Wednesday, 30 May 2012

New 'Skip Tax' will dramatically force up skip hire charges

I have begun to receive correspondence from people concerned about, the Government’s imposition of a “skip tax”.
On Friday 18 May, thousands of small businesses in the skip disposal industry, employing 20,000 to 30,000 people, were affected by the changing of the tax rate for the disposal of materials from skips from £2.50 a tonne to £64 a tonne. A typical business with dozens of skips now faces bills of tens of thousands of pounds, with many expected to go out of business, damaging the construction industry still further.

The two new changes to the rules governing Landfill Tax came in on Friday 18 May. The move relates to a judgement in the HMRC v Waste Recycling Group (2008) case.

Material used to protect or ‘provide a suitable stable substrate’ at the top of a landfill will now be taxed. In the past, it has not been taxed as it was seen as an engineering material.

As I understand it, rubble and soil are used at night time to provide a cover for daytime domestic/household refuse as part of tip management and were therefore given an exemption (at £2.50 per tonne) as 'engineering waste'. The ruling has removed that exemption.

As a result, disposal sites have increased the charge per skip by hundreds of pounds almost overnight. For instance, Sita in Morden, Surrey, raised their charge for the smallest skip from £144 to £300 on 28 May.

I have every sympathy with skip hire firms and I have now contacted almost every skip hire firm in Hyndburn to listen to their concerns. One Hyndburn firm has stated to me this afternoon that they will have to lay off 18 workers almost immediately. They tell me skip hire prices are going to have rise extortionately and redundancies are expected at other firms. These costs will be passed onto builders and other tradespeople. Hardly encouraging the building industry either.

Why did the government treasury minister responsible, David Gauke MP not see this coming? Questions have to be asked if the treasury were aware that HMRC were pursuing this case and if so what was the treasury's contingency plan for the skip hire industry and connected businesses? At the moment it seems the answer is none.

George Osborne should have been aware that given the adverse reaction to the tax implications in his budget (Pasty Tax, Caravan Tax, Granny Tax, Charities Tax, Churches Tax et al) his reputation was on the line and to be ever more vigilant. A complete #omnishambles if you ask me.

The question now is, what are the government going to do and soon to resolve the problem it has presided over?

The biggest housing crisis in a generation

Jack Dromey MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister, responding to Grant Shapps' comments on homelessness this morning, said:

“Grant Shapps’ statistics this morning were highly misleading. He talks about wanting to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping.

Figures show LCC redundancies hit women three times as hard

Lancashire County Council have released figures showing women have been hit three times as hard when it comes to redundancies.

The number of  employees who have left the employment of the authority from:  4th June 2009 – May 1st 2012 is 10,874. Of these 8,146 are women and 2,782 are men.

It is easy to understand why female votes, often on part time or low wages are turning away from the coalition party's. They are not fair and clearly 'We are not all in it together as George Osborne claimed in the News of the World at the last election.

A ComRes poll in the Independent this morning shows that only 29% of women voters now support the Conservatives, while 45% will vote Labour and 14% Lib Dem. Furthermore, the Tories are ahead among only one age group – those aged 65 and over. Labour leads the Tories across all the social groups of working age.

Of each the directorates at Lancashire County Council, the numbers being made redundant are; Office of Chief Executive 271, Children and Young People 1,069, Schools 6,563, DSO 1,641, Resources 189, Adult and Community Services 1,063, Environment 271.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Labour led Peninne Lancashire secures £9million for empty homes

Congratulations to Pennine Lancashire for their successful bid to the Government for funding for empty homes. It is far smaller than the previous housing grants including HMR.

Regenerate Lancashire have been informed from HCA that they have been awarded £9.479m for their Clusters of Empty Homes Funding bid. This is in addition to the £4.84m Empty Homes Funding announced in March 2012. Around £3million will be spent in Hyndburn.

The major clusters of empty properties in Hyndburn exist in the Woodnook area and I understand this will be added to the recent transitional relief for ex HMR areas to ensure that significant parts are not left behind.

