Speech to Council: Budget 2014

My speech to Council can be viewed here.Leicester Town Hall

Last week 27 Anglican bishops – including the Bishop of Leicester and 16 other clergy – attacked David Cameron and his Tory-led government for creating a national crisis of hunger and hardship.

Since the current Tory / Lib Dem government came to power the use of food banks according to the Trussell Trust has increased by some 700%.

I’m sad to say this isn’t some abstract problem affecting other people somewhere else: it’s affecting people here in our city here today and the situation is getting worse.

In Beaumont Leys we now have a foodbank run by volunteers. It was set-up in October last year and evolved out of a lunch club at the local church.

I recently spoke with Katie Wray, one of the people leading the project. She told me that although it was slow to start, word had spread quickly, and now they’re busier than ever.

A lot of the people approaching the foodbank for help are in part-time or low paid work. Many others lost their jobs after the busy Christmas period, and they’ve been experiencing delays in getting access to the benefits, which they themselves have paid in to.

I’m saddened and ashamed to report to Council tonight that there are mums going without food in Beaumont Leys, so that their children have things they need for school, and are not bullied by other kids for being poor.

I know of one lady in her 30s who recently split from her partner and is caring for 2 children. In one week she didn’t eat anything besides bread because she had to save £25 for her son to go on a school trip. When this lady was explaining her circumstances she felt so embarrassed that she burst out crying.

But the scale of the problem is much worse and these Tory cuts and the government’s cost of living crisis is affecting many of my constituents in Beaumont Leys.

There’s another woman living on Scalpay Close in my ward, who recently didn’t have £2 for the electric meter to heat up the food for her children, for when they came back from school.

There’s a family living in Home Farm who are struggling to find around £300 to pay Council tax for the first time and they cannot get any financial support.

And there are children attending youth sessions at the Beaumont Lodge Neighbourhood Association, who seemingly haven’t had enough to eat, with local volunteers telling me that they seriously doubt whether some of the children have had lunch on any given day.

The difference between being a political activist, and being an elected Councillor, is that I now actually get to meet the many people in my ward who are struggling to survive, and I get to see for myself the impact that Conservative Party policies are having on real people.

Although we are a Labour-controlled City Council the sad reality is that our hands are tied, because it’s the Tories and Liberals who control two-thirds of the money that we get, and they are the ones inflicting these cuts on the people of Leicester. They are the ones who are favouring tax breaks for millionaires and for big business, as people go hungry. And they ultimately are the ones who we – the people of Leicester – must work hard to defeat, at next year’s General Election.

Speech to Council: Budget 2013

 My speech to Council can be viewed here.

Leicester Town Hall“Thank you my Lord Mayor.

This is the most difficult time of the year for Leicester City Council. Two-thirds of the money that we get is from central Government and that funding is being slashed.

In a way to me it feels like a lot like we are in the eye of a hurricane: in that we have already had major cuts last year; and we’re going to have even more huge cuts to come over the next few years.

But today is also an incredibly difficult time for those of us who are Labour members. The people protesting outside the Town Hall tonight are just like us on this side of the chamber.

So for me and many other Labour members who are Labour Councillors, who are trade unionists, it is particularly painful and disheartening to be in here passing a Budget which inflicts cuts as a direct result of Tory and Lib Dem policies, than to be out there, protesting against this failed Government which has systematically – and is systematically – trying to: destroy the welfare state; foster inequality; persecute public sector workers; tax the poor to give to the rich; and attack hard working families here in Leicester and throughout the UK.

My Lord Mayor I remember vividly speaking in this debate last year and I said then that “this Tory-led Government was on the cusp of leading us into a double dip recession”. And that’s exactly what’s happened. Not only did Britain go back into recession but now, as we sit here tonight, we’re now teetering on the brink of a triple-dip recession, with a flat-lining economy.

And all because, my Lord Mayor: David Cameron, a former PR man; George Osborne, a former researcher; Nick Clegg, a former journalist; and Danny Alexander, a former press officer – the so-called ‘Quad’ – haven’t got the experience to run a business; haven’t got the experience on how to grow the private sector; and haven’t got the experience of how to get the British economy moving.

