With the Coalitions disastrous ‘Bedroom tax’ almost upon us, Sedgemoor Labour Group attempted today to put a motion to Full Council calling for the Government to drop the policy and think again. Sedgemoor Labour Group –the strongest in Somerset with 13 members representing 6 wards in Bridgwater , claimed the tax was ‘unworkable’ and would ‘hit the most vulnerable’ and asked the council to ‘use discretionary payments to make sure that families and people are not made homeless or forced into debt because of the bedroom tax’.
Labour Group leader Cllr Mick Lerry (Bridgwater Victoria) opened the debate saying “This Council will have to deal with the consequences of this punitive tax. The ‘under occupancy penalty’, does exactly what it is supposed to, it penalises. According to the government’s own figures, 63% of those penalised are disabled. Nearly one quarter of those penalised are lone parents.The Government has already made U-turns on this. People are facing large tax bills simply to continue living in their own homes. It’s a tax knowing that people are trapped and by a Government knowing that it will put people into hardship.”
Labour Councillor Leigh Redman (Bridgwater Dunwear) who is standing for Bridgwater South in the County Council election, supported the motion and seconded the amendment. “The National Housing Federation has calculated which constituencies will be hit hardest by penalties for under-occupation of social housing that come into force on 1 April. Under the under-occupation penalty, or ‘bedroom tax’, social housing tenants who are of working age and in receipt of housing benefit will have their payments cut if they have one or more spare bedrooms. Housing benefit will be cut by 14 per cent for one spare bedroom, and 25 per cent for two spare rooms.”
Given their skyrocketing unpopularity in government with the Conservatives, the Lib Dems will unsurprisingly spend County Election season frantically trying to distance themselves from their coalition partners.
In Somerset especially, the Lib Dem spin-machine will be running at full tilt. Losing County Hall to the Tories was a huge blow four years ago, and the Liberals are now desperate to wrest it back to rejuvenate their flagging fortunes as Labour stages a determined come-back.
Somerset needs a political turnaround
There’s no doubt that Somerset urgently needs a political turnaround. County residents have been hit by eye-watering cutbacks to vital council services. Not only do rural councils face bigger reductions in central government grants than urban ones, the services lost as a result are crucially important to the wellbeing of often isolated communities. But local Tories have obediently followed the national Cameron-Osborne agenda, shredding welfare budgets in a bid to make average earners, the elderly, disabled people and the poorest pay for an economic crisis caused by some of society’s wealthiest.
The latest attempt by the Tories to portray themselves as a responsible administration in Somerset has drawn scorn from Labour candidates.
A “newspaper” called Bridgwater and West Somerset Matters is being delivered across the constituency. It tries to claim that the Tories are investing in Somerset – but the claims fall apart under examination.
The half-truths start on the front page, Tory leader John Osman is pictured at the topping off ceremony for the new Chilton Trinity School in Bridgwater. No mention of the fact that the building work at Chilton Trinity was approved under the Labour government’s Building Schools for the Future programme. Since the Tory-Lib Dem government came to power, it has done its best to stop investment in schools. To try to claim credit for investment agreed under Labour is a sign of desperation.
The other front page story shows even more brazen cheek. Under the headline “Library Book Boost” Cllr Osman says “despite what people may have read, the Conservatives have not closed any libraries in Somerset.” Most readers will remember that the only reason the Tories didn’t close any libraries was because the courts wouldn’t let them. After a tireless campaign by library supporters, the plan to shut libraries down was declared illegal.
A sensational Labour victory in the Shepton Mallet West By-election this week gives a boost to the Somerset County Campaign and shows that Labour are genuine contenders. Labour took 2 seats in the By-Election with the Tory vote dropping by 30% and Labour up by 25%. The Lib Dems didn’t even dare to stand.
Victorious Labour candidates were County veteran John Gilham and May candidate for the Mendip South division Deborah Towner winning 294 & 281 votes to the Tory candidates 240 & 231- a drop of 100 votes by the ruling group..
Dave Loveridge,Town and District Councillor and Somerset County Councillor for Bridgwater North and Central , watched today’s budget with a deep sense of anger ” Yet again George Osborne has let the wealthy off by yet again cutting front line services. This means that the unemployed – by his doing- will suffer along with the low waged and part time workers. How long are we going to let this shambles continue? If either of the ruling parties win again at County Hall this May we know they will just continue cutting services to the extreme. We need to vote them out on May 2nd and that vote this time has to be Labour. “
Councillor Loveridge has been in the minority at County Hall since the 1980’s apart from a short period when a larger Labour Group held the balance of power and could influence the decisions. “This was at a time when a Labour Government was actively building up support services such as Sure Start and genuinely helping working people and families. Today the Tories and the Lib Dems are in it together and it’s time for a change. Eight years ago we had all 4 Bridgwater county seats, This year we plan to re-take them. Bridgwater is key to Labour influence on County and the swing is back with us since we took 14 of the 16 Town seats 2 years back at the most recent elections. So we can do it!”
