Liberal Democrats will continue to stand up for international law and for a lasting peace.
CLEARING UP SLOUGH COUNCIL'S MESS/WHO'S AT FAULT FOR THE FINANCIAL CRISIS: Jo Hanney's letters to the Slough Express and Slough Observer published 23/2/24
Last week, Preston Brooker (Letters, February 16) complained that a previous letter blamed Labour for problems with Slough Council. But, such was the depth of the extreme crisis into which Labour plunged Slough Council during their rule from 2008-May 2023, that, of course, the previous letter was right to blame Labour for continuing problems with Council services.
Progress in clearing up after such a dire crisis depends, in part, on recognising the depth of the crisis, and identifying causes. Here, readers do not have to take my word for it, but can turn to the first formal report from independent Commissioners sent in to sort things out.
Their first published report, dated 9 June 2022, said about the Labour-run Slough Borough Council (SBC): “At present SBC is therefore spending some 78% above its funding ability so significant changes are required to bring this back into balance.” The report emphasised that the Labour-run Council’s problems were so large they could not be fully sorted out even during the 3 years of the Commissioners’ remit: “a much longer period will be required.”
So, whose fault is it? There is increasing recognition that the Tory Government has been under-funding local councils for years: many Tory Councils bitterly complain about their own Government’s failures. But, few other councils got into as big a mess as Labour-run Slough.
The Council astonishingly failed to get the accounts signed-off for years. Commissioners listed other failures, including the interest on Council debts: “In 2020/21, a sum of £34m should have been included in the budget but only £40,000 was provided. In addition, SBC was wrongly charging revenue costs to capital; had not made appropriate provision for items such as bad debts or insurance; had run down its reserves; and had misused capital receipts.”
The Commissions were highly critical of some Council officers, but they said: “What is surprising is that no Councillor seemed to notice.” Under Labour things were made even worse by “a poor leadership culture which made it difficult to speak truth to power at both officer and member level.” This confirms stories about what happened to any brave Labour councillors who did try to highlight problems: the leadership dealt with them severely.
So, where are we now, less than a year after Labour lost power? Some underlying problems are being addressed. Good new senior Council officers seem to have been recruited, along with improvements made to the leadership culture. But, the unfortunate residents of Slough will continue to have to face the consequences of the many failures of former Labour Cllr Brooker’s colleagues for years ahead in terms of reduced services and higher Council Tax.
On 15 Feb, Slough Lib Dems backed a new international call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. This followed our previous strong call at our AGM in November 2023, and the vote by all Lib Dem MPs in favour of a ceasefire in Parliament in November 2023.
Cllr O’Kelly, Chair of Slough Lib Dems said, “With the crisis in Gaza threatening to get even worse, the Slough Lib Dem Executive meeting on Thursday 15th February decided to show support for a new international call for a ceasefire that had been made just that morning. Slough Lib Dems had already passed a strong motion calling for a Gaza ceasefire at our AGM in November 2023 [see below], and all Lib Dem MPs supported a ceasefire in the vote in Parliament in November 2023. The new motion was passed to support international pressure to try to persuade Israel not to launch a full offensive in Rafah."
Motion passed at Executive meeting of Slough Lib Dems on 15 February 2024:
Slough Lib Dems welcome today’s joint statement from the Prime Ministers of Australia, Canada and New Zealand calling for Israel not to launch a full offensive in Rafah, but instead for there to be an immediate and sustained ceasefire, the release of hostages and an eventual two-state solution. Slough Lib Dems call on the UK Government and all parties in Parliament to support this statement.
Joint statement by the Prime Ministers of Australia, Canada and New Zealand
The Prime Ministers of Australia, Canada and New Zealand today issued the following statement on reports of Israel's planned military operation in Rafah.
We are gravely concerned by indications that Israel is planning a ground offensive into Rafah. A military operation into Rafah would be catastrophic. About 1.5 million Palestinians are taking refuge in the area, including many of our citizens and their families. With the humanitarian situation in Gaza already dire, the impacts on Palestinian civilians from an expanded military operation would be devastating. We urge the Israeli government not to go down this path. There is simply nowhere else for civilians to go.
There is growing international consensus. Israel must listen to its friends and it must listen to the international community. The protection of civilians is paramount and a requirement under international humanitarian law. Palestinian civilians cannot be made to pay the price of defeating Hamas.
An immediate humanitarian ceasefire is urgently needed. Hostages must be released. The need for humanitarian assistance in Gaza has never been greater. Rapid, safe and unimpeded humanitarian relief must be provided to civilians. The International Court of Justice has been clear: Israel must ensure the delivery of basic services and essential humanitarian assistance and must protect civilians. The Court's decisions on provisional measures are binding.
