I was dropping my eight year old daughter off at a Caudwell Children event on the way to a meeting with local farmers organised by the National Farmers Union. It was being held at a farm in the Congleton constituency, and as I drove she provided me with a list of questions that “…you must ask the farmer daddy”…..but more of that later.
Now, it’s not an obvious thing for a Labour candidate to go and meet farmers in a constituency that’s strongly Tory and I was fully expecting a seriously hard time. I was however, very keen to go; mainly to listen and understand what the issues are but secondly, because I don’t believe the myth that all farmers are Tories and that the Labour Party doesn’t have a lot to offer rural communities.
As it happened I couldn’t have been made to feel any more welcome. The discussion was long and varied – and I must confess that it was at times a steep learning curve – but I was there to hear what the real issues were in this dairy producing area. I am delighted to report that there was an awful lot of agreement around that farmhouse table – as well as a never-ending supply of tea and the most fantastic cake.
The potential spread of bovine TB is the big concern and whilst the threat of the disease in badgers was recognised there was no real appetite for a blanket cull. I really do appreciate their concerns and reiterated my firmly held opinion that real evidence should guide decision-making in this as in all other spheres. The other major issue is the supermarkets race to the bottom over milk prices. This is clearly a situation that cannot be allowed to continue as milk is often costing more to produce than it is being sold for. We also discussed local food production and agreed that public procurement for things such as school and hospital meals could be a way of encouraging this.
Anyway, back to my daughter’s list of questions. I should explain, she has a rare genetic condition called Williams Syndrome, it means that she has learning difficulties and some physical problems too but it also gives rise to obsessional behaviour. One of her long-term obsessions, along with everything to do with Katy Perry and always talking about lunch, is cows and specifically milking cows. This sounds odd but you really have to go with it, we do, it’s the only way! So after the serious business was complete I asked her list of questions, explaining as I did that she had this rare condition called Williams Syndrome that you probably have never even heard of. The response was so unexpected as to be almost unbelievable. “I know all about Williams Syndrome” the host said, my daughter has it too. She was in the next room watching TV and came through to say hello, she was like every single WS person I have ever met absolutely delightful and wanted to hear all about my daughter. Williams Syndrome is randomly occurring and affects approximately 1 in 25,000 people. We have never randomly met another person with WS ad probably never will.
So, a chance encounter during in an election campaign has led to us being invited back to the farm, to give our daughters the chance to meet and for mine to have a full tour of the milking sheds and meet the cows. As a Parliamentary candidate you get lots of invitations, I am so pleased that I accepted this one for many reasons, but not half as pleased as my favourite eight year old is.
Whilst the tragic death of Robin Williams has recently thrown mental health into the spotlight it is an issue that affects people from all walks of life. These are difficult times for working people. Wages have not kept pace with inflation and worries about money and making ends meet, changes to working hours, balancing paid work with caring for children and older relatives together with rising food, fuel and now rail ticket prices are all putting workers under pressure like never before. At the same time Mental Health services have suffered disproportionately from the cuts.
Organisations like the Mental Health Foundation, Rethink Mental Illness, Mind, the NHS Confederation Mental Health Network and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have highlighted their concerns about this. They know, they are at the sharp end.
However, it is not only the level of spending overall that is a concern. The way that Clinical Commissioning Groups spend allocate their budgets varies from area to area and it can be seen that patients in Cheshire are bearing the brunt of an alarming postcode lottery in mental health services. Recently released figures for the NHS Eastern Cheshire CCG and the NHS South Cheshire CCG reveal that they spent just 7.96% and 7.22% respectively of their budgets on mental health services last year – both less than the 10 per cent national average – despite an estimated 15% of the local population having a mental health condition.
This is the first time local Clinical Commissioning Groups, formed last year, have disclosed levels of spending on mental health services and the figures demonstrate how the Government is failing to achieve parity between mental and physical healthcare. Across England, the NHS spent an average of 10 per cent of the annual budget on mental health services in the year 2013/14, despite research that indicates it accounts for 23% of the burden of disease.
The release of these figures gives us a chance to see how we compare with the rest of the country. Nationally, the spending varied between Surrey Health, which spent 6.5 per cent of its budget on mental health, to West London where it reached 18 per cent of the total budget – an 11 per cent range – with the Cheshire CCGs being close to the bottom of this.
Cheshire CCGs – close to the lowest spending on mental health provision
I strongly believe that mental health should be treated no differently to physical health and it is wrong that vulnerable people face this alarming postcode lottery. People with mental illness shouldn’t have to expect different standards of care simply because of where they live.
The local cuts are already resulting in a poorer service, our NHS elderly mental health staff are excellent but they are suffering from an increased workload, Bexton Court in Knutsford has closed already and Tory-led Cheshire East Council’s decision to cease in-house dementia care at Mountview in Congleton, Hollins View in Macclesfield and Lincoln House in Crewe will only add to those problems. How long before they are closed too? There future is very uncertain.
There are some positives however, across the country many early intervention programmes aimed at young people have been cut in the past year- these cuts are a false economy as illness that remains untreated is not only more damaging and can result in increased suicide rates but it is also more expensive to treat in the long-term. I’m happy to say that the Child and Adoescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) based in Congleton has ben increased and is doing a great job, long may it continue to do so. As the parent of a daughter with learning difficulties I know first hand the value of the service that is provided by CAMHS.
People with mental illness shouldn’t have to expect different standards because of where they live. Overall, it can be seen that mental health services are deteriorating under this Government and David Cameron has broken his promise to treat mental and physical health equally. We must ask ourselves if we can trust the Tories with our NHS, the evidence would suggest not.