It is great news for the partnership and testament to their commitment to continue to work together to achieve the best for Pennine Lancashire.

Super fast rural broadband to provide just 25 new jobs

UPDATE: Top 20 wealthiest wards In Lancashire (all rural) / Top 20 most deprived (all urban) with tables showing those rural wards increased their income during the recession whilst the the poorest saw their income fall.

Lancashire County Council and Lancashire LEP are currently spending some £32m on super fast rural broadband for the County.

The investment is part of the UK's £530m push for better broadband in marginal areas, with the funding coming from Broadband Delivery UK (£10.8m), the European Regional Development Fund (£16.5m) and £4.7m coming from from Lancashire County Council.

Lancashire County Council will bring super fast broadband to 97% of the county by 2014 at speeds in excess of 30 Mbps. Superfast broadband is already available to approximately two-thirds of Lancashire - predominantly in the less affluent urban areas.

I raised the matter again in the House of Commons last week. Serious questions have to be asked about this expenditure. What is the basis for this £32m subsidy?

Is is best value for money? Are their other projects this could be spent that will give a greater return? Should the tax payer be subsidising what is essentially a private business? Should the government be cutting funding and police numbers in Lancashire whilst using taxpayer money to fund SFRB? Are their other means of raising capital?

Questions that remain largely unanswered.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Rogue, Amateur and Long Distance Landlords causing housing misery

Rogue, Amateur and Long Distance Landlords causing housing misery. Here's the latest. Typical of PRS.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Housing in Hyndburn... Whilst reading this weeks Observer...

Whilst reading this weeks Accrington Observer I could not help but remember the heated debates that stifled rented housing in Hyndburn.

As a Councillor the ruling Tory Group refused to accept a viable regeneration plan for Within Grove, Huncoat because it meant building houses that would be rented. The Tory Group were ideological driven by houses for sale. Renting was a 'socialist' scourge that scarred communities and had blighted Hyndburn. That Labour's ideological housing policies had ruined Hyndburn and the Tory Council was determined to have an owner occupier society.

The reality of these policies meant Within Grove could not progress. No house builder would build houses and there was little prospect of sales or a return on any investment. There was a deal to build and rent as this would facilitate development funding with demand for decent rented accommodation so high.

I remember saying as I was then as leader of the Labour Group to the Board members, when there is a Labour Council we will let you build rented accommodation. To the people who voted Labour, that promise is now a reality as Within Grove is now to be redeveloped with new community housing including much needed elderly accommodation.

It's not just there that Labour's housing policies are changing people's lives for the better. In Rishton there has been demolition on Spring Street, in Woodnook private sector investment has been brought in to provide in the first phase 71 new rented homes and the College and the Council are to enter into a joint partnership to refurbish run down properties borough wide starting I believe in Central Ward.

The Tory Group has indicated they would not bring in Landlord Licensing after their half hearted attempt failed last year. Providing there is enough merit, Labour will introduce the largest landlord licensing scheme in Britain this summer.

£2.4m has had to found to finish parts of West Accrington where the Tory Group had signed legally binding contracts and consideration (for rent) is being given to a portfolio of properties in Council ownership abandoned by the Tory Group.

By 2014 there should be 100 new high standard properties for rent and greater quality controls over many properties in the private rented sector.

Voting Labour is making a big difference.

The Jubilee Time Capsule - Your chance to add a memory

The Royal Commonwealth Society is currently working with our partners at the National Express Group to help create the world's largest history project - The Jubilee Time Capsule - and they would really like as many people involved as possible.

The Jubilee Time Capsule is creating a unique online archive that will allow people from across the UK, the Commonwealth and indeed the world to upload their personal memories, photographs and videos from any date during the last 60 years to

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Government kills off opportunity to end legal loan sharking

I am disappointed that last night the Government rejected Labour attempts to protect consumers from the problems caused by payday lending.

In Parliament last night, I voted to support a cross party amendment to the Financial Services Bill which would have allowed the regulator to cap the cost of credit if a financial product was judged to cause ‘consumer detriment’. Despite the support of several Conservative MPs, the Government whipped its MPs to reject the amendment.

