The recent by-elections gave cover for the latest government announcement of emergency legislation inflicting further cuts on disabled people – ‘a good day to bury bad news’.

Two tribunals had ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the reach of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – which helps disabled people fund their living costs.

  • One ruling found that someone who needed support at home to take medication or monitor a health condition like diabetes would score the same on the benefits criteria as people who needed help with a demanding procedure such as kidney dialysis.
  • A second ruling said people who struggled to travel independently because of conditions such as anxiety scored the same as someone who was, for example, blind.

Ministers then swiftly revised the law to deny the increased benefit payments to more than 150,000 people.

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A Lib Dem work and pensions spokeswoman said it was outrageous that the government was using the ruling to make matters worse for disabled people: “What makes things even worse is that they have sneaked this announcement out under the cover of [Thursday’s] by-elections.”

From April, it is reported that new claimants will see a reduction of £29.05 in their entitlement, which will fall to £73.10 a week. This follows on from the cuts that the DWP tried to implement last year, which resulted in Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation.

Liz Sayce from Disability Rights UK said: “We’re not aware of one single disability employment or benefits expert who thinks this particular cut will be an incentive for disabled people to get a job.”

Unfortunately this logic, and a host of scathing comments seen in the Metro won’t pierce the thick skins of affluent legislators and further deprivation will hit the least fortunate in many sectors.

 

 

 

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The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the leaders of Derby, Nottingham, Leeds, Birmingham and Southampton have written to Theresa May urgently calling for:

  • making vehicle manufacturers more accountable for emissions – with a zero-tolerance approach to malpractice, following the recent Volkswagen scandal;
  • national minimum emissions standards for private hire vehicles to ensure local requirements are not undermined;
  • greater regulation powers over the use of diesel generators;
  • a new 21st century Clean Air Act which will update existing legislation;
  • enshrining the ‘right to clean air’ in law after the UK leaves the European Union; and
  • unlocking new powers for local authorities, particularly regarding limiting construction and river emissions.

The letter describes the government’s current £3 million fund for local authorities to clean up their air as “woefully inadequate” and criticises the uncertainty around funding for transport schemes for preventing accurate and detailed planning in the long-term. It explains that:

“Local authorities need government to devolve powerful fiscal incentives such as Vehicle Excise Duty and create a national diesel vehicle scrappage fund”.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “As city leaders, we are doing what we can to tackle this problem, but the fact is we are fighting with one arm tied behind our backs and lasting progress will only be made if national government matches the ambitious action we are taking. The time for urgent action is now.”

Councillor John Clancy, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “Air pollution is now a public health crisis in this country and we need real leadership from the Government. Our towns and cities are keen to tackle this issue but we must be given the tools and funding needed to secure the future health of our citizens. The time for action is now.”

Following the recent High Court ruling against the government previous plan, a consultation on a new national air quality plan to meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide as soon as possible.

 

 

 

This series – to which reader are invited to contribute – opened with a tirade about the failings of our bus servicesPositive news would be preferred however and the editor thanks Ann and Malcolm Turner (below) who recently recommended the A2B taxi service (0121 733 3000).

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 Why choose A2B?

  • Not because A2B is Birmingham & Solihull’s largest taxi company, with over 650 private hire vehicles operating.
  • Not because the A2B business has been around since 1991 and moves around 4.5 million passengers each year, servicing in excess of 500 business in the region.
  • And not because A2B can provide a vehicle to suit any journey & occasion, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.

Because, having tried it several times since the recommendation, the writer found them totally efficient, arriving a few minutes before schedule and offering really good customer service, unlike other taxi services in the locality which have proved extremely unreliable.

 

 

 

 

Political Concern reports that Mace, a large consultancy and construction company. which worked on the London 2012 Olympics and won an award for its work on New Street Station, has written to HS2 Ltd.

It announced that it intends to challenge the decision to award CH2M, the US engineer, a contract to design the second phase of the London to Manchester line. “As a British-owned company, we were naturally disappointed with HS2’s decision and are looking closely at our options,” Mace said.

The blog ends:

Tony Berkeley, the Labour peer and a former engineer who worked on the Channel tunnel, said the situation “smells”. “There must be other companies in the UK who are capable of doing it. Is HS2 actually competent to do the procurement or are they just relying on CH2M to do the whole thing and procure themselves?”

