NEC Statement on Falling Wages

The Liberal Party notes with concern recent media reports that living standards in this country are likely to stagnate for the foreseeable future. These reports further suggest that some of the poorest households will see their income falling back to levels last seen in 2008.

In the immediate aftermath of the recent Autumn Statement the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has cautioned that real wages may be depressed for 10 years or more, with some groups seeing an effective cut to their income.

Continuous cuts in social benefits and tax credits, low wage growth, reduced hours of work, and increased inflation will further erode the standard of living for a whole swath of the most vulnerable households in this country.

The Liberal Party’s constitution clearly states that the party exists in part to ensure no member of our society is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We remain robust in demanding that this government take clear steps to lift the low paid out of the spiral of fuel poverty and debt.

We believe in a fair society, work ethic and a simplified tax and benefits system which lifts’ people out of poverty rather than force them into the queues of food banks.

Special Assembly

There will be a special assembly at 12.30 on Saturday 25th Feb at 12.30 at the Briar Rose Hotel, Bennetts Hill Birmingham with a view to update Education and Penal Reform.

However members may wish to table any other items of interest for debate and should email them to Danny at the earliest opportunity at danielwood24@hotmail.com

NEC Elections

The NEC agreed the following extended schedule for nominations for the NEC and Party President to encourage maximum participation.

Anyone wishing to nomination or self nominate for the NEC should email cjlenton@gmail.com. Only 3 members are required to nominate anyone standing for the NEC.

For the position of Party President 40 nominations are required.

The closing date will be 10th February and information will also go out with the current Liberal News.

The next NEC will be on Saturday 25th February at 12.00 at the Briar Rose Hotel, Bennetts Hill, Birmingham.

Letter printed in the Oxford Times

Sir,

Put VAT on school fees

Trevor Stevens, in his letter to the Oxford Times this week, prominently headlined “Abolishing private schools might help”, writes that private schools are one of the ways, along with buying houses in good school catchment areas, by which the wealthy buy themselves the privilege of a better education. Indeed so, but abolition thereof is a rather startlingly illiberal suggestion!

However it would not be illiberal, and it would be good, to tax them by putting VAT on the substantial fees paid by those wealthy enough to afford them. Some parents would be influenced to send their children to state supported schools instead. The tax proceeds from others, including many from overseas, could be used to increase resources and raise standards in state supported schools, including the sporting facilities so sadly reduced by the Conservative Party in the past.

Such a policy, of VAT on private school fees, is for these reasons the party policy of the Liberal Party. It would be good if the Liberal Democrats and other political parties were to follow suit.

Dane Clouston
Oxfordshire Liberals
Member, Liberal Party National Executive Committee

Liberals Call for Public Enquiry into Orgreave Clashes

The Liberal Party notes with disappointment the decision of the Home Secretary Amber Rudd to decline to convene a public enquiry into the events surrounding the policing of the Orgreave coking plant during the 1984 miners’ strike.

In light of the inquest and findings of the Hillsborough enquiry in relation to the behaviour and culture of the police, the party finds merit in examining police records and the conduct of both officers and pickets at what is now commonly referred to as the Battle Of Orgreave.

There remains public disquiet at the events which unfolded and the subsequent collapse of a trial of 95 arrested pickets, 39 of who later received compensation payments from South Yorkshire Police.

A public enquiry would do much to restore public faith in the accountability of politicians and central government. It would also address deep seated concerns over the events and the way they reflect on the public perception of the impartiality of the police in the handling of events as they unfolded.

Press release: Liverpool approves tower in World Heritage Site buffer zone, despite serious concern from UNESCO

Liverpool City Council has approved proposals for a 22-storey tower on Skelhorne Street in the buffer zone of the city’s World Heritage Site (WHS).

The decision on 11 October 2016 was approved by five votes to two, despite specific requests from UNESCO not to grant planning approval for this application, as well as objections from SAVE and the Victorian Society.

Reacting to the decision the UK National Committee of ICOMOS, the official advisor to UNESCO on cultural heritage sites, said: “ICOMOS-UK regrets that Liverpool City Council have pushed ahead with a decision on this planning application at this time. Such a move ignores the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s request not to approve the project until a Desired State of Conservation for the Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City World Heritage Site as a whole is defined and adopted. It is the responsibility of all key stakeholders to work together to ensure that Liverpool’s World Heritage status can be assured for the future.”

SAVE wrote to each member of the planning committee ahead of the meeting to highlight our serious concerns and those of UNESCO, requesting that the decision be deferred until the Desired State of Conservation Report (DSOCR) is submitted in December. Our letter can be viewed here.

The DSOCR for a World Heritage property is a document outlining the state of conservation which needs to be achieved through corrective measures in order to remove it from the Danger List. Once the Desired State of Conservation is achieved, the World Heritage Committee will remove the property from the Danger List.