It has been a long time since my last post on here and for that I apologise. By way of explanation (and this is very different to an excuse make no mistake) I’d like to blame pressures from; work, meetings, the children, more meetings, my wife, yet more meetings, holiday, even more meetings, the weather and perhaps most pressingly my selection as the Labour Party’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Congleton on July 14th. Gaining the selection was not an easy process, especially as I had some very strong opposition from Damian, Kevin and Benn and I am both very pleased and proud to be selected by the members of Congleton CLP. I have been trying to meet and discuss my campaign with as many members as possible over the last few weeks.
The result in 2010…
So, Congleton…..the constituency, like Arnold Bennett’s Potteries consists of 5 towns in this case (and in size order) Congleton, Sandbach, Middlewich, Alsager and Holmes Chapel and all that lies between. It has always been Conservative and the table (see right) illustrates the scale of the task. Whilst not quite a mountain – there are no mountains this is the Cheshire Plain – it is fair to say that this is not on anyone’s list of target seats. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a chance though and by boxing clever we can have a greatly improved vote share next year and get a whole lot closer than anyone might expect.
Not the MP for Congleton
The sitting MP is Fiona Bruce (no, not that one) who has represented the area since 2010, with the previous incumbent being the somewhat colourful Ann Winterton – that’s right the racist and tasteless jokes and the expenses claim for rent on a flat that her and husband Nicholas MP, then for Macclesfield owned outright already…that Ann Winterton. Fiona Bruce is largely a Government loyalist, albeit one with some distinctly illiberal social views in-line with her evangelical Christian beliefs. I think it is fair to say that the electorate of Congleton are not going to have a narrow choice at the ballot box next May as a quick trip to the wonderful theyworkforyou.com reveals. Since becoming an MP Fiona Bruce has voted:
Not the presenter of Antiques Roadshow
AGAINST gay rights and same-sex marriage
FOR the Bedroom Tax, which not only unfairly targets vulnerable and disabled people who often need an additional bedroom, but also is unjust when there are insufficient smaller properties for tenants to move to.
AGAINST increasing the tax rate applied to income over £150,000, when the gap between the richest and the poorest is the amongst the widest in the western world and getting wider.
FOR cuts to local authority budgets, cuts which have inevitably exacerbated the current problems at Cheshire East Council
AGAINST a bankers bonus tax – bonuses are again rising to stratospheric levels despite the many examples of poor performance and corruption.
FOR the culling of badgers, despite at best ‘contradictory’ evidence that this will help in the eradication of bovine TB.
I would have voted differently on each and every occasion and there are more, many more I could have chosen.
Often you hear people say that politicians are all the same, in this case they would be very wrong. The voters of Congleton, Sandbach, Middlewich, Alsager, Holmes Chapel and all in-between will have a very clear choice next May.
Last Friday we held one of our regular Pie ‘n’ Peas ‘n’ Pudding fundraising events for Staffordshire Moorlands Constituency Labour Party at the Community Centre in Congleton and we were joined by Tom Watson and Sion Simon . Pies and Peas were as ever supplied by Ash’s Butchers in Leek and puddings made by local members. Me and Deb supplied the cheeseboard, which basically meant going to the shop to buy some cheese and placing it on a board with some grapes and crackers…..we got off lightly!
For this event we have the wonders of the Twittersphere to thank as most of the discussions leading up to it were conducted there by my wife @deborahprice1 who is nearly as addicted to tweeting as @tom_watson. Regardless of how it happened we are really pleased that it did and that we attracted not only Tom, the MP for West Bromwich East, scourge of the Murdoch press and a former Deputy Chair of the Labour Party and the Campaign Co-ordinator, but also Sion Simon, the former MP for Birmingham Erdington and our newly elected West Midlands MEP. It was Sions first constituency event as an MEP but he has been up here recently, very handily bringing two car loads of members to support me in my by-election campaign last year.
Me with Charlotte, Bill and Sion, campaigning on the Haregate Estate, Leek, 2013
Tom and Sion have been long-term friends and collaborators since both were elected in 2001, so they operated very much as a double act. Not quite Ant and Dec, or Eric and Ernie and definitely nothing like the depressing duo of ‘Dave’ and Nick but a double act nonetheless. Both began with a short speech; Sion talked about his plans for taking the West Midlands agenda to Europe and both discussed the devastating impacting that this Tory-led government has had on the West Midlands. This was followed by a longer question and answer session. I really can’t remember all of the questions as it has taken me about 10-days to find the time to write this blog but here are some of those that I do
Immigration – it is a real issue but we in the Labour Party shouldn’t try and ‘out nasty’ UKIP or the Tories. We should instead deal with the real issues, the NHS, employment rights, the standard of living etc. etc.
Campaign Strategy – we need to show the electorate a real Labour Vision, a 35% strategy is not enough and will not work. Tom asked what we thought of Labour’s “Hardworking Britain” message…we told him that we were with the 98% of NEC respondees who hated it!
Press Regulation – legislation has to come, we need to take on the might of Murdoch’s News International……and just a few days later we get Ed Miliband’s photo-op!
We are really grateful to Tom, Sion and Birmingham City Cllr Wazeem Zaffar who accompanied them up the M6 to what is the extreme northern outpost of the West Midlands. I’d also like to thank the sizeable contingent that made the shorter journey from Stoke, to eat our pie and walk away with most of our raffle prizes (only joking!) We all had a great night and many of our candidates for the District Council Elections next year left energised and enthused. Whilst the very useful sum of money that we raised is very much needed and will be well spent, perhaps the best result of the night was the way that so many of our hardworking (there, I said it) supporters and future candidates are now better prepared for the battles ahead. We need to remove Tories in Moorlands House as well as Westminster next year.