Read the blog here: https://politicalcleanup.wordpress.com/2017/02/21/is-the-hs2-project-the-most-blatant-example-of-ukusas-revolving-doorvested-interest-ridden-politics/

 

 

 

 

West Midlands New Economics Group

Thursday 23rd February 5-7 pm

Open meeting: FOE Warehouse, 54 Allison St, B5 5TH

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What are the economic policies of the mayoral candidates for the West Midlands Combined Authority? – presented by Ann Wackett.

The election takes place on 4 May. Are the candidates promising anything different from the parties that they represent?

All welcome.  

Contributions of £2 to cover the cost of room hire

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roger-godsiffBirmingham MP Roger Godsiff focusses on the practical reasons for opposing Trident as a drain on resources which could be spent constructively on education and healthcare – and an irrelevance in the post-cold war period.

He points out that although there is no longer a serious nuclear threat, we are left with nuclear weapons which are hugely expensive to build and maintain. “Committing £100 billion to renew our nuclear deterrent is ridiculous at a time of austerity when so many of our services, including conventional defence forces, are being dramatically cut”.

Moreover these so-called British weapons only make up a fraction of the power of the American fleet of submarines: ‘our’ weapons are not independent.  Indeed at present they are in the hands of a new and unpredictable president. On his website Mr Godsiff elaborates:

“The first myth is that the system is ‘independent’. The UK has 4 nuclear submarines. Each can carry up to 8 missiles and each missile can carry up to 5 nuclear warheads. The UK does not own the missiles. It leases them from America where they are made, maintained and tested. Our 4 submarines have to go to the American naval base in Georgia to have the missiles fitted. Therefore our nuclear deterrent is totally dependent on America”.

Roger Godsiff said that the real threats these days cannot be addressed by nuclear weapons. For example, when he was MP for Small Heath there was a huge police operation because one house contained a suicide-bomber who had strapped explosives to himself: “This happened some years ago in White Street, Sparkbrook, where a terrorist cell planning to set off bombs in central Birmingham was monitored and the premises raided before any atrocity was carried out. The individuals involved were all convicted and received long prison sentences . . . “the only way of dealing with threats from domestic terrorist groups is to be continually vigilant and to make sure our police and internal security organisations are properly funded to disrupt their activities”.

“How do you deal with a threat like that?” he asked; “Do you nuke Small Heath? Of course not! Yet this is the kind of threat this country is far more likely to face these days. We don’t need nuclear bombs to address this kind of problem – one warhead kills about a million and spreads radioactive material around for a huge distance”.

He was one of forty-seven MPs on the ‘roll of honour’ voting against spending £31 billion to replace the fleet of submarines that carry our nuclear missiles. Others on the list are named on Wales Online.

 

 

 

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Received: news about an invitation to an open meeting on March 27th 5.30pm in Colmore Row. This updates information about the Attwood award on this site. The news included this dialogue box:

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Browsing the website as invited we learn that there will be ‘an opportunity to  collectively identify how to progress the Birmingham Pound after hearing about the inspiration for and potential of the project and the nuts and bolts of how the currency could be run’.

The meeting will then be opened to discussion, with questions, comments and hopefully agreement on whether the Birmingham Pound goes ahead.

This will involve agreeing on what model is used and who can commit to taking it forward. It will only go ahead if there is a robust way of making it self-sufficient and that it will be effective in its aims of making an inclusive, equitable and diverse Birmingham economy.

Book your place here.

 

 

 

Long after the high quality housing programme initiated by Mayor Ken Livingstone – monuments to socialism at its best (see specifications in Chapter 2 here) – we read that homelessness is soaring in the capital as “immaculate houses in central London lie empty, used as assets in buy-to-leave schemes and three quarters of luxury new builds were snapped up by foreign investors last year”.

Birmingham’s Labour-led City Council won ‘Social Housing Provider of the Year’ at the Insider Residential Property Awards 2016 for the work done by the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT) programme, citing recent projects in Nechells, Sutton Coldfield and Ladywood. The city was also a finalist in the 2016 APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) housing sector award. Last year BMHT won the Public Sector Award at the Urban Design Awards for its Newtown redevelopment.

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Small Heath, 2015

Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT), set up in January 2009 to lead the development of the Council’s new build housing programme, is currently the largest provider of affordable homes per annum in the Midlands.

BMHT completed its 2,000 home in March – 1,125 homes for rent and almost 900 for sale. More than 200 homes for rent are currently under construction on 17 sites and the council is to build around 1,800 further new homes for rent and market sale between now and 2020.

