Here is our latest Focus, for Spring 2020, uploaded as two pages.
Firstly we hope you have escaped the virus and are in reasonable health. It is true to say we live in very tough circumstances at the moment, and many of us now realise how important our family and friends are to us. We look forward to meeting up with them all again very shortly.
We work in unfamiliar circumstances on the Council too. Most officers are now working from home and so face to face contact is nil, however the business of the Council goes on, so many like us, have had a steep learning curve to work via video camera or Zoom. Not quite the same as interaction around a table! However decisions still have to be made. Some of the Scrutiny committees are suspended but the regulatory ones continue. Planning and the pending Annual Council meetings are two of those. Under emergency powers the final decision has to be made by the Chief Executive officer, having listened to the views of the Chair or Vice Chair of the committee, as I write this the other members of the committee do not take part in the decision making process on the night, but Marion tries to contact every member for their view with regard to a planning decision waiting to be made in their area, she feels it is quite a responsibility to speak for all.
When we gave you our last update, many of the senior officers were interim ones. We are pleased to tell you all the posts have been now filled with permanent appointments, and they are well embedded into Newcastle’s way of working. There is a totally different feel within the building, largely to the better. So to some of the issues across the Borough we have been involved in.
Those who live near Walley’s quarry or come into Newcastle to shop, will have noticed the rancid odour coming from the Silverdale/ Thistleberry direction. This is a long term landfill project and whilst we as your Councillors have spent the best part of 10 years trying to find a solution we are nowhere near getting there, sorry! Marion in particular is active on the liaison committee but she is frustrated that Red Industries seem to want to deny the smell comes from them, and the EA tell us it is not sufficiently strong or the time scale sufficiently often for it to be a public nuisance, and that they are acting within the law. Maybe a change in the law needs to take place to embrace the problems we as residents encounter. Please do take the time to report your experience to the EA ON 03708506506. The only good news is because we have increased the amount of journeys the lorries make to tip their rubbish, the project will end sooner, but the smell does not go away immediately afterwards!
June and Marion are pleased that there is every possibility that Kidsgrove leisure centre will reopen, after a major maintenance project. The Council are working with Kidsgrove Community group, who are the drivers of this project, to see if it is viable. Costing and design are a big factor, but it would be good to see this much needed facility back in use. Unfortunately meetings are suspended at the moment, but work continues in the background.
We as Liberal Democrats are keen to be active in the Climate Change agenda. We aim to make Newcastle carbon neutral by 2030. There is a working group set up of which Marion is a member, which is looking at how we can achieve that, through partnership working, especially with the university. June reminds us that we are the environmentally friendly party and always have been. If you want more information please look on the website about what we are up to. There is a presentation there.
Regeneration of the town centre has to be a priority, however there is no time for sentiment. Demand and trends change. Sadly internet shopping has taken away the need for chain shops in town, however we believe that there is room for individual specialist merchandise, and the Council are visiting other areas to look at their offer. We have to be aware that what works for some, will not necessarily work in Newcastle, but we continue to assess our need. June lives in town, and Marion sits on the committee that examines our findings so we are both very involved.
Recent work includes:
- A 10 year car parking policy, looking at which parks we need to improve and which are no longer viable. BID have recently shown an interest in the Goose street car park.
- A reduction on the cost of permits for businesses.
- Improved CCTV in the Midway car park and we are asking that the flooding problems be addressed, alongside a clean-up. There is a proposal that we change the method of payment to include an app. June and Marion are keen that the option of paying with cash is still there.
- There are to be more electric charging points on Council owned parks
- The Council have commissioned a rough sleepers outreach service to address cross border issues with Stoke and we hold open door advice centres weekly. The number of homeless people remains in single figures, many more choose to sleep out and this is what needs to be addressed.
- The Council are looking at how we can increase the footfall in town. Ideas include revitalising the historic market… new ideas please, not just old ones reinvented! There have been a number of successful ‘one off’ themed events, and we hope there are more to come.
