Economic and environmental advances

trianIt is widely recognised that environmental changes for good and bad take a long time to be measured in a meaningful way, just as long term economic activity is much more sustainable that short term blips. This is highlighted in a recent report by Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU).  The data is referenced back to 1992 and the signing of the United Nations Climate Convention at the Rio Earth Summit. Whilst the ECIU does include politicians on its advisory board, the reality is that for most politicians at a senior level, their success or failure is measured in weeks or months, not years or decades. This makes a 25 year focus very hard to maintain. Yet for the rest of us and certainly for the environment a quarter of a century is a blink of an eye. The report by the ECIU finds that Britons have become richer, on average, than citizens of any other G7 nation over that time frame whilst the UK has reduced its average carbon footprint further than any other leading global economy. The per capita emissions in the UK have decreased by an average of 1.5% per annum since 1992. Total per capita emission fell by 33% between 1992 and 2014, the latest date for which International Energy Agency statistics are available. This sort of information helps to give confidence to those of us who believe that the stories of the environment and the economy being in conflict with one another are based on false premises. If we get the balance right it is possible to grow our economic value whilst also improving our environment.

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The need for transparency on our screens

littlewoodA few weeks ago David Goodhart appeared on the BBC Sunday Morning programme ‘The Big Questions’. David is Head of Demography, Immigration, and Integration for a think tank called Policy Exchange. Ten days later Warwick Lightfoot, Policy Exchange’s Director of Research, and Head of Economic and Social Policy appeared on the BBC news. Back in November the BBC published an item on their website about apprenticeships based on two bits of research. One from Policy Exchange and the other from another think tank called the Institute for Public Policy Research. Broadcasters regularly turn to such bodies for news items and the think tanks constantly send out press releases with their latest ideas and views. It is easy to assume that because these organisations are regularly featured on our screens that their views can be relied upon. Another think tank that is a regular contributor to the BBC panel shows such as Question Time is the Institute of Economic Affairs. On one occasions I raised some concerns on twitter with their Director Mark Littlewood who responded “oh God. Another smug, whiney, ill informed, statist, “know it all”, pompous, up themselves, utterly pathetic, left wing lunatic. Spare me.” and then he blocked me from following him. The fact is that there are numerous think tanks, some of which are small and rarely get any attention from the media. Of those that do get plenty of our airtime handed to them by broadcasters such as the BBC, some are a great deal more open about who funds them than others. A few weeks ago a the Tax Justice Network published a league table of 27 of the most well known think tanks and how transparent they are about the sources of their funds. The IPPR is judged to be broadly transparent but both Police Exchange and IEA are in the Highly Opaque category. Perhaps it is time that our public broadcasters either limit their focus to think tanks that are open about who funds them, or at least puts a warning on the screen every time people like Mark Littlewood and David Goodhart are invited to appear on our screens as if they are experts without any vested interest. They may of course have no vested interest, but because they refuse to reveal who funds their work, we simply don’t know. What we can be certain of, is that because the are on the TV or radio speaking on behalf of a think tank, that they are people who are being paid to promote the views of a body that may have some deeply hidden agendas.

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The lethal and unnatural State

arkansasOnce again last night, Arkansas broke a record. Last week (as I blogged yesterday) they put to death the first prisoner on death row in the state since 2005. This follows the election in 2015 of State Governer Asa Hutchinson. Last night they were the first state to put to death two prisoners since 2000. These individuals each has a story and each has been convicted and their families and the families of their victims are no doubt full of emotional reaction to the loss of the three men concerned. My suspicion is that if a foreign nation had put to death 3 American Hostages our newspapers and TV screens would have gone into over drive. However apparently these three men’s lives don’t matter as there has hardly been a mention.

The man who was executed last week was Ledell Lee, and then last night Jack Jones and Marcel Williams. Three men who were scheduled to be killed last week were spared execution. However there are two more due to die this week before one of the drugs used in the process passes its use by date.

According to one news report had all 8 been executed, this would have been the largest number of state executions since the death penalty was reintroduced by the US Supreme Court in 1976. It is time that they ended this barbaric form of murder.