We are clear that a sustainable ceasefire is necessary to finding a path towards securing lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians. Any ceasefire cannot be one sided. Hamas must lay down its arms and release all hostages immediately. We again unequivocally condemn Hamas for its terror attacks on Israel on October 7.
Ultimately, a negotiated political solution is needed to achieve lasting peace and security. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand remain steadfast in their commitment to a two-state solution, including the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in peace, security, and dignity.
THURSDAY, 15 FEBRUARY 2024
“Millions of extra pounds could be coming to Slough from developers. This could be the result of Slough Council voting to accept the motion I proposed at the Council meeting on 25 January 2024”, said Lib Dem Councillor Asim Naveed (Elliman Ward) - see right.
Cllr Asim Naveed continued: “As I explained at the meeting, Slough should investigate the possibility of introducing the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). Many other councils have used this levy for years to bring in extra funding. This is a way of ensuring developers make a larger contribution to new schools, health and care facilities and other infrastructure in the communities where they operate. The Community Infrastructure Levy usually runs alongside the older scheme called Section 106 payments.”
Cllr Naveed added; “I was pleased that the Leader of the Council, Conservative Councillor Dexter Smith (Colnbrook Ward) seconded my motion, and it was supported by the entire Conservative group on Slough Council.”
The chair of Slough Lib Dems, Councillor Frank O’Kelly (Cippenham Village Ward), said: “In my speech supporting Cllr Naveed’s motion I drew on expert analysis by Matthew Taylor, my predecessor as chair of Slough Lib Dems. Matthew, an architect, has shown that some councils in Berkshire have raised up to 16 times more than Slough for their communities, per head of population, by using the Community Infrastructure Levy, in conjunction with the Section 106 scheme.”
Cllr O’Kelly continued: “Slough has had a lot of major developments recently, and so as newly elected councillors, the Lib Dems are surprised to learn Slough’s previous Council failed to bring in more money than it did. But, of course, the important thing is to look forward, especially with all the development that’s likely to be happening.” (continued…)
Cllr O’Kelly added: “Now that our motion has been accepted by the Council, the officers can get on with the detailed work of investigating exactly how a Community Infrastructure Levy might work in Slough.
We shall continue to press for it to be introduced as rapidly as possible. We are confident that, as has happened in many other places, it will bring great benefits to the town by funding the infrastructure and facilities needed to support Slough residents, now and in the future.”
The AGM of Slough Lib Dems on 8 Nov unanimously agreed to push for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza to allow aid in, & an opportunity for hostage release. See left. On Oct 22 Lib Dem Leader, Ed Davey, first called for a Gaza ceasefire.
Slough Lib Dems back demands for the UK Government to lead calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire which will facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza and provide an opportunity to realise the release of the hostages.
We condemn the awful terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas in Israel on the 7th October, the taking of hostages and the loss of all innocent lives – Palestinian as well as Israeli. We are horrified at the scenes of violence in the recent weeks and are deeply concerned at the devastating situation in Gaza which is facing a humanitarian crisis for its 2.2 million residents, and we remain horrified that many Israelis are being still held hostage.
We urge the UK Government to lead international efforts to call for the restoration of essential supplies such as food, water, medicine and electricity to Gaza in line with international law. Aid should be managed by the United Nations along with international non-government organisations. We also urge the UK Government to heed the calls of the World Health Organization, that the forced evacuation of hospitals in Northern Gaza may be a breach of international humanitarian law.
We believe that innocent Palestinians must not pay the price for the atrocities of Hamas; that is why we urge the UK Government to lead calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
We believe the people of Israel and Palestine have a right to live free from fear. We therefore ask the British Government as a permanent UN Security Council member to promote efforts to achieve a conflict resolution in the interests of ending the violence inflicted on both Israeli and Palestinian civilians since 7th October. The Government should also support UN involvement in a post-conflict reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.
We also call on the Government to demand a redoubling of efforts to bring about a lasting peace and seek viable solutions for ending the 75 years of cyclical conflicts since the creation of the Israeli state. The resolution of the conflict needs to recognise that over those years many Palestinians have suffered terribly, including having property taken from them that was internationally recognised as rightfully belonging to them.