The highlight of the evening wasn’t political though, it was of course the fantastic pear, ginger and cider trifle made by our CLP Secretary Jocelyn Morrison….now if only we could promise one of Jocelyn’s trifles to everyone the election would be won easily.
I am sure that many of you will have heard already but Eileen Murfin a tireless Labour Party activist, amongst so many other things, died recently after a long illness, albeit one that she steadfastly (and typically) refused to give in to. In the week that she died we had discussed booking bands for an event in her beloved Brough Park and her concerns over a planning application close to her home which is in my ward. We also shared reminiscences of Tony Benn, who she knew well from his time seeking selection in Chesterfield her home town (and who I once met randomly on a train) and of course the future of the Labour movement and our prospects in 2015. I miss those chats.
Have you ever thought about being a councillor, working for your community and giving something back? If you have, or even if you haven’t read on……
I’m just coming up to my first anniversary as a Staffordshire Moorlands District Councillor and I’d be lying if I said it was all a bed of roses. You only need to occasionally read this very occasional blog to see some of my frustrations – the youth service cuts, the Leek market fiasco and most recently the ludicrous decision to hide the Moorlands Tourist Information Centre in an upstairs cubby hole at the Nicholson Institute – more of that later. Being one of just 8 Labour councillors out of 56 means that there are numerous occasions when we feel like we aren’t having as much impact as we’d like. It seems that whatever we propose is immediately dismissed as the leadership blunder on ignoring all advice and taking decisions based on little or no evidence.
Which brings me neatly on to the brand new Sybil Ralphs Moorlands Tourist Information Cupboard. More about why you should become a Councillor later so please bear with me, but this cupboard (actually an upstairs room at the Nicholson Institute in Leek) will, if the Cabinet get their way, replace the current Tourist information Centre located in the heart of the town centre at No.1 Market Place. Continue reading New Councillors Required! →
I know that this is a little late and that there has been an awful lot written about Tony Benn in the last few days – some of it very touching like this from Sue Marsh’s brilliant Diary of a Benefit Scrounger and some a little mealy mouthed like Luke Akehurst’s piece on Labourlist. I’d like to think my contribution is more like the former. I saw him speak many times and like Sue and Luke I too met Tony Benn, unlike them I spoke with him, one to one, for over an hour and this is how it happened. Continue reading The day I met Tony Benn… →
So said the late Mick McGahey about the need need to continue to move and to fight and it is with this spirit of renewal that I opened my draft of the “Collins Review into Labour Party Reform” a couple of weeks ago.
If any of you have listened to me at all during the last couple of years you will not be surprised to hear that I am a passionate advocate of modernising and party reform as I am acutely aware of the problems that party politics has in re-engaging the electorate, increasing turnouts and tackling apathy. Now, reform and particularly ‘modernising’ can be seen as a dirty word by some party members, especially at a grassroots level as it is associated with some of the Blair-era machinations that many party members (myself included) found a bitter pill to swallow, albeit one that they (we) were prepared to tolerate to put an end to 18 years of destructive Tory Government. It doesn’t have to be that way. Modernising doesn’t have to come from the right, reform doesn’t have to result in a watering down of our party’s socialist principles and I am convinced that this document doesn’t do that. It is not about breaking our ties with the unions, it is about changing them, making them more transparent and, vitally, making union members themselves more closely linked to our party. I personally think it could go further, but enough of that now…. Continue reading We are a Movement not a Monument →
….not one for months and now two in a week – so much like the service in much of the Moorlands! You can expect more soon too as I will be posting about the Labour Party’s Special Conference being held tomorrow, after I have been and maybe even on the train on the way to London very early tomorrow morning. For now however, I am restricting this blog to local matters, specifically the very long and intermittently fractious meeting of Full Council on Tuesday.
There were a number of motions tabled and I can report a 100% record for the opposition group – WE LOST EVERY ONE! I feel that I should explain why. The majority held by the Tories and their ‘Independent’ acolytes along with the tribal way that they vote means that actually getting anything through is strictly in the realms of the fanciful but we continue to plough away, if only to shine a light on both the process and the decisions that they make. Getting them flustered, as we did on Tuesday, is fun too – but then I’m sad like that.
It will all be different after the District Council Elections in May 2015 when I fully expect that we will have a significant increase in numbers with some excellent new councillors – more of that in due course. Continue reading It’s like buses…. →
February 21, 2014 Darren Price
…since my last post on here, a whopping 3 months in fact. Of course, this “break” from blogging has been taken whilst running two businesses, continuing with my District Council duties and those at All Saints First School, as well of course as the usual trials and tribulations (mainly the latter of course) of family life with two small children. So that’s the excuses out of the way and you can expect blogs more regularly now.
So here’s a quick update on what’s been going on:
As a Labour Group we are keeping up the pressure on the Tory administration at Moorlands House on a range of issues and will be calling on them to support us in condemning the Staffordshire County Council’s latest attempt to decimate the Youth Service. There has already been a well-attended protest in Stafford (see pic) and there will be more to come.
Read about the County Council’s plans HERE and have your say HERE but do so quickly as this consultation closes on Wednesday 26th February. You can also help by signing the e-Petition against the proposals HERE.
We can’t let them get away with further penalising the most vulnerable members of society – first it was Adult Day Care, now it’s the Youth Service, what next?
Even more locally , I am pleased to support the suggestion brought to me by a Leek North constituent to improve the footpath link between Ball Haye Rec and Brough Park. The existing path is typically more than a little muddy (yes, we get rain in Leek!) and a more formalised, all-weather path would not only ease pressure on the narrow, single-sided footpath on Ball Haye Road but would also provide a much more attractive link to the park and beyond. Why not extend this further at a later date and provide a footpath right around the perimeter of our town, improving connectivity and making the most of the wonderful views in all directions?