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We need a Government of Justice

Home OfficeThis blog features in the Argus Newspaper today: Now that the General Election has been announced the extent to which Sussex splits into two parts becomes evident. Seven out of 16 constituencies, three in East Sussex, three in Brighton and Hove and one in West Sussex have a fight on their hands to see which party wins, the remaining nine will sleepily approach the contest, like the country as a whole, knowing what the outcome will be. Indeed the certainty with which the nine constituencies will stay blue is far greater than the certainty with which the Tories will keep the keys to No 10. Whatever the result on the 8th June, we can be reassured that it will not lead to state executions taking place. However in the state of Arkansas things are very different. Asa Hutchinson was elected as the new Republican state governor in 2015 replacing Democrat Mike Beebe. During the eight years of Beebe’s term in office he had issued eight death warrants for people held in state prisons but he was relieved when all were stayed by the relevant courts. However Hutchinson seemed determined to ensure that things would be different during his tenure and he carried out the first state execution in 12 years just before midnight on Thursday. There are many questions regarding the prosecution of Ledell Lee and he appears to be the one unfortunate case out of five that Hutchinson was hoping to deal with last week, the others were spared death by various courts. One of the reasons for an unseemly rush to execute people is that the drug used for the lethal injections expires on 30th April and it is believed that no more drugs will be made available after that. Even this drug was obtained under false pretences by the state which raises all sorts of questions. The impact on the families of the victims and jailed people of such haste and chaos is highly disturbing and whatever the intentions of Hutchinson, he did a very bad weeks work last week. Laws are broken every day on both sides of the Atlantic by thousands of people and whilst in the UK we are spared the confusion and chaos that people in Arkansas must accept, the way in which the state operates the British criminal justice system is not without many problems. As we look to a new Government, it is vital that the next administration brings a level of coherence to our system that has been missing for decades. Assuming that Theresa May remains in Number 10 Downing Street on 9th June, we need to find a way of demanding she brings in some changes despite her past. The worry is that as an ex Home Secretary she believes that she knows best and the system is safe in her hands and in the hands of the person in her old office and the Ministry Of Justice. The Courts, the Probation system, the Police and the Prisons are all running in a manner that needs a great deal of support beyond what they currently have. This is not just about money. We have a number of excellent charities working at the edges of the system to improve matters, but the system as a whole is badly broken as the then Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice explained in 2011 at a lecture I attended. The system is more chaotic now than in 2011 due to appalling way this Government handled its probation reforms and their failure to do anything meaningful to improve the Courts or Prison service despite both crying out for improvements. Even the Police are badly depleted compared to where they were in 2010. Thankfully we don’t have the risk of drugs being purloined and rushed into executions just before the ‘best before’ date, but we do have many problems that need addressing and our new Government must act once elected.

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A bit of a muddle in parliament

caulfieldWhen Parliamentary questions are being directed at matters that are of concern to local residents, it is inevitable that people will listen to every word and want the MP concerned to squeeze every last drop of value out of the interaction. In reality this depends on pushing the Minister on the other side of the exchange to offer more than they initially intend to, giving local residents more value than would have been the case if the question had not been asked. On Tuesday lunchtime as MPs were awaiting the debate and vote the following day to know whether there would be a General Election, the questions were being directed to the Treasury and the Minister in the hot seat at this point was Simon Kirby who is currently MP for Brighton Kemptown. This question came from one of Simon’s neigbouring MPs.

Maria Caulfield (Conservative, Lewes): What steps he is taking to support economic growth on the south-east coast of England.

Simon Kirby (Economic Secretary to the Treasury): Would you mind, Mr Speaker, if I started by sending my congratulations to Brighton & Hove Albion on their promotion to the premier league? They are an important part of the south-east economy. At the autumn statement, we allocated £351 million to the south-east from the local growth fund, and the south-east will also benefit from more than £21 million from the coastal communities fund.

So at this point the Treasury has offered or stated no more than they promised on 23rd November 2016 although of course the football result was a good call out to many of his constituents, bearing in mind that Simon (and Maria) are MPs of marginal seats. Hardly much value for this question though, but this gave Maria her opportunity to get some value out of the follow up question. All ears were twitching.

Maria Caulfield (Conservative, Lewes): I thank the Minister for his response and I, too, congratulate Brighton & Hove Albion. We have just under six miles of motorway in Sussex, and the Brighton & Hove Albion stadium is on one of our motorway junctions. Does he agree that we need to dual the A27 to make the south coast more economically viable? Will he join me in meeting other Sussex MPs to discuss how we can take that forward?