Somerton and Frome Labour Party members who have been supporting farm workers in their campaign to save the Agricultural Wages Board have been given a boost this month as singer Billy Bragg weighs into the dispute calling for Liberal Democrat farming minister David Heath to remove his image from his website.
Billy Bragg wrote “I am very dissapointed to find that you are driving through legislation that will undermine agricultural wages here in the south west. Plans to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board and replace it with the national Minimum Wage will take millions of pounds out of labourer’s pay packets and have a severe knock on effect for the rural economy. At a time when our high streets are suffering from an acute lack of demand, abolishing a board which has ensured that farm labourers take home a reasonable wage will not help address that problem.”
‘An ideological attack on workers ability to earn a fair wage’
With today’s announcement from the secretary of state granting the Development consent order (DCO) giving the green light to EDF allowing construction of Hinkley point C,Labour Town & District Councillor Leigh Redman, who is the Party’s candidate for the County seat of Bridgwater South, welcomed the news but with it outlined the work that now needs to be done.
Cllr Redman said “ It is important that Bridgwater residents are involved fully in all aspects. Life for Bridgwater is about to change with an influx of hundreds of workers. The construction traffic will be starting to increase on the already busy road network and firms will be looking for sites to house their operations for the construction project. The largest national infrastructure development this country has ever seen will start to ramp up on our door step. Now more than ever will the need for local representation be top of the agenda for any elected official to ensure that Bridgwater is kept at the top of any list for fair and reasonable mitigation. We need to monitor closely any increase in local rents, increases in traffic congestion and all aspects of this project to ensure that EDF honours its pledges!” Continue reading “HINKLEY ‘C’ GETS GREEN LIGHT:LABOUR CAMPAIGNERS CAUTIOUS WELCOME”
The Somerset Flood Summit , which took place on Friday 15 March ostensibly to learn lessons from November and Decembers flooding incidents across the county, was organised by the five Somerset District Councils and Somerset County Council, and was hailed as a great success by the organisers. However, Labour councillors disagree and talk of missed opportunities .
The morning session, which included presentations from agencies and organisations involved in flood management such as the Environment Agency, Met Office, Somerset County Council, Somerset Internal Drainage Board, Wessex Water and the Country Land and Business Association, included a panel question time session where delegates could put their questions to the panel which included MPs Ian Liddell Grainger (Bridgwater/Con) and Tessa Munt (Wells/LibDem). Jeremy Browne (Taunton) was also present, but had to leave before the question session began.
‘Most of Bridgwater in Flood Plain 3’ warns Sedgemoor Labour Leader
Cllr Mick Lerry– Leader of Sedgemoor Labour Group asked whether or not Sedgemoor District Council could receive financial support to build the Parrett Barrage. Cllr Lerry told us “The answer from Liddell -Grainger was no and he said that the Environmental Agency should use its own money. Tessa Munt did not respond to the question. However, it is extremely important for this infrastructure project to go ahead if there is to be development on the flood plain, as most of Bridgwater is in flood plain 3″. Continue reading “SOMERSET FLOOD SUMMIT: Labour claims “Key Issues not addressed””
May’s County Council elections will land just over half-way through a widely-reviled Coalition government. After two years of slash-and-burn austerity, the Tories and Lib Dems are peaking in unpopularity, and, with destructive cut-backs from Tory-held County Hall hitting Somerset’s most vulnerable, Labour is gearing up for its most ambitious election campaign in a decade.
Somerset is all too often misconstrued as a uniformly Tory green and pleasant land. But time doesn’t stand still. In Conservative-held North Petherton ward, for example, recent social and economic change plus an appropriately young and dynamic Labour candidate mean there’s a real chance of the Blue seat going Red come election day, particularly as the seat now extends to the major new housing developments of Wilstock/Stockmoor which adjoin Bridgwater .
The hapless Work and Pensions secretary IDS’ next great welfare reform, the Bedroom Tax, appears to be disarray today as he announced a partial U turn of his failed policy, Now foster parents and people who have service children will be exempt. Chris Inchley, Labour candidate for Shepton Mallet says “The real problem with the Bedroom Tax is that it is fundamentally flawed. It is based on a theory that people with lots of spare rooms in the socially rented sector are blocking properties for others who need homes and that those with spare rooms should move into smaller properties.”
Chris believes that the reason why the Bedroom tax is flawed is because there are not enough smaller houses to fill those who have spare rooms and those in the private sector are more expensive then the larger socially rented homes and these houses are peoples homes. “So effectively this will mean a living standard cut or rent arrears.The amended proposals from the Government for the Bedroom Tax is not being applied to those people with disabled children, that’s almost half a million households that are home to a disabled person who are set to lose over £700. Tenants affected will face a 14% cut in housing benefit for the first “excess” bedroom and 25% where two or more bedrooms are “under-occupied”. The government, which estimates the average household affected will lose £14 a week, says the policy will save the exchequer £500m a year” Continue reading “Bedroom Tax ‘Fundamentally flawed’ says Shepton candidate”