They took this action despite the fact that on the very day, new research was published which showed that 98% of MPs and 93% of the public believe there is a problem with payday lending. 66% of MPs and 65% of the public also support a cap on the total cost of credit.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Gesture politics of Grant Shapps - RTB - yet another housing mirage.

Jack Dromey, Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister recently stated that “If we had a home for every press statement issued by Grant Shapps we wouldn’t have a housing crisis”. This sounds like a simple criticism of a career politician who just wants to put out good news about his department, but there is something more profound about this comment.

The latest press release from the ever-positive Housing Minister concerns the “Revamped Right to Buy” scheme, which is intended to allow council house occupants to purchase their house at up to a £75,000 discount, with the money going to a ring fenced part of the Local Authority’s coffers to be spent building new homes.

But in Hyndburn this policy is nothing more than a press release, because it won’t help anyone.Take a cursory glance at the numbers and the unrestrained pride the Minister shows on twitter seems a little misplaced.

The problem is that this does not apply to Councils which transferred their stock into Housing Association ownership in order to meet new minimum standards. In Hyndburn owing to the large amount of houses which didn’t meet the decent homes standard the council took this path and stock transferred. New tenants do not acquire a right to buy – just existing tenants when the stock was transferred. So aside from a very small and dwindling number of people who transferred their Right to Buy rights, this won’t help Hyndburn.

A council spokesperson guessed at 25% churn in tenancies since stock transfer back 2006. Vast swathes of former Council housing now in private housing association hands are excluded from this ‘grand gesture’ of aspirational home ownership.

Rossendale Borough Council has said in no uncertain terms that this policy would have no effect whatsoever. This is housing policy as a blunt instrument. Not thought through, inconsistent and half-baked.

But even where it will apply, it isn’t going be the life-giving solution to the housing crisis. The £75,000 discount is a maximum (up from £50K), and to qualify there must have been a minimum 5 years tenancy with % increases based on years of occupancy. The average sale price in Rossendale in 2010/2011 was £63,000; in Hyndburn just £52,000 with the discount is capped at 60% but is as low as 35% for those with just 5 years tenancy. Shapp’s £75,000 is simply another meaningless press release outside of London.

To put this new big announcement in quantitive perspective – and the Prime Minister himself has waded in with extra loud triumphalism – 6 homes were sold last year in Hyndburn under RTB and in Rossendale which had a good year, just 10.

Shapp’s has made the vacuous political promise of a one for one replacement. Vacuous because it is not a like-for-like but social tenancy with the lowest rent levels being replaced by affordable homes with the higher affordable rent level. The higher discount is effectively being subsidised for by the new tenants paying higher rents. Robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The National Housing Federation stated their concern recently that the revenues from the sales would not be enough to finance a new build. And in areas like Hyndburn where house prices are low, the sales will simply not bring in enough money to cover the cost of a new build. A house always costs about the same to build anywhere in the country, but that is not what its value is based on.

Shapp’s is continuing his one size fits all housing policy which doesn’t reflect the national differences in the housing market.

The National Housing Federation, Shelter and the Chartered Institute of Housing have all said this week that “things are getting worse”, that “much more needs to be done” and that things were “pretty bleak”. The Chirpy attitude of the Housing Minister certainly doesn’t reflect this.

What I want to see is a Housing Minister who is more focused on actually delivering solutions to housing problems instead of chasing headlines and pithy one-liners that he can deliver in the House of Commons. To read one of Mr Shapps’ (numerous) press releases you would think this Government’s record on housing was a huge success based on obvious solutions that he has plucked out of thin air.

Shapp's has a disastrous housing record in Hyndburn. Ending the £9m per year Elevate regeneration programnme. Ending the general £1m pa housing grant. Introducing the unfair New Homes Bonus which takes £millions away from Hyndburn and East Lancashire, not ensuring that LCC support housing in two tier areas, watering down regulations for private landlords.

His successes are thin on the ground. Introducing a empty homes tax after two years vacant and a £2.3m grant for Woodnook.

