therefore the additional benefits will be reduced.

But there is, to me, a far more fundamental reason why there needs to be a great deal more caution about tuition fees, and especially about increasing them. One of the things we quite rightly need to do is increase the number of children from poorer backgrounds that go to University.  One of the most telling facts about the failure of the Blair/Brown Labour Government was that in the last year for which figures were collected, only 45 children who received Free School Meals went to Oxbridge - these are amongst the Universities that are driving the campaign to increase tuition fees.   Now some of those children are likely to get support and won’t have to pay fees - but just above that level is another bunch, who also likely to have parents who never had the chance to go to University - but who also don’t have the money to help their kids.  They will also be families that are used to struggling and have never received state support.

Now try and put yourself in the mind of one of the children from those families.  Their perception of £20k is significantly different from a family where they are used to a higher income and a higher standard of living, their perception will be about how tough it will be to pay off a debt like that given that they have had parents who are struggling day in day out to keep their heads above water.  The more you increase tuition fees, the worse that gap in perception is likely to be, it will create a real mental barrier that will prevent children  from low to middle incomes taking up university places.

Here’s where my argument falls down.  How do we provide the necessary funding?   I haven’t got a clue.  But there are supposed to be people with bigger brains then mine (yes even mine J) looking at this stuff.  I am sure if someone gave out the instruction that increasing tuition fees isn’t the answer some imaginative ideas would emerge. 

Friday 21 May 2010

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

I do attend a huge number of meetings.  Some are more interesting than others and some are harder work than others.  But mostly they are how we move issues forwards, but also where us Councillors get to carry out our monitoring and challenge role.

Today, I had an informal meeting with the Prince's Trust and the Director of Children's Services, just to discuss if there were ways Cambridgeshire and the Children's Trust could work better together.  It follows on from an invite I had earlier this year to St James' Palace to look at the work of the Trust.   How the other half live!!   Actually - it does show that benefit can come from attending events like this - they aren't all just jollies!!

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Building Schools for the Future Contract Signed

I am pleased to say that the contract for Fenland wave of BSF was signed yesterday.  This gives the go ahead for the work on all four of our secondary schools as well as Fenland's pupil referral unit and Meadowgate Special School. 

Next steps are to start the building work at Thomas Clarkson CC and Neale Wade CC and for the design work to start on the other locations.

A number of staff at the County Council have really gone the extra mile to bring this contract in early than we forecast.  It is something we should all be grateful for.

New Politics - Same old Cambridgeshire Lib Dems

Another Full Council meeting yesterday.  The most frustrating part was a discussion about Petitions.  We have a good process for petitions at the County Council and try to treat them seriously.  However, as part of the wash-up at the end of the last Government a new Bill was passed which passes more responsibility on to Councils, one of which was a statutory requirement for the Council to hold a 15 minute debate at Full Council for any petition that receives the support of 5% of the population of the County.  We proposed to reduce this down to 2.5% - so to cut the statutory requirement by half.

Of course this wasn't good enough for Cambridgeshire Lib Dems who played their normal games and put in an amendment that set the level so low that we could never accept it, probably so they can now put out a "Nasty Tories" press release.   Of course they didn't like it when this was pointed out to them.   As I said "New Politics, same old Cambridgeshire Lib Dems".  

What annoys me is that there are numerous opportunities for Councillors to raise and discuss local issues and stand up for their residents both at Full Council and elsewhere, so if their amendment was not a political ploy, the only other thing it could have been is an admission that they were not standing up for the people they represent without this.

As an example, yesterday my fellow Whittlesey Councillor Ralph Butcher raised both the issue of a Whittlesey bypass and the problems that the East-West rail upgrade will have on both Station Road and Kings Dyke crossing gates and I have a meeting scheduled with our new Acting Director of Enviroment Services to discuss those very same issues.

Monday 17 May 2010

Local Safeguarding Children's Board

One of my meetings today was Cambridgeshire's Local Safeguarding Children's Board.  This is an organisation, that oversees children's safeguarding across the public sector in the County, so it has a crucial role in the work I do as Cabinet Member for Children and Young People.  

One of the activities today was the launch of their new and updated website, so I thought I would provide a link:

I suspect there are many people that don't even know of its existence, but it has an important role to play.  One of the debates following the death of Baby Peter was the role of the LSCB which resulted in the recommendation that they have an independent chairman.  Cambridgeshire's LSCB has always had this.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Planning Applications in Kingsmoor Ward

I have been notified of two new Planning Applications for Kingsmoor Ward:

1.  Erection of 2*3 Bed semi-detached houses with parking at Land West of 53 Crescent ROad Fronting Feldale Place Whittlesey Cambridgeshire.