The campaign to widen and improve the A27 has been a campaign which Maria Caulfield has been involved in throughout her time as an MP since 2015. It is clear that this is what she was angling for in her follow up and perhaps the mention of the Albion is what threw her. However it is vital to get your facts right, even when caught on the hop. We do only have around 6 miles of motorway in Sussex but they are all in West Sussex as part of the M23. The A27 junction on which the Amex Stadium sits is part of a dual carriageway which extends from Beddingham to Sompting but the junction itself regularly gets congested at peak periods which includes when football matches are taking place as well as when commuters are travelling to work and back. This junction in particular does need greater investment and one imagines that as Albion prepare for the Premier Division this will be one of the issues that they will need to address, along with the other two main users of the junction, the two Universities. However major infrastructure projects demand a great deal more than a meeting of 16 MPs as valuable as that might be, particularly when one of them is a Minister in the Treasury.

The truth is that infrastructure projects such as roads or railways in Sussex are something that take decades not years to achieve and whilst they can deliver great value, this is always a matter of jam next half century. The much easier to secure solutions are just as important and in the interests of how Sussex will cope with the UK’s imminent departure from the EU (something that Maria supports) we need a lot more than the promise of a few wider roads in the far distance. As someone involved in a small business in Sussex, we will have enormous challenges if trade barriers are raised between our economy and that of our numerous European suppliers. The need for training which is currently being promised by the Government through the apprenticeship levy which is due to start on 1st May is clearly not going to be delivered any time soon is something that the Treasury could certainly help with. We also need much greater focus on Small and Micro Businesses in the Governments own procurement structures. Nearly all of the contracts directed at SME’s is passed to Medium Sized businesses which is not terribly helpful in an area where over 95% of businesses are small or micro enterprises.

However perhaps in the light of the impending election a meeting of MPs to talk about roads is more politically helpful to the party that Maria and Simon belong to than opening up some of these issues which could show the party in a poor light. Let us hope if they do meet, that they manage to sort out the confusion between dual carriageways and Motorways!

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Seven months and still no change

BMLAt the end of September last year I wrote about a question asked in Parliament by a Sussex MP and what I considered to be a rather ineffectual response from a Government Minister, Paul Maynard who is the MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys and also the Parliamentary Under Secretary in the Department for Transport and Rail Minister. My point then as now is that asking questions to which the answer is ineffectual is a waste of our money. The bean counters estimate that the cost of each question and answer is £164 of taxpayers money.

In September Maria Caulfield (Lewes – Conservative) asked:

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what long-term investment plans the Government has to improve the Brighton Main Line. 

Paul Maynard answered:

Network Rail is currently developing proposals for potential upgrades of theBrighton Main Line, following the conclusions of the Sussex Route Study, and the London South Coast Rail Corridor Study, both of which highlighted significant capacity and performance constraints. Government will fund Network Rail to develop proposals as necessary.

Seven months later on 20th April Henry Smith (Crawley – Conservative) asked a similar question:

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, with reference to the letter of 2 March 2017 by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport to the Chair of the Transport Committee on the London and South Coast Rail Corridor Study, whether his Department plans to make funding available to Network Rail to develop plans for works around Croydon to support the Brighton mainline.

This time Paul Maynard answered:

The Government recognises the importance of the Brighton Mainline upgrade proposals, which are at an early stage of development. As I said when publishing the Study, will we continue to support Network Rail in further developing and refining the proposals. In addition, the Government has committed an additional £300m to increase targeted maintenance and improve performance on Thameslink routes, including the Brighton Mainline, in coming years.

Whilst the seven months might have shown some signs of development in these proposals and it is very concerning that there is no indication that any change has happened, it is also worrying when intelligent men and women ask the same question repeatedly and expect a different answer. Are we being taken for a ride or is £328 of public money considered to be a disposable sum?


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Does Brighton & Hove needs a statue?

C8j5XflXUAIlVi-In the last few weeks Manchester has unveiled this design of a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst to celebrate their cities historic link to the suffragette movement which has been commissioned to be completed in time for International Womens day 2019. Whilst the link between Brighton and Hove and the suffrage movement is not quite as significant as in Manchester, nevertheless we do have a meaningful history that would easily justify a monument of similar profile. It is vital that we encourage the Council and other public sector agencies to find ways of marking such historic connections so that each generation is reminded of what has been achieved as well as encouraged to continue to create change for future generations. The commitment by our city to promote equalities is well recognised but we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. The plans for Disability Pride in July in New Road will help to ensure that all residents and visitors are made to feel welcome and it is vital this celebration is widely supported by the city. Over several decades the role of faith groups in our city has been downplayed and this is another area of equalities that should be recognised and celebrated, even if many of our residents do not share religious beliefs. We need to find ways of marking our past as well as focusing on what we want the future to look like.

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