I realise that this isn’t an original criticism of a career politician – but I don’t think we should have careerist politicians running Government departments based on press releases and spin; especially those as important as Communities and Local Government. Grant Shapp's better sit up and take notice because his department is another one heading for free-fall.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Tories wrong to attack British business


Cameron’s Tory Government has been accused of not listening to teachers, nurses, the police and their own MPs; to that list we can now add British business.

The Tories have traditionally liked to think of themselves of the ‘party of business’, self-deluded as that might be, but this self-regarding reputation now lies in the gutter following Foreign Secretary William Hague’s comments last weekend.

In an interview in a Sunday newspaper he suggested that the Government’s business critics should stop “complaining” and “get on with the task of delivering more of those jobs”. He added: “There’s only one growth strategy: work hard.”

The “complaining” that Hague referred to was that last week’s Queen’s Speech contained very little that would actually help British businesses. If the Government really does want a return to economic growth then perhaps it should work with the business community to foster a healthy private sector instead of attacking it for not working hard enough.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Primates as Pets and Pet Licensing

I have been contacted by a constituent who informs me that Meerkats and Monkeys are being sold as domestic pets. I would appeal to a anyone who finds these animals being sold anywhere to contact me and their local authority.

I am sure some specialist owners do take great care of their primates and there should be consideration for these individuals and organisations.

I do not believe that these animals should be treated as equivalent pets to cats and dogs – they clearly have different needs and unless they are carefully treated they are at risk of suffering from what amounts to animal cruelty. They are also highly intelligent and emotional primates.

The Pet Animals Act 1951 requires any person keeping a pet shop to be licensed by the local authority. Before granting a licence the local authority must be satisfied that the animals are kept in accommodation that is both suitable and clean, supplied with appropriate food and drink and protected from disease and fire. The local authority may attach conditions to the licence, inspect the premises at all reasonable times and may of course refuse to grant a licence.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) states that anyone who has reason to believe that a pet shop is keeping animals in inadequate conditions should raise the matter with the local authority who will decide what action to take within the range of its powers.

In January a Bill was introduced called the Keeping of Primates As Pets (Prohibition) Bill. The progress of the Bill ran out of time before the Parliamentary session ended and so unfortunately did not become law. Hopefully it should have been effective in drawing the Government’s attention to the matter. I will certainly consider supporting the bill.

In the meantime I have written to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to ask what the Government hopes to do on this issue. This should give us an indication of the Government’s position and will also bring this matter to the Department’s attention.

Accidents at work in Lancashire - article by Peter Billington (LATUC)

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2006/07 more people were injured in accidents at work in Lancashire than in any other area of the North West, or the whole country. In Lancashire in 2006/07, 816 people suffered from workplace accidents, putting the area at the top of the national league for major and fatal injuries reported to the Health and Safety Executive. In 2010/11, the HSE classified six local authority areas in Lancashire as high risk areas for accidents at work (Blackburn, Chorley, Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, Rossendale, and South Ribble - see attached HSE report). Only Preston is regarded as a low risk area.

In January 2012 the Prime Minister made an outspoken attack on health and safety regulation. He said that he was “waging war against the excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses” and that businesses had to “battle against a tide of risk assessment forms”. He also said that the Health and Safety Executive had been given the task of abolishing or consolidating up to half of existing regulations.

The Government also set up no less than three reviews of health and safety regulation in the past year and a half. These were a review by Lord Young, a review by Professor Ragnar Lofstedt and what is called the “Red-tape challenge”.

The first two reviews have both concluded there was no case for any change in the overall health and safety framework and both accepted that there was not an “excessive” health and safety culture.

The “red-tape challenge” was set up in 2011 to get businesses to suggest what regulations should be removed. Anyone could leave a suggestion on a website, yet the overwhelming majority called for no change to the existing regulations.

The government has said that we do not need any more regulation because Britain is one of the safest countries in the world. This is rubbish. According to the Health and Safety Risk Index, published in January 2010 the UK’s health and safety performance was 20th out of the 34 OECD (developed) nations.

