Employment figures

April 19th, 2014 by danielbarker
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Figures published this week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that more people are in work than ever before with levels of employment up to 30.4m. This shows that the Lib Dem plan to create a million jobs is working.

Unemployment has fallen by 77,000 in the three months to February 2014 to a rate of 6.9 percent – the lowest level in five years.

There’s also good news on salaries, with wages rising an average of 1.7 percent since last year, while inflation has dropped to 1.6 percent. Coupled with the Lib Dem £700 tax cut, which was delivered earlier this month, this means that working people get to keep more of their take home pay, helping to ease the squeeze on family budgets.

This wouldn’t be happening without the Liberal Democrats in government building a stronger economy in a fairer society.

Commenting, Danny Alexander said:

“These figures are some of the strongest evidence yet that we are embedding the recovery. We have record numbers in work and unemployment falling at the fastest rate in over a decade.

“With earnings now rising in line with prices and employment rising, these figures reinforce the fact that the only way to higher living standards is to take the difficult decisions needed to deliver our long term economic plan.

“There is still a great deal more to do, but today’s announcement is solid progress on building the stronger economy in a fairer society that Liberal Democrats entered coalition to deliver.”

Happy Easter

April 17th, 2014 by danielbarker
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The event of the weekend is taking place tomorrow morning in Walsall town centre – the Good Friday procession (Walking the way of the Cross). This re-enactment of the crucifixion (organised by Walsall Town Centre Ministry) is always well attended, with acting that draws onlookers into the incredible events of almost 2,000 years ago. The action starts at 10.30am at the top of Park Street.

Come along if you believe – to be part of a powerful act of witness, and if you don’t believe – to be challenged!

Former speech writer to Tony Blair says “I agree with Nick”

April 16th, 2014 by danielbarker
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Posted April 16, 2014

The former Speech Writer to Tony Blair said that he believes Nick Clegg is making a difference: “By stopping the Tory Right, the Deputy Prime Minister should be applauded by all liberal voters.”

Philip Collins worked as Tony Blair’s Chief Speech Writer, responsible for Blair’s very last speech as Leader of the Labour Party. In his article published today, he said that without the Lib Dems in Government, green taxes would be slashed, welfare cuts would be more severe, and there would be progress towards abolishing human rights legislation.

Commenting on the Europe debates, Collins said:

“During the debate on the European Union with Nigel Farage, it struck me that Nick Clegg had a clearer and more coherent thread to his politics than any of the other leaders, indeed any other senior politician.”

He also commented on George Osborne’s Budget speech, saying that it was notable that Osborne made a lot of the Liberal Democrat policy, such as raising the threshold at which people pay income tax to £12,500. He said that it is the liberal desire that people should keep more of the money that they earn.

In his article, Collins mentioned that he admires Nick Clegg’s emphasis on making social mobility a success. He spoke highly of the Liberal Democrats emphasis on childcare, stating that thanks to the Lib Dems, more money has been channelled to poorer children via the premium offered to schools in disadvantaged areas.

ITEM Club: Interest rates to remain low for 15 months

April 15th, 2014 by danielbarker
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EY ITEM Club has predicted that inflation and interest rates will remain low for at least a further 15 months. The spring forecast from the ITEM Club expects the economy to show “decent but unspectacular growth” up until the end of the year. But the group has warned that the FCA must use its powers to restrain over-enthusiastic homebuyers and stop them borrowing more than they can afford. Peter Spencer, chief economic adviser to the ITEM Club, said the FCA’s powers to police mortgage lending would “head off problems when interest rates rise”. The report predicts that inflation will average 1.6% in 2014 while wages will rise by an average of 1.7%, bringing to an end a long period in which prices have risen faster than incomes.

Garden cities planned

April 14th, 2014 by danielbarker
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Under Liberal Democrat plans, three new garden cities will be built in the countryside between Oxford and Cambridge. Nick Clegg, the Deputy PM, will say in the new Lib Dem manifesto that the new garden cities, which will have at least 15,000 new homes, will provide a solution to the “chronic” housing shortfall. The prospectus invites councils to put forward proposals for new garden cities with the support of their local communities. It states that they must be “ambitious” in scale, have good transport links, and be able to draw on private funding.

