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[BroxtoweInfo] Tackling anti-social behaviour / obesity and poverty / policing / and lots more

26th January 2013 Nick Palmer, Updates from Politicians 0 Comments

nick_palmer_2501Hi all,

I’d like to range around this time, talking about anti-social behaviour after
the recent suicide, proposed pension changes, poverty and obesity, the draft
policing plan consjultation and a microloan scheme that may interest you. It’s
time I repeated for newer readers that my updates aren’t designed to be
plodded through line by line. Please just skip through to the bits that interest
you!

First a quick note about some upcoming meetings:

THURSDAY JAN 31, 4pm-530pm, The Other Space, 6-8 High Rd, Beeston NG9 4AH:
“Labour: Back in Business?” I’m speaking at this, together with Toby
Perkins, the Shadow Small Business Minister, and (tbc) the former Senior Vice
President of Hewlett Packard, Bill Thomas, who is chairing a non-party task
force of businesspeople who’ve been asked to give input to Ed Miliband.

This is part of the behind-the-scenes work to prepare the next Labour manifesto,
and the idea is to present ideas so far and then invite suggestions and comments
that might help. If you’re involved with a small business or local
organisation, or just interested in the issue, do come.

MONDAY FEB 4, 7pm, Hope Nottingham, Boundary Rd Community Centre, Beeston NG9
2RF: “Fighting Welfare Cuts and Tackling the Housing Crisis”. Speakers are
Mick Warner, Labour’s County candidate in Beeston North, Richard Buckwell from
Defend Council Housing, and a representative from Disabled Against the Cuts.

This is discussing in particular the cuts that about to hit: young people under
35 will get reduced housing benefit entitlement, and tenants who have a spare
room will have a âbedroom taxâ reducing their housing benefit by up to 25%.
They also want to look ahead to the impact of the Universal Credit scheme,
scheduled for October. All welcome.

FRIDAY APRIL 12 (yes, looking ahead!): As always, Broxtowe Labour has less money
than the Tories, and with the County elections coming up we need to raise some.
There is a big fund-raising event in April which you might like to attend if
you’re free. The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists will be on at the Chilwell
Arts Theatre, Friday April 12 – £10 entry, or £6 unwaged. This has had
sensational reviews in its run elsewhere – Libby Purves in The Times called it
“Tremendous…delivered with brio, humour and some great songs.” It’s based on
the seminal book exposing exploitation in the Victorian era: see

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ragged-Trousered_Philanthropists .

If you can’t attend, but would still like to help level the playing field,
there’s a button to make donations on www.broxtowelabour.com.

1. Microloan idea

I tend not to urge support for particular charities since we all have our
different priorities, but I came across this recently:
http://www.kiva.org/
and thought some of you might be interested. A lot of people think that the most
efficient way forward for developing countries is microloans, to get
enterprising people started. Kiva is a peer-to-peer site enabling you to choose
from a variety of people in Third World countries bidding via local microloan
groups for small loans. You get details of what they hope for, what their
environment is like, and why they should be able to repay it, as well as any
comments from other lenders. You can chip in towards the loan, starting at $25
(about £17).
For example, Bonifacio in the Phillippines is a small lumber dealer seeking to
increase his stocks:
http://www.kiva.org/lend/520895
He’s seeking to raise $1250 and has reached 70% so far. If people make
unrealistic requests, their ‘bid’ will expire after a while. There is an
element of risk (perhaps his wood store will burn down?) and you get zero
interest but If all goes well, you get all the money back in a specified period.
And then then lend it to someone else, or just spend it yourself with the
satisfaction that it helped someone first.
I got into it via posting free travel reports on TripAdvisor. After I’d done
about three, they unexpectedly thanked me by offering me $25 to lend to any
project on Kiva that I liked. Good PR: it’s motivated me to like them and post
more reports there to see if they do it again.

2. Europe and dodgy economics

Just briefly on Europe since I discussed the issue last time. It’s quite clear
that the referendum offer is a piece of tactical party management and a
vote-catcher for 2015, since it’s dependent on a new Treaty being on offer in
2017. Anyone who knows the European process (as Cameron certainly does) knows
that this isn’t going to happen. The process to get 27 countries to agree
takes more than 4 years and it hasn’t started yet. So if 2017 comes round and
we have a Conservative government, I assume they’ll simply say that sadly no
choice is available yet, but hay, re-elect us in 2020 and you can have a
referendum next time. The Treaty position in 2017 isn’t going to be materially
different from now, so if he really wanted to risk a referendum (as opposed to
winning some votes and placating his critics) he could have it now, instead of
introducing 4 years of uncertainty.

For the reasons I set out last time, I don’t favour an in/out referendum: I
know thatâs an unpopular position, but I think it’s simply too risky. If the
government of the day is unpopular then people may easily reject their
recommendation and we’ll find ourselves suddenly out in the cold with really
severe economic consequences. I do favour a referendum on any treaty change that
affects Britain, but on whether to accept the change rather than on withdrawing
altogether.

By the way, if you saw the recent Conservative party political broadcast, you
may be interested in its debunking by the (pro-Conservative) Spectator:

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/01/david-cameron-tells-porkies-abo
ut-britains-national-debt/

3. Pension changes

The proposals announced have the general pattern that from 2017 we’ll need to
work longer (because we’re living longer) and get less than we would otherwise
have done, unless weâre able to show a contribution record of up to 35 years,
in which case we’ll get more.

I tend to be critical of the Government but I think the simplification that they
propose is good in principle (the pensions minister, Steve Webb, is one of the
best minds in the LibDem ranks) and the main issue is the actual levels of
pension, which remains very low by European standards. I’d like to see more
encouragement for flexible retirement, paying part of the pension supplemented
by work as people gradually wind down – the system tends to assume that either
we’re fully working or fully retired, which is increasingly not the case for
many people.