It was good to hear commonsense from the Shadow Secretary of State for Housing and Planning John Healey on Radio 4 recently

john_healey_cihHe deplored the spending of £2.3bn a year on housing benefit going to private landlords renting out sub-standard homes: “The last Labour government brought in the decent homes standard for council and housing association homes, the next Labour government will make it a national mission to end unsafe and sub-standard private rented housing.” When he visited new council-built homes in Birmingham, Councillor John Clancy told him: “Building housing here and now is our first priority. The Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust is building houses in the hundreds and I’m absolutely determined that the city as a whole must now move towards building thousands”. In a recent Birmingham Newsroom post, John Clancy said:

“We now need the Housing Minister to emphasise that local government’s role should include the provision of new social housing as well as providing homes for private rental, and that the Government is serious about affordable home ownership”.

Endnotes:

In June the Mail reported that the city council has set up a £4.6 million fund to buy empty homes and make them fit for use.

According to a council report, more than 5,000 private homes in Birmingham have been empty for more than six months and of those 1,900 have been empty for three years. In many cases they have overgrown gardens, with litter, graffiti and broken windows blighting their neighbourhoods.

Further afield came news of an Irish initiative:

About 12% of Co Louth’s residential stock is vacant and during 2016 the council placed CPOs on 26 houses in Dundalk and purchased the units for between €30,000 and €40,000 each, spending a further €60,000 on each unit to bring them back into use.

In January an FT editorial recommended a bigger contribution from the public sector. To this end local authorities should be enabled to:

  • set planning fees,
  • levy taxes on idle land
  • borrow in order to fund social housing developments,
  • make better use of brownfield sites
  • and release public land for development.

It ended: “Shame then that Osborne reduced massively Housing Associations capability to invest in new housing with a 1% rent reduction pa for 5 years”.

 

 

 

Hydrogen & Fuel Cells into the Mainstream – powering our homes, workplaces and transport

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The organisers of the 13th Hydrogen & Fuel Cell conference, Climate Change Solutions, are based at Ryton’s Garden Organic. They develop synergies and partnership projects, promoting low carbon, clean technology solutions to address – “human activities associated with the Industrial Revolution which have effected an unprecedented acceleration of global warming”. Their mission (click to enlarge):

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The conference will feature UK and international examples of commercialisation and demonstration projects – in which Hydrogen and fuels cells are powering our transport, homes, work places and supporting the grid.

The news section of their site includes the headline: ‘Almost 90% of new power in Europe from renewable sources in 2016’.

The Centre for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Research (Birmingham University) is  developing fuel cell systems for cars and other modes of transport, including:

  • Trains: The first prototype hydrogen-powered locomotive of its kind to operate in the UK was built by engineering students and staff. The narrow gauge loco combines a hydrogen fuel cell and lead acid batteries similar to the ones used in cars.
  • Planes: We have been working with the EADS Group, a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services, to develop fuel cells for unmanned aerial vehicles.

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  • Boats:  A hydrogen-powered canal boat has been built on campus, powered by a combination of a metal hydride solid-state hydrogen store, a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell, a lead acid battery stack and an NdFeB permanent magnet electric motor.

And it’s not only about transport – we are working on the design and production of fuel cell equipment for domestic energy supply, power generation, lorries and portable battery replacers.

Read more about the event here: http://www.climate-change-solutions.co.uk/event/hydrogenfuelcellsintothemainstream1/

 

 

 

“Banks have been bailed out by taxpayers and the state continues to shower enormous gifts upon them”, thunders Professor Prem Sikka. “Despite this banks show no sense of social responsibility and continue to close local branches, leaving many without adequate financial services”.

The rate of branch closures accelerates and over the past five years more than 430 communities have lost their last bank.

Recently a reader saw a local butcher unable to make a sale because he hadn’t enough change to give his customer. He explained that two Lloyds Bank branches nearby by had closed, and now the nearest one – two miles away – had closed.

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Lloyds Lewes branch now closed

She remembered that the Post Office had offered routine services to the customers of Santander and the Co-op for some years but was not able to tell the butcher that this extended to his bank.

As he does not use a computer she searched on his behalf and found out that, during the days of a slightly kinder coalition government, the impact of these closures was mitigated when a deal was co-ordinated by Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable.

In 2015, reportedly under Government pressure, the country’s major high street banks signed a pact  that allowed all their personal customers  and businesses with fewer than 50 employees access their banks at their local post office – putting the 11,500-strong Post Office network at the heart of local communities.

This move meant that bank customers are able to put cash and cheques into current accounts, check on balances and withdraw cash.

As this relatively young man had no idea these services existed and did not appear to know how to access information, one wonders how many small traders are struggling with cash transactions because they don’t realise that there are still some services available – unless of course further post office closures take place.