Turning the lights out

In my last post about Fraser Pithie’s bid to be elected as Police and Crime Commissioner, I mentioned street lighting plans.

What is happening is that the County Council has announced that they intend to switch off 80% of their street lights in the hours between midnight and 5:30am from April next year.

While there is an ‘engagement’ exercise requesting feedback, that decision has already been made – the question is which ones are affected (or rather, which ones are left on). There are criteria set out, but the real problem is that these are based on a need to move the vast majority of lights to part time.

So, for example under the current plans the Southfields estate in Rugby, where I used to live, will have no street lights on at all after midnight.

The County Council pages going into the detail are here, and there’s a google map showing all of the County Council lights that are covered that will show you how your street is affected.

A victim of privatisation – Justice

Forensics blunder ‘may endanger convictions’

Shortly after the Tory-Lib Dem coalition came to power, the Home Secretary announced that the UK’s public Forensic Science service would close. It would save a bit of money, apparently.

Of course, the police and prosecutors still need forensic science done in order to proceed with cases. So they had to go private. Unfortunately, one such private forensic lab, LGC Forensics, has managed to get some DNA contamination into the results in a rape case, leading to a collapsed case and the need to review loads of others.

That’s a false economy, surely.

Birch Ward

But, seeing as I’m back, here’s my thoughts on the recent announcement that one of the wards at St Cross Hospital is about to close:

Birch Ward’s shut down at the end of the month is appalling for the town. There hasn’t been any real consultation. It seems that some people heard about it before others – Jerry Roodhouse and Mark Pawsey were quick to comment, but the local PCT – who commission medical procedures at St Cross for the people of the town were not (so I am told) asked for their opinion.

The Tories will blame the last government, and their pals in the Lib Dems will play the same card. However, the pressures on hospital trusts are being imposed by this government despite promises to ‘ringfence’ the NHS. On top of taking a hard line on budgets – causing one hospital to have been transferred to the private sector where the company itself has suggested that care may suffer – they are pressing ahead with the plan to impose a massive restructure. even though the Health Bill has not been passed yet, they have closed agencies and started to spend some of the £3billion that the reorganisation will cost.

Still, the local Tories and Lib Dems can do something. They can work with the Rugby Labour councillors who have called for UHCW to reconsider the decision, and they can join the calls for a Judicial Review.

Police cuts… Crime rises… Who could predict it?

I know it’s been ages since my last post. I’ve been feeling disillusioned with the internet and bogging of late, and have been pretty busy in real life, so let it slip.

But I saw this today that just shows how the Coalition Government’s cuts may be having a directly negative effect:
Police departures led to surge in crime (Rugby Observer)

Basically, Warwickshire Police are faced with having to make massive cuts. To help them manage, they moved experienced officers from Rugby to Nuneaton to cover gaps. But after that happened, the incidence of home burglaries in Rugby leapt up by about 75%. So they ended up having to bring some of them back again.

Which is fine for Rugby, for now, in that the effect was pretty quick and crime went down again. But it strikes me that other parts of the County will be lacking full cover as a result.

When the Tories (backed by their yellow pals) went for 20% cuts in policing, they claimed it could be done without affecting the front line and that predictions of an effect on crime was ‘scaremongering’. But the evidence suggests that, as senior officers themselves said at the time, the cuts are forcing the Police to make tough decisions, with some areas losing vital cover.

Buses, carers, libraries, youth centres… cut cut cut

The Tories around here really are getting into their stride:

Rural and evening bus services are going to be slashed, thanks to the County Council halving the money they provide. All kinds of people will be affected all over Rugby and the surrounding villages.

At the setting of the Council budget last month, the Tories at Rugby Town Hall claimed that services would be protected and the impact of their changes would be very low. Tell that to the people reliant on Crossroads, which provides respite care for the elderly – the couple in that linked story are also going to lose out with the closure of Abbotsbury care home in Hillmorton.

Consultations are ongoing over which small libraries are going to be closed, and whether to reduce hours at others.

I am also finding out that the County Council is opening consultations on the closure and transfer of many of the county’s youth centres. Hill Street, Fareham Road, Brownsover, Dunchurch and Binley Woods Youth Centres are all under review. Wolston is recommended for closure.

I can see that these cuts are likely to disproportionally affect the most vulnerable – the young, the old, the ill, the poor.

The Tories gleefully wield the knife, and the Lib Dems are backing them (while at the same time crying tears over each local cut in case it costs them votes).

What Clegg should have said

The cuddly yellow Liberal Democrats, darlings in the eyes of the public a mere year ago, held their first Spring Conference since being in government. Clearly they are stung by accusations that they have betrayed the electorate by saying that they would oppose early and fast cuts in spending and that they would oppose increases to tuition fees, only to support early and fast spending cuts and to have Vince Cable propose tuition fees at double to treble the current rate. I mean, it’s not like they meant any of their promises, they weren’t expecting to have to come through with anything. So Clegg, attempting to sell the virtues of a ‘mollifying’ Lib Dem presence said the following in his keynote:

“Would a Government without Liberal Democrats have ended child detention? Got an extra ten billion out of the banks? Would it have held a referendum on the voting system? Or put up capital gains tax? Ordered an inquiry into torture? Brought in a pupil premium? Or replaced Control Orders? Would a Government without Liberal Democrats have cut taxes for the poorest?
I don’t think so.”

I bet that raised a hearty cheer. But before cheering it, let us go through this passage bit by bit (it’s been a while since I did a proper Fisk) and see how true it really rings: Read the rest of this entry »

One step forward, two steps back

I noticed this story on the local Observer website this week: High demand for debt help about a Rugby-based Christian charity that are reporting a large increase in people coming to them for help on debt. The recession has hit people hard, and the programme of spending cuts (which means job cuts) and the recent increase in VAT are combining to squeeze people who are already struggling.