2.  Application for retention of Mobile Classroom at Sir Harry Smith.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any

Where do I stand, now it's all over

Well.  I was always uneasy about negotiating with the Lib Dems.  However, I do think this is the sort of deal that was necessary given the result of the election.  Whether it works or not will make a big difference to peoples' views of PR.  I don't think the last 5 days has warmed anyone to it.  My biggest concern is that the Lib Dems can be quite a devious bunch, hiding behind their "pleasant" front and engaging in a very opportunist form of politics.  The secret negotiations with the Labour Party behind the Conservatives' back are an example of exactly what I mean.  If Nick Clegg can keep this aspect of Liberal Democracy in check, maybe we have a deal that will work for the Country - which is what it is all about.

The biggest overarching factor is the good news that New Labour has gone.  They were, throughout the election campaign, a party in denial.  Spending their time raising threats about "Tory cuts" seemingly burying their head in their sand and pretending all is tickety-boo with our economy.  It ain't.  And, however, dignified his exit was, we have also managed to get rid of a pretty dire Prime Minister.  The last few days it was pretty clear that the Country was being led by the unelected and totally undesirable Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell - we must never allow that to happen again.

I remain convinced that there are massive savings to be made from eliminating waste and ending Government meddling.  New Ministers should be obsessed with this.  When I worked for the MoD, Michael Heseltine had a programme where he sat every senior member of the department in front of him and made them justify their department and the jobs within it, digging deeper if it was needed and using that as a basis for eliminating waste.  Every Minister should be doing that from day one.

One of my disappointments with the outcome of this election is the emerging news that Michael Gove will not be appointed to whatever replaces the Department for Children Schools and Families.  I have worked with Michael and listened to him a lot over the last few years and I know he would have made a huge difference.  Here's hoping he is given a post that his talents deserve.   I also have my fingers crossed in a big way for Tim Loughton to be given the Children's Minister post.

Sunday 9 May 2010

Hypocrisy of Cambridgeshire Lib Dems

Today we are in a unique position Nationally.  I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea of negotiating with the Liberal Democrats.  However, Democracy has spoken and, in this instance, it has said that the Nation demands a different style of Government (not a different style of voting system) and I accept that and accept the negotiations that are taking place.

If they are consistent, this press release from the Liberal Democrats in Cambridgeshire suggests that they do not want any form of negotiation Nationally.  Because, of course, any negotiations whether they are between the Lib Dems and Labour (however awful that sounds) or Lib Dems and the Conservatives, involve negotiations behind closed doors - which is exactly what they are criticising us for in the County (albeit with a strong element of exaggeration).   I look forward to the Lib Dems in Cambridgeshire complaining about the National negotiations that are happening behind closed doors.

Now let's set the issue straight.  The Lib Dems claim a crisis in Primary School places.  Well, 94% of our parents will send their child to the school that their parents selected as their first choice when they start primary school in September - crisis what crisis?

And the PDGs that they mention, well they are, of course, open to Lib Dem members to attend. They are initial policy discussions - the final decisions will be made publicly, but these meetings allow informal discussions and challenge to allow for clarification and support the relevant Cabinet Member and the Cabinet when a final decision is made.

I repeat, if the Lib Dems oppose the principle of PDGs because of confidentiality, then they must also be opposed to what their own leader is doing Nationally in meeting behind closed doors with both David Cameron and Gordon Brown.  I look forward to their clarification.

I am afraid this is Cambridgeshire Lib Dems at their worst.  Taking the line of most political advantage, whatever the rights and wrongs.

Sunday 2 May 2010

Vote Conservative on May 6th

Some of you are aware that I am standing in Nottingham at the General Election.  It is a privilege to stand as a Conservative anywhere - but if there is one thing I have learned from being involved in Nottingham, it is how much the Labour Party has failed.  Year after year of Labour Government rule has done nothing, not just for Fenland, but also for the people that Labour claim to stand up for and represent the most - those in their heartlands.  There is no doubt about it, they have failed and they are still failing, both at a National and a local level.  In Nottingham I see a Labour run Council that is failing, is totally unresponsive and local MPs that fail to stand up for the people they represent.  Do you want that for North East Cambridgeshire?

The next alternative is the Liberal Democrats.  If you support mass immigration, incentivising illegal immigration, threatening our long-term security by scrapping trident and joining the Euro, then they are the party for you.  I suspect you don't - in which case don't vote Lib Dem.

In North East Cambridgeshire we are lucky to have had the benefit of Conservative control for a number of years, and it has led to huge benefits - including Councils with good and growing reputations and Councillors that really will fight for your best interests, despite the funding barriers that have been put in our way.  We also have a Parliamentary Candidate in Stephen Barclay who has been committed to this area for longer than any other candidate and who has stood up for us in a number of ways - in Whittlesey he has been at the centre of our plans to get more trains to stop at the Station, has been active in trying to sort out our drainage problems and has been supportive of our campaign to stop development on Feldale Fields.

I am absolutely convinced that Stephen Barclay is the best man for Whittlesey and North East Cambridgeshire and I would urge you to recognise that, of all the candidates, it is he and he alone who has stood up for Whittlesey's best interests over the last few years.

If you want a better Whittlesey and/or a better North East Cambridgeshire vote Conservative.