In 1974 the number of regulations on health and safety was 462. In April 2009 the number was 248. This means we have 46 per cent less regulation than 35 years ago.

It is not just the number of regulations that have declined. Over the last five years the HSE has also reduced the number of forms used for collecting information from business from 127 to 54 – a 57.5 per cent reduction.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Lords Reform should not go ahead just to appease the Liberal Democrats

With House of Lords reform at the top of the governments agenda and not growth or jobs one has to wonder about its importance amongst the omnishambles the Government has engulfed itself in. From failed economics and a double dip with even greater borrowing to jerry can fuel fiasco.

The House of Lords is an essential part of our democracy and any legislation concerning its composition should not be made lightly or hurriedly.

Legislation should certainly not be made hastily for any reason as trivial and undeserving as to save Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats’ political future. The House of Lords should be made the most effective it can be in serving the British people.

The Liberal Democrats have made Lords Reform one of the few, token issues they want to be seen to ‘get their way’ on in the Coalition. Not stopping the Health and Social Care Bill’s attack on the NHS; not preventing huge cuts to legal aid funding; not putting their foot down to avoid one of the most punitive budget the country has ever seen or sticking by promises to scrap tuition fee’s, stop VAT rises or even preventing Trident, a decision they quietly put off till 2016. No – instead the Liberal Democrats have decided that Lords Reform is an issue worth demanding to change in this Parliament.

The Labour Party manifesto calls for a 100% elected House of Lords. However, the Labour Party also believes that before making such a huge change, there should be a referendum – only if the country votes through a referendum for Lords Reform should it go ahead. Labour has gone a long way in reforming the Lords removing hereditary peerages and developing the Lords as a chamber of the wise and knowledgeable.

The reason the Liberal Democrats would insist on going ahead with the changes without a referendum is that they want to be able to claim, at the next general election, that Lords Reform is something they achieved. They want to push through reform without the possibility of the electorate defeating it either in a referendum or at the 2015 General Election for this is simply about an elected chamber but the way it is being constructed. The Liberal Democrat devil is in the detail. They want it on PR despite being defeated in a referendum for the Liberal Democrats, even with 15% of the popular vote will permanently be ‘in government’ in the Lords holding the balance of power in perpetuity.

Holding a referendum may delay the process – and rightly so, given its importance – but they are afraid of Lords Reform happening when they are not in office. Holding a referendum will also put a candle to the Liberal Democrat agenda. Where senators are elected to the Lords with 15 year terms.

The public may be in favour of reform but I am sure they do not want PR, they do not want 15 year terms and they do not want US style Washington political gridlock where the lower house and upper house are in competition wheer Party’s defend their interests and the wise and knowledgable are sidelined.

Time is precious in Parliament and I do not think that time should be wasted debating this issue – which will take up a huge amount of time due to its importance – unless the public demonstrate that it is something they rank of high importance. Serious legislation is going to be pushed off the timetable to make way for a Lords Reform Bill, including a social care bill, a development bill and an energy bill.

My personal belief is that it works well but for clarity, my natural instincts would always be for elected representatives and I understand why this principle is important. I find myself in a contradictory position though in reality this is not an important issue to the peopel of Hyndburn.

Housing, fuel prices, benefits and the economy to suggest just a few examples. Simply put, it is not something I would rank of high importance, and I would need evidence that it is something my constituents rank of high importance, before pushing ahead.

Labours position of a referendum is a clear and unifying way forward on this issue not just for MP's but for the country as a whole and is the right approach. 

If the public vote for Lords Reform, then I would be happy to spend as much parliamentary time as needed to get the legislation as good as it can be, and I am open to being persuaded by the arguments, but like with the EU issue, I d not see it as of vital importance. A mere sideshow to jobs and growth, public services and civic society.

I am not spending a disproportionate amount of time and tax-payers’ money on Nick Clegg’s next vanity project.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Whatmore Ltd… a great Hyndburn company

I recently had the pleasure of touring Whatmore Ltd and their MD Tony Grimshaw to see what great work they doing. A visionary plastics company who take great care in looking after their employee's. An example of a great British business.