If anyone has any great ideas like this one, or completely different to this one, please get in touch via this website or email me at email@example.com – you can never have enough good ideas!
Finally, as well as the important local issues like the one discussed above, I am keeping a close eye on national and even international matters with the Euro elections coming up and of course the General Election just 14 months away. As the CLP delegate I will be going to the Labour Party’s Special Conference on Saturday 1st March at ExCel, more about this later…this blog is too long already!
…but that is exactly what I have been doing over the last weekend up here in the Staffordshire Moorlands.
Let me explain, this was not about politics obviously (I am most definitely a Red) nor is it about football (though I do support Leicester City, I prefer rugby). It is about the first ever Leek Blues and Americana Festival which started last Wednesday and ended late on Sunday night.
Adrian Byron Burns
Things were kicked off with a great gig by Texan singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves and continued with over 20 gigs at 9 different venues across our town until Sunday night. I am a trustee of the Leek Blues Festival and played a small part in making sure that it all happened – as well as being an organiser, our company were sponsors and I even acted as compere for Adrian Byron Burns! Here’s why I got involved…
Sweet Home Chicago (okay, Leek)…
A Leek Blues Festival Committee Meeting
As a town Leek is blessed with some great pubs and larger venues such as the Foxlowe Arts Centre and the Central Club, it also has a brilliant local music scene with some very talented musicians. So the idea was simple, let’s showcase both of these great assets and get more people to come to see our great town, spend their money here and support our local businesses. So along with a crowd of like-minded individuals we set about making it happen. We met monthly over a pint or two, in either The Roebuck or The Cock (it was a tough job but someone had to do it….) drew up a schedule, sorted out the marketing, designing flyers, programmes and talked to musicians and landlords. We secured articles in the local (and not so local) press and even a couple of slots on the radio.
Sitting on Top of The World…
The main principle was that it should be fun and I can assure you that anyone that attended a gig at The Foxlowe, The Central Club, The Roebuck, The Cock, The Quiet Woman, The Wellington, The Dyers Arms, The Wilkes Head or The Blue Mugge will attest to that. If like me you attended rather a lot of the gigs it was a lot of fun, though Monday was a little slow to get started…..
I can’t wait for next years event though, we’ll have a new hotel in town by then so even more people can come and sample the many delights of Leek and the Moorlands.
Okay, so whereas Conference Report: Part One was about my experience at conference this year, Part Two is about the nuts and bolts – the policies on which we will be fighting the European Elections in 2014 and the Council and (most importantly) the next General Election in May 2015. This is again a list, in no particular order, of some of the policy announcements that we can start to tell people about straightaway so that we can begin to win the argument and ultimately return a Labour Government in just over 18 months time.
- Repeal the Bedroom Tax – The commitment to repeal this hated tax on the vulnerable received ovation after ovation at conference. More importantly than that though, people who are being affected by this intrusive and downright mean-spirited tax will be relieved from this by the next Labour Government in 2015. This morning people on the doorstep were delighted that it will be ditched by the Labour Party and many of these were people who are personally unaffected by it too, but just recognise it for the nasty-Tory tax that it is.
- Build More Homes – My personal favourite pledge this week was that Labour are committed to building lots more homes, at a level not seen since the post-war years – 200,000 per year which is over 3x what we are managing to do currently. To enable this there is a further commitment to put an end to Land-Banking, the process by which large developers effectively speculate on land prices and hold up the development of new homes. Instead the Tories offer Help to Buy, a dreadful policy destined to inflate the house price bubble…..I’ve written about that before on here and spoke about it in Brighton. I work in the field professionally and am a passionate advocate for well-designed housing, in the right places well-connected to local services and amenities.
- Freeze Energy Prices – The ever increasing costs of heating our homes is a burden on many people, me included and this is the one that got the most press coverage as there was plenty of idle speculation that the lights would be turned off and other such guff. In fact the result so far has been that a number of energy companies are doing it already, marketing with slogans like ‘We will fix your prices before Ed does’. Labour have managed to cut peoples bills without even being in Government.
- Votes for 16 and 17 Year Olds – Like gay marriage before it, I can only say about time! A constituent of mine in Leek North drew my attention to the fact that whilst he was old enough to have seen action in Afghanistan, at the time he went he wasn’t old enough to vote for (or against) the Government that sent him there. The argument that young people aren’t bothered about politics is stupid too, having taken part in the Sixth Form Question Time debate at Westwood College recently I can assure you that those young people were certainly very knowledgeable and passionate about their beliefs. I only wish I could have told them about the commitment to enfranchise them with the vote, but that announcement came exactly one week too late…..
- Strengthen the Minimum Wage – The like the NHS, the minimum wage was introduced by a Labour Government and opposed by the Tories. The hard truth is that the level it is set at is now too low, we have had years of inflation and the rates need looking at and raising to a suitable level – ideally to that of a living wage. Labour have pledged to do this and help to end the situation whereby many people earn wages so low, despite working full-time, that the state has to top up their household income with benefits, effectively subsidising employers.
- Cut Small Business Rates – A Labour government would cut business rates for small companies’ premises, and pay for this by raising the corporation tax that bigger firms pay on their profits. This will help our high streets that have been in decline for some time, in particular the small independent stores that have been disappearing in such huge numbers.
Overall, the major policy initiatives discussed above have started to put some clear distance between the Labour Party and the rest, clearly making the case for a Labour Government being one for the many and not just the privileged few.