The Council’s decision to ignore UNESCO’s request and approve the scheme is needlessly hasty. The draft DSOCR is due to be submitted on 1 December, and a period of two months wait before making a more informed decision, based on the DSOCR report, is reasonable.

The proposal is for a 22 storey student accommodation tower, within the WHS buffer zone and opposite the Grade II listed Lime Street Station, the Grade II listed Crown public house, and within clear viewing distance of the Grade I listed St George’s Hall.

SAVE considers that the proposal will cause great harm to the setting of the WHS and surrounding listed buildings, and as a result of its height its impact will be far reaching; Cllr Steve Radford, one of the members of the planning committee who opposed the decision, described the proposal as ‘excessive’.

At the 40th session of the World Heritage Committee in July 2016, UNESCO took the decision to retain the Liverpool WHS on the at risk list for a fifth consecutive year, and also singled out two projects – towers at Skelhorne Street and Princes Reach – advising against the granting of planning permission. The decision stated that:

‘[The World Heritage Committee] Notes furthermore the submission by the State Party on 8 July 2016 of new information about two projects: Princes Reach, Princes Dock, Liverpool and Proposed Student Residences in Skelhorne Street, Liverpool and also requests the State Party to ensure that neither project receives project approval, until the DSOCR has been finalized and adopted;’

Both schemes referred to have now been approved – the 34 storey Princes Reach tower was approved in September – and the council’s decisions flagrantly ignores UNESCO’s request.

These approvals further increase the risk that the city will be stripped of its WHS Status, something being seriously considered by UNESCO.

Henrietta Billings, Director of SAVE said: “This planning permission for a 22 storey tower deliberately flies in the face of serious international heritage concerns. Liverpool’s World Heritage Status is a badge of honour which is slipping through its fingers because of short sighted planning decisions.”

Note to editors:

1. For more information please contact the SAVE office on 0207 253 3500 or mailto:office@savebritainsheritage.org

Draft NEC Statement – Grammar schools – 3rd draft

The Liberal Party is fundamentally and robustly opposed to a revival of the Grammar school system whereby young people are segregated at an early age into schools for achievement and schools for the underclass.

We note that early segregation advantages those young people born into families with educational professional backgrounds and acts as a barrier to young children of all backgrounds who may be late developers.

Like previous intensions to expand Academy schools, this move was not part of the government’s electoral manifesto, and is being couched in such language as to avoid legislation prohibiting such institutions.

The Liberal Party affirms its believe that educational opportunity is vital to a vibrant society and growing economy and should be open to all irrespective of social background.

As such the party opposes such proposals, as it does private education, as it distracts from a level playing field in education and does not provide opportunity for all or social mobility.

The Liberal Party would therefore look to work with all likeminded progressive opinion whilst promoting an inclusive and properly funded state education system fit for all.

The effects of negative interest rates on businesses

The Liberal Party views with much concern media reports that both the RBS and Natwest bank are warning business and commercial customers of the possibility of them being charged negative interest rates.

This would in effect charge these businesses, reported to between 1 and 1.3 million, for holding money in their accounts, as well as an undisclosed number of charities and community groups.

This move is being prompted by the potential cut of domestic interest rates to zero, leaving banks to fund the cost of borrowing and their own businesses, whilst receiving no interest on loans.

The Liberal Party understands the economic reasoning behind this move, but this simply adds further pressure to businesses struggling to survive in uncertain economic times, and re-enforces the common perception that banks are not there to help businesses thrive.

Although this move would not affect personal customers with savings or current accounts, it encourages the move towards fee based accounts, which discriminate against the poorest in our society.

The RBS and Natwest via its parent Lloyds bank are both still partly state owned, and should be challenged by the government and the general public on this counter-productive and damaging development.

We need stronger conventional forces not Trident

The Liberal Party notes with considerable disappointment the recent vote on the future of Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent.

At a time when one would have imagined national politicians would have been digesting the ramifications of the recent EU referendum, they have instead allowed themselves to be distracted by a polarising and highly contentious domestic issue.

It is even arguable that the Conservative government have seen this as an opportune moment to promote the renewal process, with the opposition Labour party lukewarm in its opposition to Trident and consumed with a potential leadership contest.

The replacement of Trident is expected to cost in excess of 31 billion pounds, at a time when further austerity and cuts to public services now seen inevitable.

It is a commitment to an unaffordable military asset over the next 20 years, when conventional forces are already stretched and the Chilcot inquiry report highlighted poor levels of equipment.

The recent Bastille Day tragedy in France should remind us that conventional and not nuclear deterrents are the most pressing consideration in this age. Not the renewal of a questionable military asset, with little relevance to modern geopolitics or domestic security.