Mansion tax

April 11th, 2014 by danielbarker
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Danny Alexander MP outlined this week his proposals for a Mansion Tax. In a speech on tax on Wednesday, Danny described some of the details of the tax, which would apply on homes worth over £2 million.

The Liberal Democrats first proposed our Mansion Tax in 2009 and have been pushing for it to be implemented in Government, against huge opposition from the Conservatives.

During his speech, Danny said:

“As a Liberal Democrat, we are committed to finishing the job fairly too.

That means that in the next Parliament the job can’t all be done through spending cuts alone. That is in sharp contrast to the Conservatives, who think this can all be done through spending cuts, and in particular that the working age poor should bear the burden.

It is perhaps unsurprising that in addition to inheriting the consequences of a full blown financial crisis we also discovered a tax system which was a mess.

Full of anomalies, and opportunities for those intent on avoiding paying their fair share – it had more holes than Swiss cheese.

I’ve already mentioned capital gains tax and pensions tax relief as two key areas where in coalition we have made some changes.

One of the other most obvious was, and is, council tax.

Let me put this proposition to you …

Someone in a £700,000 home should pay the same council tax as some living in a house worth 7 million or 17 million, or even 70 million.

How do you feel about this?

Most people would agree that it is not right.

Well, over the past couple of years I’ve done a lot of work in the Treasury thinking through a fair reform.

Vince Cable had already done much of the ground work, much of the heavy lifting.

But now, in the Treasury, modelling and analysis has been done, property data processed, to understand how this can be delivered.

And so the new system I, as a Liberal Democrat, am proposing is really simple –

A modest additional banded levy on top of council tax for high value properties.

The annual charges, in addition to council tax will be set out in good time ahead of the General Election next year.

By building on the council tax system, there will be no need for a detailed valuation of the small proportion of properties affected.

Crucially this means that this policy could be implemented quickly after the election.

And people in homes valued at below £2 million would continue to pay just council tax.

Let me be crystal clear – There would be no additional charge on homes valued below £2 million.

The new levy will be collected in the same way as council tax, via local authorities, then pooled nationally.

Of course there will be appeals, and of course these will be heard properly, as they are currently with council tax.

But with a simple banded structure,

And with the level of the bands up rated annually, people living in typical family homes need have no fear of being sucked into this levy.

So, just as with the increases to the income tax personal allowance, I think there’s widespread support for what is self evidently a fair correction to an outdated system.

Even our esteemed Mayor gruffly conceded that new council tax bands were – ‘the kind of thing you need to look at’.

Simple. Practical. Deliverable. Fair.”

The three things Nick Clegg would change about the EU

April 10th, 2014 by danielbarker
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Posted April 10, 2014

Published on Liberal Democrat Voice By The Voice | Mon 7th April 2014 – 1:17 pm

13 hours after leaving the debate stage last Wednesday night, Nick Clegg was back on his regular Call Clegg radio show. The show had been nominated twice in the Radio Academy Awards to be presented next month.

The first caller, Caron from West Lothian, (who might she be, I wonder?) made the point that she was highly amused by David Cameron trying to pretend that he was the voice of reason on Europe when his plan was to sell all our employment rights down the river and then give us a referendum. Her question to him was that although he’s a powerful advocate of the EU, he acknowledges that it’s not perfect, what 3 things would he do to make it better.

Nick’s answer:
•More Trade
•Scrap the expensive monthly trek to Strasbourg (championed by all Lib Dem MEPs with a special mention for Edward McMillan-Scott)
•Less red tape for small businesses

He also remembered that when he was an MEP it took a decade and a half to decide on a chocolate directive – hardly the work of a monstrous superstate.