This report of my attendance at the Labour Parties 2013 Conference is nice and brief as I am writing it on a crowded train on my iPhone and I am just too clumsy to do that quickly. I apologise in advance for any amusing predictive text gaffes……
Brighton 2013 In Numbers
1 TV appearance by me! – actually lots of these if you count BBC Parliament but who watches that (aside from dull politicos like me). For those that didn’t notice I was in a select group on the stage, directly behind Ed Milliband for the speech. My daughter Martha noticed….:-)
3 New members signed up – now considering I have been surrounded by lots and lots of existing members that isn’t bad going. It seems that some people have been as inspired as I was by the announcements and have rejoined the party, that’s one ‘my Dad’ and two good friends who put me up near to Brighton in case you were wondering.
4 Days of Sunshine – the sun shone in Brighton from Sunday through to today. As I walked through the Lanes on the way to the it started to rain. That is because we took all of the sunshine with us to share it with our communities…:-)
26 Fringe Meetings – alongside the main conference session I went to at least 26 fringe meetings, all over Brighton in hotel function rooms and the like all run by experts in their field. Quite a few were on housing and communities as you might have guessed (I spoke at a couple of these) but also events in HS2, Business and Jobs, Education, Health, Tuition Fees, Rural Affairs (great buffet there), Syria, Fracking, Badgers, and a great meeting about Labours UKIP problem ……actually UKIP are everyone’s problem, I know that all too well.
100’s of new friends – I have pockets full of business cards from like minded souls, most with scrawled notes on to call about X or Y. I will, they were all great. I look forward to meeting each and every one of them again next year, along with hundreds more.
1000’s of Attempts to catch the Chairs eye – the only way delegates get to speak in the main hall is to do this, I kept trying but wasn’t successful. Top tip for next year….wear something more distinctive!
1,000,000’s of reasons to get out campaigning and remove this dreadful, divisive Tory-led Government.
Come and join me* in getting rid of the shower that brought us the Bedroom Tax, Millionaire’s Tax cuts, the dreadful top down re-organisation of our NHS and a long list of other things to make them and theirs richer at the expense of the rest of us. If you are not a member join, if you don’t want to do that just come and help us. The more help we get the more sure we can be of getting them out and building a better Britain.
The next blog will be another list, but this time a list of the policies announced this week that will improve the lives of the many and not merely pander to the whims of the few. Got to go now as we are coming into Stoke Station.
* if you are a Labour Party Member in the Staffordshire Moorlands CLP you can start to get rid of the Tories by voting for me as your PPC.
I’m not long back from representing the Labour Party at this wonderful long-standing event at Westwood College in Leek. Anyone who has seen the BBC show will know the format, the audience comprised 160 or so sixth formers from Westwood College and, for the first time, Leek High too with the role of David Dimbleby expertly played by Mr Wallinger. The panel included me (Lab) the Staffordshire Moorlands MP (Con), our town Mayor (LD) and local representatives of the Green Party and UKIP.
The questions were excellent and the discussions frank yet conducted in an amiable manner. Subjects ranged from Syria to jobs, with a thoroughly understandable focus on tuition fees. On that subject, it doesn’t seem like 25 years since I left the sixth form to embark on what became a protracted time in higher education (I didn’t finally leave until I was over 30!) and I have every sympathy with young people today who may well be £40-£50,000 in debt by the time they graduate. Despite my university years being a great time for me personally, I am not sure that I would make the same decisions if faced with such a financial burden at the end of it…..especially with jobs at the end of it being uncertain and over inflated house prices making clambering onto that bottom rung all the more difficult. I think £9,000pa is too high a price to pay and as was very eloquently pointed out this afternoon it will deter students from all but the wealthiest families (who can afford to support them) and the poorest backgrounds (as they rightly get assistance) the better and more expensive universities. We could ultimately end up with a cabinet full of old Etonians, can you imagine such a thing!
Finally, I really enjoyed the chat with Jacob, Rhiannon, Joe and some others whose names I didn’t get, afterwards and I confirm I will definitely be organising the ‘Open Space’ youth consultation event in the not too distant. I will be in touch with your schools and Leek College, so watch this space. I really am fed up with being the youngest person in the room at local political events, at 43 it really shouldn’t be the case. Come along, have your say.
Today my train tickets for the Labour Party Conference in Brighton arrived. I had already collected security passes and a range of other paraphernalia on Saturday from regional office and had booked a very small room in a not-to-overpriced hotel months ago (before hotels in Brighton became even more over-priced). So it’s all happening, I am off to the biggest political conference in Europe* as the Staffordshire Moorlands delegate.
Not being the shy and retiring type I fully intend to make the most of this opportunity. I have already prepared a speech (about housing) and am hoping to be ‘called from the floor’ so look out for me on TV! Okay, that might be a long shot but more importantly, I will certainly be discussing my ideas about building more homes and bringing our semi-derelict mill buildings back into use with the Shadow Housing Minister, Jack Dromey. Exciting times.
Finally, as I am attending as the Staffordshire Moorlands delegate, I’d love to hear what issues you would like me to raise. I can’t promise anything as the schedule is packed but I will certainly try and find the right debate or fringe meeting and meet the right people to discuss them with. This is a real opportunity to affect national party policy and this hopefully (post 2015) will become Government policy. Reply to this post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will see what I can do.
* That’s a fact, there will be around 4,000 people attending and I will be one of 1,000 conference delegates.
Yes, okay it is a bit strong but how else could I tie two quite different stories together in one pithy headline? More will become apparent later…..read on.
Let’s start with the most important news this week, that of the granting of planning permission for the development of the new Haregate Community Centre to be built on Abbotts Road in the heart of the estate. Despite a vociferous campaign by those opposed to the location of the development (some of it carried out on these pages) the SMDC Planning Committee voted unanimously 11-0 in favour of Ascent’s plans. It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I am pleased with this result and I was glad to speak in favour of the development at the planning committee meeting on Thursday. I am a regular visitor to the current centre and it is obvious (a) what a vital role it plays in the community and (b) that the current building is woefully inadequate.