So it is great that there are organisations out there to help.

However, since I saw that story, two more things have come to light that will make it much harder for people in debt to get help. Firstly, the Tory-led government has axed funding for debt advice. The Financial Inclusion Fund cost £130million. But in the last 5 years it has helped:

• 379,000 people manage more than £6bn of debt.

• 3,000 families stay in their homes, resulting in a £150m saving to the courts and mortgage lenders in court and repossession costs.

• create an estimated £700m in annual cost savings for the NHS because of avoided mental health problems and stress.

• creditors recover an estimated £300m more of their debt than they would have recovered without the service.

Secondly, reports are coming in from across the country that local Citizens Advice Bureaux are facing possible closure, such as in Birmingham, due to local councils hacking away at grants to local voluntary groups as they try to deal with the effects of Eric Pickles’ 28% reduction in funding. CABs spend much of their time dealing with people who have debt problems. As much as they have been trying to diversify their funding so they are not wholly dependent on council grants, now is really not the time to pull the rug.

As much as the Tories in Westminster talk about the ‘Big Society’, they are undermining the voluntary sector with their deep and early cuts and trying to pass the blame down to local councils. When it comes to dealing with debt, it’s important to ensure that people have access to advice and support, because very often a little help can go a long way to avoiding bankruptcy and homelessness.

No wonder that Phil Redmond has become disillusioned with the ‘Big Society’ project. Projects like Rugby’s CAP are going to have to pick up all the of slack when the cuts hit other agencies. I just hope that they can cope. Because the real losers will be those who are already suffering from debt problems.

National Cuts, Local Effects

Each of the three main local news sites covering Rugby has an article pertinent to the round of cutbacks we are all going to be experiencing.

The Rugby Observer reports that the Police Station in town will only be open to the public from the front desk for 12 hours a day, starting next Monday (1 Nov). The Cov/Warks Telegraph highlights a study which suggests that between them, Coventry and Warwickshire will be losing 16,000 public sector jobs with nearly 40,000 more in the private sector put at risk. The report suggests that Warwickshire could be badly hit, and towns like Rugby and Stratford have vulnerable private firms.

Mind you, on the other side, the Advertiser brings news that Rugby Borough Council is hoping to replace the Ken Marriott Leisure Centre with a new facility. This was covered at the Cabinet meeting last week. There it was agreed to commit £200,000 of capital to investigating tenders for the project.

Now, as much as it would be great to have a new Leisure Centre, it seems a bit incongruous to spent a six-figure sum on a project that might not even go ahead, let alone the likely millions that the full build would require, at a time when the Government and councils are cutting spending.

At the same meeting, the Cabinet discussed (I say ‘discussed’, it was more nodded through) a report on the money stuck in Icelandic banks. Rugby had about £3M in two banks. Landsbanki, with about £1M is agreeing to pay back 95% of the money over the next eight years – as long as the overall plan is not successfully challenged by other creditors. In terms of lost interest and depreciation, this would represent a loss of about £400,000 by the time all the money is returned.

The other bank, Glitnir, had the remaining £2M, but the offer there is only 38%. The council are challenging that one, of course, but if it goes that way, the end result means that about half of the original £3M would be lost.

With that background, what are the Council going to use to pay for a new Leisure Centre?

I knew Osborne was an idiot, but…

Yesterday I saw the news about the Child Benefit changes and thought of an instant reaction. However, I decided to leave it a bit and think about it before posting.

In the meantime, of course, the middle classes are in outcry (strangely it’s overshadowed the £500 pw maximum for all benefits), and the Mail and Telegraph have followed their readers in outrage.

So the Tories have added insult to injury and restated their intention to have transferable allowances for married couples, with the implicit idea that it would be extended to balance out the Child Benefit changes. Which is itself also a clumsy idea and isn’t immediately clearly fair.

Basically, single parents on over £44,000 will lose out the most. Married childless couples where one earns loads and the other doesn’t work at all will gain the most. In between will be all sorts of situations where whether you gain or lose will depend less on household income and more on how close you are to the ‘traditional family’ ideal.

The oddest thing is that Child Benefit will still be being paid to the same people as before. All that will happen is that people above and around the threshold for the 40% Income Tax band will have their PAYE code altered in all sorts of ways to claw the money back. And as we saw last month, HMRC doesn’t have any problems with the PAYE system.

Oh. Well, apart from all the problems they have with the PAYE system resulting in loads of over- and under- payments going back years.

I thought that the removal of the 10% band by Gordon Brown in his 2007 budget was cack-handed, but this is ridiculous.

Posted in Politics. Tags: , , , . 5 Comments »

Police cuts in Rugby

A few weeks ago, when the proposals to remove the Magistrates Court in Rugby came out, there was a fear that there would be some impact on the Police Station next door, such as the loss of the custody cells.

And we were told that this would not be the case.

But since then, the police service have started a review of their own: Eight Warwickshire police stations under threat (Cov Telegraph). The review is into the ‘front desk services’ across the county, but according to the report

The stations under review are Atherstone, Bedworth, Coleshill, Kenilworth, Rugby, Shipston, Southam and Stratford, which could be relocated into shared facilities or see their opening hours reduced.

If the front desks are moved to a ‘shared facility’ that could be somewhere else in the same area. Which would probably see reduced opening hours as well. We’ve already seen that police numbers are set to be cut. Now we’re likely to be in a situation where if you go to the Police Station it might not be open to the public.

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