Positive News: Basing View Designated as a new Enterprise Zone in Autumn Statement

It may have been missed locally. There was some big news for Basingstoke as part of the autumn statement announced by the Chancellor today: It was confirmed that we have been successful in our bid through the EM3 LEP to have Basing View designated as an Enterprise Zone.

There will be those who worry about the impact on infrastructure and housing demand. We are close to having a 15 to 20 year plan in place which will set out where and when new homes can be built. This announcement is unlikely to change that.

In addition, we must remain a vibrant and economically viable town if we are to provide the jobs, incomes and services residents need,

Businesses basing themselves on Enterprise Zones can access a number of benefits:
•Up to 100% business rate discount worth up to £275,000 per business over a 5 year period
•Simplified local authority planning, for example, through Local Development Orders that grant automatic planning permission for certain development (such as new industrial buildings or changing how existing buildings are used) within specified areas
•Government support to ensure that superfast broadband is rolled out throughout the zone, and, if necessary, public funding
•100% enhanced capital allowances (tax relief) to businesses making large investments in plant and machinery on 8 Zones in Assisted Areas

The new Enterprise Zone will provide even more incentives for new businesses to come to Basing View and will make the council’s investment in the regeneration of the town centre business quarter go even further.

The Conservative Led Administration and your Conservative MPs have campaigned hard for this commitment.

Positive News On Employment in Amazingstoke.

It’s good to see that some of the fruits of tough economic decisions made locally and nationally are paying off as Maria Miller MP welcomes record low unemployment figures in Basingstoke. New figures for May show that 682 people claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance in the constituency in May 2015, a drop of 18 from last month, and 327 lower than in May 2014.  Youth Unemployment has fallen too; 120 claimants were aged 18-24, showing a drop of 70 claims from this time last year.  As Maria said, “These figures demonstrate that here in Basingstoke there are increasing numbers of people in work.  That means more people have the security of employment and a regular pay packet, so they can provide for themselves and their families.”

There are still significant economic issue around national debt and poor productivity. The only way to overcome these is to reduce the size of the state and enable people to be productive and self-sufficient, moving from a welfare state to a workfare state.

Chalk & Cheese – The Real Left/Right Divide.

“Politicians are all as bad as each other. They all make promises they don’t keep, and say whatever they think will get them elected”. That’s the refrain time and again from all but the most loyal party supporters.

It’s easy to understand why they feel this way. David Cameron couldn’t answer a straight question on whether he could “live on a zero hours contract” – after some prodding he finally admitted he couldn’t*. While Ed Miliband refused to admit that Labour had spent too much money despite the head of his finance team leaving a note that “there was no money left”.

So for the independently minded and swing voters among us, we need to look behind the rhetoric and blatant self-promotion if we want to find tangible evidence to support the choices we are about to make in the next few weeks.

It seems to be that, while on the surface the two main parties (Conservatives & Labour usually share between 60% and 70% of the vote) can be tarred with the same brush, if we look under the bonnet it is clear that they are as different as chalk and cheese in terms of what they believe in and how they go about running our country and our government.

One party believes in small government characterized by individual rights with a safety blanket of collective responsibility, as lower taxation as reasonable, fiscal conservatism and free markets.

The other believes in a large state and public sector funded by a larger tax take, a generous welfare state that mitigates the need for greater personal responsibility, and heavily managed and in some cases subsidised markets.

The consequences of the latter, in terms of the debt and financial well-being of the country, is well illustrated in thus report from the Independent Office of Budget Responsibility. It shows very clearly that the level of debt and the country’s net worth became unsustainable during the 13 years of the last Labour government. This debt was built on the back of a massive surge in public sector spending.

http://cdn.budgetresponsibility.org.uk/FSR-presentation-2014.pdf

So while politicians continue to confuse, obfuscate and in many cases intentionally mislead us  (sic the NHS has not been privatised under the coalition government, and the move toward ‘marketisation’ started under Labour), the divide between the politics of the right and the left is very clear.

We can either choose fiscal and personal responsibility backed up with by a safety net for those who truly need society’s help. Or we can choose a party that left the country bankrupt and believes the answer to most problems is not ‘people power’ but more government.

Those on the ‘left’ often point to Sweden as an example of an economy and society that has a large well run state sector, yet on any rank of wealth, health & happiness Sweden comes close to the top.