Much as I have some sympathy with those opposed to the location of the new centre, planning is always a compromise and I believe that the value of having a purpose-built community centre in the heart of the estate outweighs the loss of 13% of the green. Others disagree and they of course have right to that view, I was pleased with the gracious way that the decision was accepted and hope that all residents of the estate (and beyond) enjoy the things that the new centre will offer – everyone is very welcome.
The second reason for this post was to thank all of the organisers of the string of events held in Haregate this week, both led by the Haregate Community Centre and both of the local pubs, the Hare and Gate and the Priory. I only managed to make it to the Family Funday at the Hare and Gate, along with Deborah and the kids, on Sunday and we all had a great time, the kids loved the donkeys. Not only did we win a day at Monkey Forest, Trentham in the raffle, I was also roped in (geddit) to the Tug-of War competition on the green. Now I am I confess quite a ‘big-unit’ these days so wasn’t surprised when asked to be the anchorman for one of the teams, but I haven’t taken part in a tug of war for a very long time and was as surprised as I was pleased, when we actually won! Those hours spent slogging away in the Brough Park Leisure Centre were all worth it….well done team, well done to those who organised the week full of activities and well done to all involved in putting together the proposals for the new centre.
We had a great day at the Brough Park Play Day held on the National Day for Play, Wednesday 7th August.
In the current economic climate funding for public events is increasingly hard to find, even though it is precisely when things are so difficult for many families that free events like this are so important. It is for this reason that the sterling efforts of Staffordshire County Council’s Erica Taylor should be noted. Once again she organised a fantastic day on a shoestring budget by encouraging and cajoling an army of willing volunteers to provide their services free of charge. However, despite the generosity of the volunteers an event of this size does cost money, much of it raised by a raffle but along with my Labour Party colleagues in Leek North Margaret Lovatt and Charlotte Atkins, I was more than happy to contribute a proportion of my councillors community budget.
Our children Martha (7) and Stanley (2) particularly enjoyed the puppet show and the great refreshments provided yet again by The Friends of Brough Park, I understand that these were so popular that it was necessary to send out for more supplies at least once during the day!
A great day was had by all and we should do whatever we can to ensure that it happens again next year. The school summer holiday is long and often expensive for parents, the Leek Play Day should remain a fixture on the calendar for the foreseeable future.
Housing, both access to it and its quality, is an issue that I am very concerned about so I have copied below a discussion paper that I have written for members of the Leek Branch but about an issue that is relevant to the whole country. It’s not long, have a read and let me know what you think in the comments section below:
Help To Build Not Help To Buy
There is a real problem with the UK housing market, specifically one of significantly over-valued properties and the resultant difficulties for first time buyers to clamber on to the first rung of the housing ladder. The headlines all refer to the south-east where house prices are the highest, but here in the Staffordshire Moorlands the average house price has risen to around £150,000 and wages have remained low, leaving ours as one of the areas where the gap between average housing prices and wages increased the most between 2001 and 2011. During that 10-year period house prices increased a whopping 94 per cent whilst average earnings only increased by around five per cent. This means buying a house is more difficult than it was then and is becoming more so.
In an attempt to alleviate this difficulty, the current Government has introduced a policy called Help To Buy to try and help first time buyers. Below I have outlined what Help To Buy is about, why it is in my opinion the wrong way to proceed and what a post-2015 Labour Government should do about it.
So what exactly is Help To Buy?
- It is a coalition policy that effectively guarantees mortgages, effectively reducing the proportion of deposit required and therefore widening access to the housing market for first time buyers – for more detail there is an excellent article here.
- Whilst this is undoubtedly a very tempting offer to first-time buyers, it is widely criticised for falsely inflating housing market when this is the last thing that our economy needs.
- There are critics from all sides, including the Government’s own ‘independent’ Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Bank of England. Outgoing Governer, Mervyn King warned that it has to be temporary but it is likely to be politically very difficult to phase it out and Graeme Leach, chief economist of the Institute of Directors said:
- “The housing market needs help to supply, not help to buy, and the extension of this scheme is very dangerous. Government guarantees will not increase the supply of homes, but they will drive up prices at a time when it seems likely that house prices are already over-valued. There is a real risk that the housing market will become dependent on the underwriting by government. The world must have gone mad for us to now be discussing endless taxpayer guarantees for mortgages.”
- It could be argued that it will lead to a US style, underwritten-by-Government mortgage market of the type that led to the sub-prime crisis. We could be creating more sub-prime mortgages that will become unaffordable when interest rates go back up to a more typical level, precipitating another housing crash.
- It should be pointed out that all major house builders strongly support the policy – but they benefit directly from greatly from inflated house prices. Is it merely coincidental that they are historically very generous Conservative Party supporters?What is vital is that as well as criticising Government policy we offer a real alternative. We need to:
- So what is the Labour Alternative?
- Offer a firm commitment to phasing out Help To Buy as soon as possible. This is not without political problems because like Thatcher’s ‘Right To Buy’ this policy is likely to be a vote winner – and also like Right To Buy it will have long-term catastrophic consequences for the housing market.
- Win the argument by explaining these catastrophic effects and, crucially, offer a workable alternative. So far Labour’s criticism of Help To Buy has been muted, perhaps mindful of the policy’s popularity with some voters, but it needs to be more strident and explain why it is a bad policy for the economy and the country.