My Lord Mayor I was to just finish by saying that the people of Leicester have time and again put their trust in the Labour Party and the values and ideals for which we stand. And since having been elected two years ago I have seen and witnessed myself just how hard my Labour colleagues on this Council work, especially when it comes to Budget time.

This Labour administration: the Mayor; the Executive; the Chairs and Vice Chairs and members of the scrutiny commissions; put in months of preparation, hard work, long hours and meticulous planning and revision in order to try to mitigate against the worst excesses of the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. And to try as best we can to protect frontline services from a cold, heartless, detached, out-of-touch Tory-led Government that does not, has not, and will never care about ordinary people in Leicester and families in our city.

Thank you.”

Labour protects neighbourhood policing and officer numbers‏ in Leicestershire

Members of the Leicestershire Police Authority (LPA) voted on Tuesday 21 February to increase the police precept by 2.5% for the coming financial year. Members rejected the Government’s offer of a one-off grant for a 0% precept freeze and opted instead for a baseline increase to secure a stronger financial position in the longer term.

Thanks to a concerted and united effort by Labour Members – Cllr Sundip Meghani, Cllr Barbara Potter, Cllr Lynn Senior (City Members) and Cllr Max Hunt (County Member) – together with the strong support of City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, the Labour Party managed to achieve a good result for the people of Leicestershire.

All four Labour Members voted in favour of the 2.5% increase whereas two Tory Councillors and one Liberal Democrat Councillor from Leicestershire County Council voted for a 0% freeze. To their credit the Chair of the LPA and all of the independent Members present also voted for the rise.

The 2.5% precept rise means that the average Band D property will pay an extra £4.24 a year. However by securing a 2.5% precept increase Labour has strengthened the position of the Police Authority in the longer term, saved nearly 200 police jobs and safeguarded neighbourhood and frontline policing.

Labour has also listened to the overwhelming majority of people in Leicester and Leicestershire, 75% of whom favoured a rise in the police precept when consulted by the LPA.

The simple truth is that unlike Conservative and Liberal Democrat County Councillors who tried to cut services and police numbers still further, Labour Councillors have succeeded in protecting hundreds of police jobs, protecting neighbourhood policing and protecting the integrity of a truly local and responsive police force here in Leicestershire.

As this Tory-led Government seeks to cut 30,000 police jobs and risk increases in crime and anti-social behaviour, Labour will continue to listen to the concerns of ordinary people, and continue to fight hard to protect neighbourhood policing and officer numbers right across our country.

Maiden speech to Council: cuts to policing in Leicestershire

Thank you my Lord Mayor. This is my first time speaking in full Council, and I am proud to associate myself fully in support of this motion. My Lord Mayor, the cuts to police numbers being imposed by this Tory-led government is of grave concern to residents in Beaumont Leys, and to residents right across Leicester. And the public are right to be concerned.

In Leicestershire alone we’re going to be worse off to the tune of some 200 officers before the end of this financial year. Not only that, but the forces’ 1,000 civilian support staff will be cut by nearly a quarter by March of next year.

In terms of policing, this Tory-led government is letting down not only the people of Leicester and Leicestershire, but letting people down right across our country. This government likes to talk tough on crime, but when it comes to taking action on matters of law and order, they have behaved disgracefully – and the facts speak for themselves:

We’ve got a Justice Secretary, a former barrister, who doesn’t understand the meaning of the word rape. We’ve got the Ministry of Justice, a government department that up until last week was proposing to give shorter sentences to criminals. We’ve got proposed cuts of some £350million to Legal Aid, making it even harder for the poorest in society to get justice. And then to top it all off, we’ve got the icing on the cake – national cuts to policing on an unprecedented scale, with the loss of anything up to 30,000 jobs.

Some of my wiser colleagues will recall that the last time we had anything close to this level of upheaval in policing was at the time of 1962 Royal commission. But since then, the remit of the police service has expanded dramatically to include dealing with serious and organised crime, cyber offences, increasing local concerns such as antisocial behaviour, and then of course in more recent times, the threat of international terrorism.

What an utterly ridiculous situation we find ourselves in My Lord Mayor, when on the one hand government agencies are proposing to give us a bit of money as part of the Prevent Strategy to tackle home grown extremism leading to terrorism, whilst on the other hand the Tories and Liberal Democrats pull the rug from under our feet, slashing funding, slashing police numbers right across the country.