Their government is very much a coalition of centrist parties, and their PM makes a clear indictment of Labour’s stewardship of the British economy when he said Labour didn’t have the fiscal discipline that all Sweden’s main parties preach. “If you want to run a big welfare state you need to run surpluses in good times,” Mr. Borg says. “That was a huge difference between the Swedish Social Democrats and the Labour Party. Ours were far more prudent in terms of fiscal policy.”

I would vote for smaller government and ‘people not politics’ every time. Furthermore, if we are to have another coalition government as seems likely, then it must be a coalition built around the political centre and not one dragged to the extremes of the left wing which is invariably what will happen if the two Eds get to form the next Government.

The difference between Left & Right really is like chalk and cheese. What will you choose?

*As an aside I think that zero hours contracts in the hands of ‘responsible employers’ are a very smart way of giving both employers and employees the flexibility to work as and when they are needed or want to.

Democracy versus Debate.

Why do the Media & Politicians Keep Getting in the way of Democracy?

I have resisted writing about this subject for a while in the apparently vain hope that the TV broadcasters and our national politicians would come to their senses and produce a constructive series of televised debates.

It seems this is a forlorn hope. Who are the losers in this sad spectacle of ‘to debate or not debate, that is the question’? We, the people, the electorate, are.

While the media strut their ‘independence and freedom of the press’ (which is a good thing if it is done in the name of the people rather than the media’s ratings/pride), and the politicians put their quest for power ahead of their obligation to promote a fully engaged democracy, it is the electorate that lose out.

It seems that the politicians really don’t believe we understand that a series of political debates should not be the only basis on which we choose which box to tick.

It seems the TV executives believe it is more important for them to appear to be strong and politically agnostic in the face of political pressure, than for the politicians to appear on the box.

Meanwhile, membership of political parties of all colours plummets to all time lows.

Constituents lose interest and become disengaged with the political process.

Fewer and fewer people care to vote.

Protest parties that represent extremes flourish.

Political leadership is about taking people with you, not just expecting them to follow.

How can people follow an empty podium? Why should voters bother to tune in to a media that uses the ‘privilege of principle’ to avoid the public spectacle of a ‘people’s forum’?

Politicians – trust the people to see through the artefact of a televised debate to distinguish hype from substance.

Broadcasters – put your principles to one side to find a compromise that gives the people who pay your TV licence and your advertisers what they want – a representative debate.

Ultimately the real loser if neither party finds a way to put pragmatism ahead of principle will be democracy.

And if democracy fails, neither the media nor politicians do well.

And we, the people, are the people who suffer the most.

 

Our NHS Doesn’t Get The Credit It Deserves.

Stop kicking our NHS. That’s my message to politicians this election campaign. From the 10 o’clock news to the pages of The Gazette, some politicians are using the NHS as a political football while ignoring the facts and the great work most NHS staff do.

Let’s look at the facts. NHS England is among the best healthcare systems in the world. In a recent survey by The Commonwealth Fund we rank number 1 in the world with Switzerland 2nd and Sweden 3rd. When it comes to value for money, you’ll do well to find any other healthcare system that delivers so much for so little. We live longer than many countries. If we are badly hurt or desperately ill we ALL get seen as quickly as practically possible. 9 ½ times out of ten, even if we have only broken a finger or fell over in a drunken stupor, we still get seen in less than 4 hours.

Yet judging by the headline grabbing comments made by politicians you’d think we have one of the worst healthcare systems in the world.

I have worked in and used healthcare systems all over the globe. Here in Amazingstoke we are lucky enough to live in one of the best run healthcare eco-systems anywhere. Our hospital is staffed by world renowned clinicians and has a world class management team. Rarely do you hear people complain about the quality of care they receive from the hospitals’ Doctors and nurses, while our GPs are among the more progressive and well ranked in the country. If we choose to use a private hospital, the same Doctors that work in our NHS hospitals are also able to care for you in high quality private hospitals around the region.

All of this costs us about £2,000 per person per year. The US spend more than twice that per head, the French 20% more, the Germans nearly 30% more, Sweden 15% more and the Swiss 60% more.

Sure our cancer survival rates can improve. We need to improve the accessibility and effectiveness of GP clinics and provide better integration between primary care, community and social care and hospitals. We certainly need to do a better job of helping those suffering from mental illness.