There is however one group which has been targeted who will suffer badly for no
obvious reason: it’s not an especially large group but worth checking that it
doesn’t apply to you or anyone you know. At present, if your spouse dies
before you, you inherit their national pension even if you’ve not got a
contributions record (e.g. because you’ve been bringing up a family). That is
being abolished, and if you reach retirement age after 2017 and are in this
position you will lose the entire pension, i.e. over £5000/year. If you have no
other income at all, you’ll benefit from the minimum pension guarantee
introduced by the last government, but if you have some savings income you’ll
lose the money. This seems unfair since it’s effectively a retrospective
change (if you’re now 60 there’s nothing much you can do about it), whereas
the more positive bits of the package only apply in the future,

4. Poverty and obesity

Broxtowe’s MP has said that as she looks at her constituents she can usually
tell if they’re poor because they then tend to be fat. This is easily
satirised (there is no shortage of well-fed, wealthy politicians, for a start)
and there’s a comment on this in the Beestonia blog:

http://beestonia.wordpress.com/

What about the issue itself, though? I’ve looked into the data, and it’s
actually more complicated than generally thought. In low-income groups, there is
BOTH a higher than average level of obesity and also a higher than average level
of people who are dangerously thin.
What seems to be happening is that people on low incomes tend either to buy
cheap high-energy food or to skimp on buying food at all. There have been
various suggestions for tackling the issue, such as somehow ensuring more
healthy food being on sale in poor areas , but of course the fundamental problem
is the low incomes. I am still in favour of Working Tax Credit because they
directly attack the poverty issue and make sure that work actually makes a
significant difference to your income, but improved adult education needs also
to be part of the answer. The next government is obviously still going to be
grappllng with the economy, but I want to see a coherent plan for narrowing the
gap between ‘rich and mostly healthy’ and ‘poor and mostly struggling’.
That will save money in the NHS too.

5. Anti-social behaviour and the recent suicide

Many of you will have seen the tragic report of a Beeston resident who committed
suicide after the authorities failed to deal with a long series of complaints
about the neighbours. Since some aspect of this may end up before the courts, I
won’t comment on the specific case beyond saying how awful it must have been,
but more generally on how individuals and authorities should respond to
anti-social behaviour. I know that Broxtowe is reviewing whether they can deal
with issues like this better. In my experience, people actually worry more about
bad neighbours than about more serious crime, because most people will not
suffer burglary or assault for years, if ever, but you have the neighbours there
all the time.

I saw numerous cases as an MP, one so serious that I felt I had to offer the
affected family refuge to live with us for a while until the situation was
sorted out. The problem was usually that although individual incidents were
often minor, the cumulative effect of months or even years of problems was
intense. Complaints often led to the problem intensifying, and sometimes
neighbours would get enmeshed in a web of mutual counter-complaints, making it
hard for outsiders to identify who was most to blame. In other cases, the target
of the complaint took a malicious pleasure in repeating the offence week after
week. All this made people reluctant to complain, yet putting up with nasty
behaviour for years isn’t an attractive option.

Conversely, not every complaint is itself innocent, and people can be falsely
accused; there are also cases where people just aren’t compatible, without it
really being anyone’s fault. There’s a flat roof opposite where I currently
live where kids party with loud music in the summer. I don’t mind and
they’re not breaking the law if it’s not too late at night, but some people
would really hate it.

So it’s difficult to get the balance right, but I’d favour:

a) Protecting the mediation service from council cuts. They can’t solve
problems where neighbours really hate each other, but I’ve often seen them
defuse a lesser row before it got too serious.

b) Reviewing the prioritisation system so that cases where someone is being
driven to thoughts of suicide really get immediate attention. That’s supposed
to happen, and in the case above it didn’t.

c) At national level, looking as fast-track tribunals to deal with serious
anti-social behaviour without the usual interminable delays.

6. Cinema project and North Broxtowe nudge

Cllr Richard Robinson asks me to mention a consultation that he’s doing as
Kimberley councillor and Cabinet member of Leisure services on whether there’s
enough interest to justify having a cinema at Giltbrooke Retail Park. You can
put your views here, not just whether you vaguely think it might be nice, but
also whether you’d use it!

http://richardsrobinson.org.uk/cinema-project-2013-giltbrook-retail-park/

Richard points out that due to the frequency of issues arising about Beeston and
Field Farm/Toton, I’ve not written much about the north of the borough
recently. That’s very true and something I’m concerned about. As a general
point, if there are issues you’d like to see me reporting, please just drop me a
line, as Richard did.

7. Council updates

A County-wide survey has put both Broxtowe and its council in the upper reaches
of favourability: 86% of those surveyed say they like living in Broxtowe, and
72% are satisfied with the council. This is an annual survey and both figures
have been rising steadily for years. Councillors don’t get much good press (they
suffer from the general low opinion of politicians without the false glamour
attached to MPs) so it’s nice to see something to cheer them up. There’s a
perception that they’re rolling in money, but as David Watts notes on his blog
their annual allowance is £3704 (though those who have more responsibility get
more), which isn’t really luxury by most standards (MPs get 18 times as much).

8. Notts policing plan
Whether or not we liked the idea of elected Police Commissioners, we’ve now
elected Paddy Tipping, so it’s worth checking out what he’s proposing to do
and giving your feedback. He’s consulting on his proposals here:

http://www.nottinghamshire.pcc.police.uk/Home.aspx

Best regards

Nick Palmer

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