When the Tories and the Liberal Democrats pledged in their manifestos for the 2010 General Election, to cut the amount of paperwork that the police have to fill in, we all thought they’d rid of the paperwork. Instead, they’re getting rid of the police officers themselves.

The police service is just that – a service, a public service that deserves public support. And I for one am glad that here in Leicester, City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby has already begun to lead on this subject, with the support of his Cabinet, as well as local Labour MPs, and that action is being taken to try and defend our police service from the impending coalition cuts.

As members of the Police Authority, myself, Councillor Potter and Councillor Senior will also work hard to try and protect policing in Leicester.

My Lord Mayor I hope that this motion receives the unanimous support of this Council and our two Opposition Councillors. And should they, in their infinite wisdom be in two minds about supporting this motion, let me just read this quote from Barrie Roper, who as the Chair of the Leicestershire Police Authority, is on record as saying and I quote:

“There is no doubt that the next four years are going to be extremely challenging as we grapple with major reform, and a shortage of funding to deliver services to the high standards, that our residents deserve.” My Lord Mayor Barry Roper is also, as I’m sure you’re aware, a Tory County Councillor from Rutland. Thank you my Lord Mayor.

Legal aid cuts universally condemned

The Junior Lawyers Division, Young Legal Aid Lawyers and the Shadow Legal Aid Minister Lord William Bach have come together today, to condemn the Government for cutting the legal aid training contract grants scheme.

In yet another shocking example of how the least well-off in our society are now the Government’s lowest priority, new Tory legal aid minister Jonathan Djanogly has scrapped the legal aid training contract grant scheme. The scheme, which was introduced by Labour in 2002 and costs the average UK taxpayer around eight pence per annum, helped to create more than 750 new legal aid solicitors over the last 8 years.

But now thanks to the millionaire legal aid minister Jonathan Djanogly, who unsurprisingly chose to train as a corporate finance solicitor himself rather than work in legal aid, there will be fewer solicitors in future to help those who cannot afford to pay, further disenfranchising those who earn little or nothing at all from having access to justice.

Moreover the cuts threaten to jeopardise hundreds of potential new jobs over the next few years, with far fewer training contract places available for LPC graduates, who are already struggling to overcome so many barriers within the profession.

Take Daniel Harrison for example, a trainee solicitor from Eastbourne who benefitted from the scheme. He told me earlier today that he wouldn’t have gotten a training contract at his firm without the training contract grant. With part of his salary being paid by the grant, it allowed him to carry out work that whilst not always being particularly profitable, did in-fact serve to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

Needless to say the scrapping of the training contract grants scheme has been universally condemned by the Young Legal Aid Lawyers, by colleagues at the Junior Lawyers Division and by the Shadow Legal Aid Minister, who spoke exclusively with me earlier this afternoon.

Labour’s Lord Bach condemned the move, saying “this is a mean decision which will lead to some skilled and committed young lawyers not choosing the legal aid path, but looking to other parts of the law. Everyone knows that there may have to be some savings in the total legal aid budget, but to cancel this superb scheme which has worked so well for the last 8 years in order to save £2.6 million, looks petty and incredibly short-sighted. A Labour Government would not have made this decision and I hope to raise the issue in Parliament in the next few days.”

Nobody at the Ministry of Justice was available for comment when I telephoned them earlier today. Probably because the scrapping of the scheme isn’t yet official, despite emails being sent out to dozens of people by the LSC, and the legal aid minister telling a group of lawyers about the plan in person yesterday morning.

Beth Forrester of the Junior Lawyers Division said “the JLD is acutely aware that the current financial climate has had a grave impact on the availability of training contracts throughout the profession, but we are very disappointed to see that those junior lawyers in particular, who are looking to progress in an area of law which is of maximum benefit to the community, are going to be hardest hit.”

Beth’s comments were echoed by Grace Brass, Council Member for junior lawyers on the Law Society’s governing body, who said “if we do not support the training of legal aid lawyers now, the future looks bleak for the profession and society as a whole”.

As luck would have it, the Junior Lawyers Division’s next quarterly meeting is on Saturday 10 July, and Chair Heidi Sandy has agreed to table an emergency discussion and response to this extraordinary development.