Councillor Frank O’Kelly, 2024 Chair, Slough Lib Dems;
Matthew Taylor, 2023 Chair, Slough Lib Dems;
Robert Plimmer, Treasurer;
Councillor Asim Naveed, Diversity Officer;
Asghar Ranjha, Membership Officer;
Councillor Amjad Abbasi, Executive member;
Josephine Hanney, Executive member;
Shakeel Ahmed Khan, Executive member;
Manjit Kaur, Executive member;
Catharine Parkes, Executive member;
"OUR PLANS WILL IMPROVE THE NHS" TOP LIB DEM TELLS SLOUGH PARTY
At the AGM of Slough Lib Dems on 8 Nov, Matthew Taylor, Chair, introduced the guest speaker, Lord Allan who speaks on Health for the Lib Dems in the Lords. Matthew reports: “Lord Allan was highly critical of the Tory Government’s many failures in leading the health service, and explained how the Lib Dems would improve the health service.”
Lord Allan said that for a journey it was necessary to have a map, a vehicle and a driver. But for the current journey of the UK’s health services, while the Tories had drawn up some plans, “the vehicle is creaking and there isn’t a credible driver.”
He gave examples of failures in services such as mental health where the Tories had some plans, but have made no attempt to properly introduce them.
The Lib Dems, Lord Allan explained, recognise many problems with delays in receiving hospital care are linked to the Government’s failures to adequately fund or reform social care. Often elderly people who are fit to come out of hospital, end up having to stay in a hospital bed for longer because the social care system is so short of staff and other resources that it cannot provide care for all those who need it.
He said: “The Lib Dems commitment to providing extra investment in the social care sector will be better for those who need social care, and for those waiting for a hospital bed.”
Finally, in response to a question about the crisis in NHS dentistry, which was reported to be particularly severe in Slough, Lord Allan explained that the Tory failures over NHS dentistry highlighted how the Tories are failing the NHS.
He said: “The Tory crew are not up to driving the NHS and do not really have anything to offer. For NHS dentistry the Tory Government has repeatedly refused to reform the inadequate contracts that mean too many dentists no longer take on NHS patients because the system does not pay enough to adequately cover their costs. Astonishingly, there is money available, and there are trained dentists but under the current Government, as a result of the inadequate contracts, some of the money that would be available for dentistry is not being used.”
Lord Allan explained: “Currently all sorts of dental issues are being missed because too many people are not getting check-ups. A new report shows a horrifying increase in the number of deaths from mouth cancer in recent years. The Lib Dems are committed to making major reforms to the NHS dentistry contracts to attract more dentists back into the NHS, and use the resources that are already availble.”
Finally, Lord Allan said, “The Tory Government is failing in so many ways that the Lib Dems want the Conservatives to lose the next election at the national level. And the job of the Lib Dems is to win as many MPs as possible.”
“I’m delighted that a long-running Lib Dem campaign has brought success for residents on repairs to utility boxes or cabinets”, says Councillor Frank O’Kelly, Lib Dem Cllr for Cippenham Village.
Cllr O’Kelly continued, “For many years Robert Plimmer and Matthew Taylor, my colleagues in the Cippenham Lib Dem Focus Team, had been asking for action to repair or replace damaged utility boxes in the streets of Cippenham. These exposed boxes had front covers missing, and were therefore unsightly as well as potentially dangerous to children and animals who might get access to possibly live wires.”
“Many of these boxes, or cabinets, belonged to Virgin Media, and Robert Plimmer asked Slough Borough Council to write to them demanding action. Over the years there was some success in getting repairs or replacements, but often it took far too long.”
According to Cllr O’Kelly, “In recent months our Cippenham Lib Dem team has noticed the repairs seem to have been carried out more rapidly. For example, in Spring 2023 Robert Plimmer reported a box in Twinches Lane near the junction with Oakfield Drive needed action, as in the attached photo. Then, in the summer, I noticed it had been repaired - but in this case another box had also been added by the company”
“Now, in September 2023, working with the new senior team at Slough Borough Council, the issue with the electrical cabinets is, at last, being comprehensively addressed. The Cabinet owners have been issued with a notice, called a Section 81 notice, demanding they sort out their damaged cabinets.”
"Our Lib Dem team, on behalf of the residents and working with our colleagues, will ensure the work is being done,“ promised Cllr O’Kelly who made a pledge to residents: “If you have any of these damaged electrical cabinets in your area, email a picture and location to me at email@example.com and I will forward it to the council team to get action.”
Liberal Democrats will continue to stand up for international law and for a lasting peace.
Tomorrow, my bill to ban conversion therapy will be debated in the House of Lords.
Munira Wilson MP has brought a bill before the House of Commons today, aimed at ensuring every school has a qualified mental health professional.