- Increase housing supply. Our problem is a lack of housing supply, the market is stagnant and we are still building fewer homes each year than before the economic downturn – see the graph below (DCLG, Feb 2013). I suggest that this is responsible for the over-valuation of houses, so rather than “pouring fuel on the flames of an overheating housing market” (Lord Oakeshott, Liberal Democrat Peer) our efforts should be focused on encouraging house building.“If the £10bn infrastructure boost recommended by the IMF was spent on housing, we could build 400,000 affordable homes and support 600,000 jobs. That’s the way to get people back to work, sort out the housing crisis and strengthen our economy for the long term.”
- So how do we do that? Well, Shadow Housing Minister Jack Dromey said recently:
- I wholeheartedly agree the benefits of this approach are clear to see and we need a firm commitment to do this – I suggest that as a branch we recommend that the Labour Party:
- Commit to ending Help to Buy as soon as practicable
- Commit to a £10bn infrastructure boost being spent on housing so that we can build our way out of economic stagnation
Our housing policy should be about rebuilding Britain and providing homes for people to live in, not merely marketing a populist policy and artificially propping up a failing housing market.
It’s not often I feel compelled to thank the Minister for Comunities and Local Government but this is an exception. In a recent statement reported here he encourages live blogging from council chambers.
Though I’m not sure if this extends to members I am once again chancing my arm and writing this live blog directly from the chamber. Not got a lot to say at this point but thought I’d exercise my right nonetheless. Watch this space.
Last week there were two separate events at Haregate CC, amongst the dozens of events held there every week – one on Monday and one on Friday. The two events I am referring to were concerning the proposed new community centre and included two architects models. One showing the building in detail and the other at a larger scale showing it in its context, including the surrounding buildings and, crucially, the extent of the buildings footprint on the green.
The models were made solely to explain the proposed building and its impact to a non-expert audience, most importantly local residents but also the lay members of the SMDC planning committee. As an architect planner myself I know the value of such models in public consultation as reading plans is not always easy, so I attended both events hoping for a good attendance and a robust discussion over the merits and demerits of the proposed new centre.
Sadly, my hopes were dashed and turnout was spectacularly low on both afternoon/evenings. Virtually no residents who are opposed to the proposed new centre attended and this was a real shame. On Monday we were told that at the same time the models were on display there was a ‘save our green’ meeting just up the road. Why did no-one come over and have a look at what is actually proposed? Curiosity would have made me come over.
The models show clearly that the proposed new centre, including car park etc. takes comfortably under one-third of the green but you really don’t have to believe me – get in touch and I will try to arrange a viewing at a suitable time. Please do, it is what they were made for and it would be a shame if people had made up their minds without looking at all of the available evidence. It’d be a waste of cardboard and lovely little model cars and trees too…..
[note: my own views on whether or not this proposal should go ahead or not are really not relevant here, I just want to see a properly engaged community making decisions after considering all of the available evidence. That’s my job as a Leek North Councillor, sort of…..well, part of it at least!]
Hello all (maybe I am being a bit presumptious with the all but here’s hoping….)
Just thought I’d update you with the latest about the proposed Ascent developments that are planned up on the Haregate estate. The following blue text is directly quoted from Chris Elliot at Ascent Housing:
- The existing community centre site will be heard by the planning applications committee in July.
- The other sites proposed for Haregate (new community centre, development behind the Haregate hall/barns, and a new proposal at Horsecroft farm) are planned to go to a planning committee in August. You have the opportunity to engage in this formal planning consultation.
- In terms of the new community centre site an invite is being posted around the estate to invite everyone to take a look at the design and location of the community centre that will be going to planning committee. These will be held on july 1stand july 5th. Gavin is arranging for the placement of these posters (it may already be done). I hope that you along with others in the community will see what a wonderful investment this is for the area – for example the changing places toilets are just one of the much needed additions to this community facility.
- If the applications gain approval we will then start to work with people and schools in the community on the specification of enhancing play areas and open spaces. The views and involvement of the community are vital in this to ensure we make the most of the opportunity to invest in the infrastructure in and around the estate.
- In terms of conversations and consultation in the community there have been numerous events in Haregate. We have continued to modify our proposals in light of comments made – and this includes the location of the community centre after our last event on the site – you were listened to and the location was modified as a result. The number of car parking spaces are based upon a recommendation by county highways. It is however impossible to accommodate every point of view and opinion. The final decision of course rests with the SMDC planning applications committee.