None of this need be too difficult if the politicians stopped point scoring and scare mongering by throwing the word ‘privatisation’ around. Over 50% of the NHS budget is already spent with private companies, and a significant portion always has been. The drugs that have eradicated some disease and significantly improved the chances of getting better from most that ails us are developed by private pharmaceutical companies. Our GPs are privately run businesses as are most of our mental healthcare services.

Yet some politicians scream about the dangers of privatisation and point at what happens in the US. Guess what, about 50% of the US healthcare system is run by public sector organisations!

It should not matter who provides the service as long as the care they provide is effective, efficient and safe; and it is entirely possible to ensure that unreasonable profits are not made at our expense.

So please, to all those politicians that want to score points at the expense of one of the best healthcare systems in the world, have some perspective and look at the facts first. By all means engage in a debate about ideas to improve the care and service, while ensuring it is affordable for all. But please don’t pretend the system is broken and the fault is the private sector or a desperate lack of money.

It isn’t. In fact, it’s really very good. Here in Amazingstoke it is among the best in the country, and in some cases in the world!

Good Government.

It strikes me that putting political policies, values and beliefs to one side for a minute; the one thing any Resident should expect from any administration is that they run a competent and efficient local Council. The story in today’s paper about another set of public sector leaders taking significant redundancy payments and then returning to their previous employer as well paid consultants is a perfect example of incompetence and a self-serving culture that still permeates many public sector organisations.

I’m delighted to see that BDBC is not one of those. Other than my well publicised concerns about the management of planning policies and practice, I think we are fortunate to live in a very well run Borough. I’m even pleased to say that under the current leadership, the Planning team has also upped its game.

The old Chief Executive ran a tight ship, and in the last 6 years under the Tory Administration, Basingstoke Residents  clearly believe that Council performance has improved. Ratings for ‘Delivering value for money’ are up from 43% to 71%, ‘Feeling happy with the way the council is run’ from 58% to 84% and ‘Being Happy living in your local area’ from 87% to 96%.

We have a new Chief Executive joining, Melbourne Barrett. It looks like we have recruited an impressive and competent professional. Its a shame that I haven’t noticed all the local political leaders come out and endorse his appointment. When a new CEO joins a team it is imperative that he has the backing of the organisation’s Board & Leadership. I see the role of the elected Members to act as a ‘Board’ and ensure the paid Officers and Council Workers deliver the programmes the Board was elected to execute, and ensure value for money and accountability. The Board/Members and the Council Officers serve at the pleasure and service of the residents; who have the right above all else to expect competence, efficiency and integrity across the depth and breadth of the Council.

If you build it…..they will come.

It’s a story as old as time. The belief that just by building something, people will want to buy it. It was dramatized in a great film – The Field of Dreams.

Here in Basingstoke, pleas to build more houses, especially affordable ones, fail to acknowledgement the very unique situation that Basingstoke faces. In our borough, building too many homes not only suffocates the infrastructure and services that existing residents depend on, it also exacerbates the capacity problem by encouraging more inward migration.

We have built more homes per capita than any of our neighbours. 170% more homes than Hart, 50% more than Reading and 77% more than West Berkshire. This house building splurge has not solved the problem. It’s just opened the floodgates. Basingstoke’s forecasted population growth of 33% between 2001 and 2031 is twice that of Hart and West Berkshire, with 60% of that growth coming from inward migration. Basingstoke’s eyes have been bigger than its stomach for a while. The evidence proves two things. We never get the infrastructure and services we need to support more houses. And if we build them, they will come. So who are we building homes for? We know from The Council’s own research that 75% of residents believe we have built enough homes already and on past evidence it isn’t for local people. So the only people who benefit are the developers.

Basingstoke is a developers ‘field of dreams’. For those of us who already live here, too much more development will become our own nightmare.

When The Going Gets Tough…The Tough Go Shopping!