Later on in the problem, he came back to discussing Cameron’s plans and basically said that nobody really understood what it was about. That rather suggests that James Forsyth’s suggestion that the Tory plan would not be a barrier to a second coalition is not accurate. This is what Nick actually said:

I think David Cameron’s renegotiation – I still don’t understand what its supposed to be about. From what I’ve read in the newspapers, it’s a little tweak here and a little tweak there. I don’t think it’ll satisfy anyone in the Conservative party many of whom agree with Nigel Farage and want to leave the European Union altogether.

Asked about whether it would be a “red line” in any coalition negotiations, he added:

I believe in reform, but I don’t believe it’s a realistic prospect to do what I think David Cameron initially suggested which is to repatriate a bunch of powers. We’ll keep the good bits and let everyone else keep the bad bits.

Bedroom tax fails to deliver savings

April 9th, 2014 by danielbarker
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The so-called “bedroom tax” has plunged half the tenants affected into rent arrears but will fail to deliver the savings sought by the Government, according to a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The think-tank argues that ending the spare room subsidy will affect 498,000 people rather than the 600,000 estimated by the Government. Joseph Rowntree estimates that the savings will be around £330m – about £115m lower than expected. Separately, the Guardian reports on an academic study that alleges the rise in demand for charity food is a clear signal “of the inadequacy of both social security provision and the processes by which it is delivered”.

Feed back from tonight’s public meeting following the Trustees decision to close Pool Hayes CA by Cllr Ian Shires

April 8th, 2014 by danielbarker
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Posted April 8, 2014

I was able to re arrange my work schedule for tonight and as a result managed to get to the public meeting at Willenhall CHART concerning the closure of Pool Hayes CA. Around 35 people attended the meeting.

I had spent most of the day in discussions with various officers of Walsall Council with a view to trying to find a way forward. This is proving to be very difficult as the Trustees have already taken the decision to close the CA. They have written to Walsall Council to this effect and begun the process of making the staff redundant.

As a result of this I have today asked for an assessment as to the effects of that on the local community as the CA delivers £57,153 of services either directly or through sub contracts through the various user groups.

In fact Walsall Council has not cut what it gives to Community Associations unlike some other Local Authorities. In fact Pool Hayes had an extra £1,570 allocated for services to older people plus the Willenhall Area Partnership had granted some of its funding to help the CA to deliver on 6 new projects designed to help some of the most needy in our community.

I have also called for a report to determine the added value that Pool Hayes CA may or may not have attracted from the funding it had been given.

In these times of austerity it is more and more important that the voluntary sector to which Pool Hayes CA belongs, uses its funding to help attract further funding through grants from organisations such as the National Lottery in order to make what money we do have go further.

I have also asked if it is possible to identify other organisations who may be able to deliver services to the local community in order that the £57K worth of services that the CA should have delivered is not lost to the people of Willenhall.

One of the obvious candidates for this would be Willenhall CHART though having said that Labour Councillor Sean Coughlan appeared to rule this out when he told the meeting that Willenhall CHART did not want the funding as they weren’t in competition with Pool Hayes CA which does seem a bit like cutting your nose off to spite your face.

There was criticism of the actions of the school who had found it necessary to increase the rent that they charge Pool Hayes CA for the use of the site. They weren’t at the meeting to defend themselves. Faced with falling pupil numbers they would have seen their budgets reduced. Furthermore, their budget is for the education of the pupils and can’t be used to subsidise Pool Hayes CA. Both bodies are autonomous and over which the Council has no jurisdiction.

Where next? We await the reports I have requested – after which it is hoped to bring all sides back around the table.

Recruitment prospects highest since 2008

April 7th, 2014 by danielbarker
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The monthly Business Trends Report by BDO has revealed that output in March rose by the second fastest pace on record with employment prospects at the highest since 2008. Meanwhile, a study of small and medium sized firms by GE Capital indicates they plan to take on 660,000 new staff in the coming year, 26% more than at the same time last year. A further poll of 126 CFOs by Deloitte shows 81% expect a rise in recruitment and 80% predict increased investment with 95% expecting to see an increase in takeover and merger activity this year. Deloitte chief economist Ian Stewart said: “The default position of large corporates in the past six years – bullish on emerging markets, cautious on developed markets – seems to be reversing.”

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Daniel Barker

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West Midlands
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