I would urge you to consider what Ascent is bringing to communities within Staffordshire Moorlands :
- Quality, warm, sustainable, secure, affordable housing
- Meeting an urgent need for rental and shared ownership
- Enhanced open and green spaces/play areas
- Helping people within the community to get onto the housing ladder
- Developing and investing in the local economy by creating employment, training, apprenticeships and education opportunities
- Developing a brand new purpose built community centre
- Building Staffordshire Moorlands first ever extra care facility in Leek (quite a few of the workforce being used are local)
- Developing homes for families with physical disabilities
- Developing homes for people with learning difficultiesJune 10, 2013 Darren Price 23 Comments Edit I would however like to make three things absolutely clear.2. It has NOT ALL BEEN AGREED ALREADY As the proposed new centre this has not been submitted for planning approval rumours that it is a ‘done deal’ and is all ‘stitched-up’ are far from the truth. The full, open democratic planning process is yet to begin and there will be ample opportunity for people to have their voices heard – for and against the plans.3.There are NO PLANS TO DEVELOP ANY MORE HOUSING ON THE GREENFor the record, I believe Haregate Community Centre is a fantastic resource and does great work in the community. Furthermore, I believe that the proposed site is the right place for the new centre – in the heart of the estate where most people can reach it. As an architect/planner who advises communities on such things for a living I have a lot of experience in this field. Unlike others who regularly claim an expertise in planning and design issues (you know who you are) I can back my claim up with a doctorate in town planning and membership of a number of national advisory bodies (Design Council CABE– it, The AOU etc.) basically, it ‘s what I do for a living!Leek Market – a small victoryTonight we finally had the opportunity to scrutinise SMDCs delegated decision to move part of Leeks iconic (and 800 year old) market. This was only as a result of a “call-in” orchestrated by Labour members assisted by colleagues in the MDA. (Moorlands Democratic Alliance) Without the call-in we would certainly not have had this chance to debate the decision that will so greatly affect the town. With regard the rest of the proposed 6-month trial it is business as usual. Despite a long and lively debate with excellent contributions from some interested local parties as well as councillors from all sides of the chamber the lady was not for turning. When I say the lady, I of course refer to our leader as Cllr Wain, the portfolio holder, was (deliberately) kept well away from actually answering any questions after his angry, fist-pumping, episode last month no doubt. In addition to myself and various other members of opposition parties, Tory Cllrs John Povey and Stephen Ellis spoke well against the decision of their leadership but sadly, their pleas also fell on deaf ears. Scrutinising themselves….Having just attended my first Council meeting as a Member of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council all I can say is that the rumours, sadly, are all true. A Conservative cabinet scrutinised by Conservative-chaired scrutiny panels with other committees and panels stuffed full of Conservatives and Tory-friendly ‘independents’. I had put myself forward to join a number of other committees and panels, both internal and external, but this too was largely a case of jobs for the boys. This was particularly galling with regard the Conservation Panel, as it is an area where I have some professional experience, but the post of course went to a Tory councillor who’s cheese-based career would imply more experience in preservation than conservation. I am sure he will do a great job and leave me with no reason to make any any reference to crackers and getting into a pickle.May 14, 2013 Darren Price Leave a comment Edit In different economic times, with a different Government at the helm, I was successful in getting a job quickly, in fact I was offed two almost simultaneously. I chose a position at Urban Vision, as the Architecture and Urban Design Advisor based in Stoke-on-Trent and we started to look for somewhere to move to. We remembered the lovely little market town that we had both driven through many times over the years and realising it was just 10 miles from my new office thought we would sell the flat and rent a place there for a while whilst we decided what to do next. That was that, we fell in love with the town and the people almost immediately and, whilst still in flat-out London mode viewed nearly every available house in our bracket within a couple of weeks, eventually buying our place whilst we still had months left on our rental contract! That was all over six years ago and we are both agreed it was just about the best decision we have ever made. Leek North By-Election VictoryI’d just like to use the first post on my new website to thank all of those who helped during my successful campaign in Leek North. The result may have been so different without it and I am very grateful. I am already into my work and I am looking forward to having a real impact – both with individual constituents on the ground and by ensuring that the current Conservative administration held to account at every opportunity.
- May 14, 2013 Darren Price Leave a comment Edit
- My job at Urban Vision fell foul of Government cuts in 2011 as it was funded by the late and lamented Advantage West Midlands and after years of working remotely for her London-based employer Deborah left and set up her own textile company DAP squared LTD in 2012. So now we runs two companies based in Leek (I work as a consultant under the name Place ART) I am Chair of Governors at our daughters school, All Saints First and I am involved in various things in the town, most recently being elected to the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council as the Labour Party member for Leek North. Most importantly the three of us that moved up here in January 2007 have been supplemented by a fourth as Stanley Price was born in early 2011, we are all proud adopted Leekensians, Stanley is the real deal. We are settled and all love the Moorlands.
- So how did this Leicester lad end up in Leek in the beautiful Staffordshire Moorlands? The route was not a simple one and took in university in Manchester and then Sheffield before a number of years living and working in the east end of London. It was in London where I married my wife Deborah and we initially bought a flat and then had our first child Martha in 2006. Neither of us had any strong ties to London – Deborah is from the ‘other’ Cheadle, the one in Cheshire and as I said earlier I was raised in rural Leicestershire, in Nigel Lawson’s Blaby District to be more precise. So after consulting Rightmove, looking at the price of nurseries and looking at our bank balance we decided to look for work back in the Midlands or the north west.
- How we came to the Moorlands…
- May 16, 2013 Darren Price Leave a comment Edit
- All we asked for was a proper, robust evidence-based approach to decision making. What we got was further evidence that that particular approach does not sit comfortably with the current administration. Despite this setback/victory (delete as you see fit) we will continue to fight the good fight, calling-in decisions when required if only to shine a light on the way that local government is carried out up in these here hills.
- So what was the result of this forced u-turn? Well, we gained one concession before the meeting had started as the leader announced that cars will be removed from the market square on Wednesdays. For this we are indeed grateful, it is the right decision and it is just a shame that it was only taken as a result of the call-in.
- June 5, 2013 Darren Price Leave a comment Edit
- I’d be more than happy to discuss this matter or any other concerns, please contact me via this website or call me on 01538 529371.
- There’s not much more I can add to that really.
- …and finally:
- 1. There will be NO NEEDLE EXCHANGE AT HAREGATE COMMUNITY CENTRE. I strongly suspect that this is a rumour being spread about by opponents of the new centre which is planned to go on the green and had no basis in fact. Needle exchanges provide a useful service for those in need but this is provided by Addaction Leek Outreach at the Russell Street Centre in the middle of town (tel: 07795238178 for details).
- I have recently received a number of reports from concerned constituents about rumours that are spreading on Haregate. Although I am pretty sure about the source of these rumours without being 100% certain I will make no direct allegations – yet. There is a definite hint of politics being played though…..
- Scurrilous rumours about the proposed new Haregate Community Centre