Shopping for ideas in this case. Ideas to make sure that while the rest of the country struggles with the Council spending cuts announced today, our Council finds creative ways to use the very strong financial position of Basingstoke to minimise the pain. We learned today that our Council will be expected to cut our spending by at least 1.8% next year. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when we account for the fact that some spending is mandatory and ring-fenced, it is inevitable that some services will be cut. Or is it? Our Council is one of the richest in the country in terms of investments with over £130m in assets. And that’s before we take into account the value of land owned by the Council. Some estimates suggest that by selling Manydown to be used to meet our housing needs could realise close over £300m. So we are sitting on assets worth nearly half a billion pounds! Surely now is the time to think creatively about how we use some of that money to ensure that services needed by many of our residents are not cut. Programmes for the young, old and ill could be protected. Unlike the last national government that spent prolifically during the good times and refused to ‘save for a rainy day’, our local Administration was smart enough to build up a valuable savings account. Given the state of our national debt, which is still rising every year (although a lot less than it was), it is clearly going to be raining for some time in terms of money the national government has available to spend on services. So now is the time to reap the benefits of being one of the wealthiest Councils in the Country. I hope the smart people who saved for a rainy day, are now out and about shopping for ideas to help protect the services that make Amazingstoke one of the best places, as well as the smartest places, to live.

Less Shaming, More Debating

It seems everyday another story comes out about a UKIP candidate who has exhibited some form of shameful behaviour. This is to be expected as the general public and mass media start to subject a new party to the same levels of scrutiny of the established parties.

I think this is a shame. Let’s face it, all of the established parties have had their fair share of ‘named & shamed’ Members. UKIP are not the only party who have selected bigots, philanderers or other unsavoury characters.

All of this attention detracts from what I believe the electorate really want to hear, which is for each party and their representatives to exchange of ideas, beliefs and practical examples of how they plan to make a difference.

I have invited Hazel Van Bergen, the UKIP candidate in the Basing Ward, to join me in a series of hustings open to everyone in Old Basing & Lychpit. These meetings would be along the same lines of Question Time, with The Basinga/Gazette/Observer playing the role of the Beeb and David Dimbleby. All the local candidates would sit on the panel and residents could ask them questions on the issues that matter most to them.

Hazel has said “I’ll think about it”. I hope Hazel agrees and as soon as I know who else is standing in our ward, I’ll ask them as well.

Our elected representatives should have the courage of their convictions, and take every opportunity to engage with the people who can vote for them.

It’s time for us to stop the scandal hungry national media from setting the agenda, and start to set the political agenda ourselves by debating the issues that actually make a difference in our day to day lives.

 

 

So much for localism.

I joined a large group of Basingstoke Planning Officers, Councillors, Residents and not so local developers to present evidence to Mr. Fox, the Planning Inspector chosen to opine on the soundness or otherwise of our ‘Local Plan’. Headline: What a waste of time, energy and resource. Mr. Fox started out by saying he thought we must be smoking something if we thought he would ever accept the 748 target, or words to that effect. He liked to slip into ‘street cred’ vernacular every now and again to suggest he wasn’t quite the government controlled autocrat we all suspect he is. Well, de didn’t disappoint. After 6+ hours of presentations from Councillors and Officers who did a good job of explaining that:

a) we cant always count on economic growth

b) even if we could, we are stuffed full already and the public purse is beyond broke so who is going to pay for all the roads, water, sewage, schools, clinics etc? (hint, it wont be the developers)

c) water quality already breaks most acceptable quality measures

d) sewage already runs where it shouldn’t (although Mr. Fox seemed to imply it was running in a lot of the evidence presented)

d) Basingstoke has been the most prolific builder of new homes in the South East so maybe, just maybe, we deserved a little rest?

Mr. Fox decided he was right and we were all wrong. So to hell with elected representatives, the considered opinion of planning officers and the wishes of residents; Mr. Fox says we either increase the number of homes we build by 15% or he’ll send us all to the naughty corner and we’ll have to stay there until we agree with him. In other words, its his way or the highway (and that highway will be jammed as well).

So much for localism!

But it was a good day to be a developer, especially as none of them live locally.

PS. Special mention to the efforts of Cllrs Cubitt & Ruffell, Maria Miller MP, Stafford Napier (SWAG) and Andrew Dodgshon (Head of the Basingstoke Planning Officers),  all of whom who did their best to let reasons reign; but nobody was raining on Mr. Fox’s parade. Certainly not any Labour, LibDem of UKIP Cllrs who were conspicuous by their silence. Which is a shame as I think its important we know what everyone’s ideas and suggestions are.