The Civic offices are a concern to us, as part of the ground floor is still out of action, because major work needed to take place, costs are being met by the developers, but nevertheless, it is months now since we had a meeting room, so alternative arrangements are always having to be made, across the Borough. June and Marion are asking questions of Cabinet.
So to end, Covid-19 impact report:
J2 closed, staff are being redeployed to customer services or being retrained to support vulnerable individuals through the hub.
Likewise Museum staff redeployed to support vulnerable individuals via the hub.
Customer services focused on phone and online delivery.
Waste Management: as you will know we have a new system in place for the foreseeable future, normal service will be resumed post virus. Street Scene staff are supporting this operation.
Bereavement Service operating normally but with office/ reception contact only by phone/mail
Environmental Health Dog Warden and pest control suspended.
Homeless The Council has contracted with a local provider to ensure that places are available over the next 12 weeks.
New Telephone service… The Council has established a phone line to ring if residents are concerned about friends and family and want support for them. Number 01782 742800
Staffs County Council have stood up a call centre on 0300 111 8050 also. Teams answering both numbers will be linking into volunteer and community support via Realise.
If you want Business support and advice on grants go to https://account.newcastle-staffs.gov.uk/xfp/form/215
Support Staffordshire have also got a dedicated page on their website hhps://www.supportstaffordshire.org
Take care all of you,
Marion and June
Generally, people should not engage in tactical voting, which is different from two parties coming to an agreement. People should vote for what they believe in for the sake of the message the result sends and for the future of the party which they truly support, locally as well as nationally.
This applies here in Newcastle about voting Liberal Democrat because the other parties are not Remain parties, including Labour.
The voice of Remain needs to be clearly represented especially since we find ourselves in a general election and have not had a people’s vote. In any case we now have the Brexit Party for Leavers as well as the Conservative Party.
SIMPOL is an international Association of Citizens, formed many years ago to get people and governments across the world to work to develop policies on global issues in ways that are cooperative and mutually beneficial rather than competitive. Among the issues are Climate Change, Sustainable Business, Mass Migration, Nuclear Disarmament, Tax Avoidance and Tax Competition, and Financial Market Regulation.
These require global solutions in order to avoid global competitive destruction.
It requires long-term thinking and development and it aims to develop policy on each issue which is wide-ranging; this should avoid the narrow focus on single items that sometimes bedevils the working of the UN. The latter approach often fails or becomes extremely limited, because on any single proposal there are often those countries who feel they would be disadvantaged by it.
Simpol complements organisations such as the EU and likewise complements the need for people to engage in their local communities and local government.
Further information is on simpol.org (the global site) or for the UK organisation go to uk.simpol.org
The Education motion at conference stated “The UK faces a serious skills deficit”.
That is an understatement. Take for example what happens when young people fail GCSE Maths and English and move on to sixth form or college.
When I taught at a general FE College, I remember a group of 17 year old girls, who aspired to be nurses. I had to spend time, for example, teaching them quadratic equations when they really needed much more time improving their understanding and application of decimals, percentages, and ratio relevant to their career.
Force-feeding young people to resit GCSE Maths and English which they have just failed and hated is bad education. Statistically, results show it does not work. On average 25% pass; in Maths this year only 20% passed and can we claim that even these have sufficiently improved, with a pass mark around 20 out of 100, so was it relevant to their career?
This approach can even be dangerous; on more than one occasion in my lifetime a baby has died because the decimal point in a drug prescription was in the wrong place.
Our party motion makes clear that young people need to develop their Maths and English in a free course that is suited to their needs. Functional skills qualifications have this year been improved, so there is no excuse. Colleges at the moment are constrained by strict funding rules. We will give colleges the freedom and resources to judge the best way to improve basic skills for everyone at age 16+.
In this country skills and ‘vocational’ learning have not been given the attention they need for decades. Note these points.
First, the department for Education Skills Index, shows since 2012 the contribution of skills to the nation’s productivity declined by 27%. Second, we have now the lowest on record of adults pursuing any form of education. Third, the new T-level courses due to start in September 2020 look like being under-resourced. Fourth, the new apprenticeships while welcome are failing at the lower levels; companies who pay the levy have reduced their other training provision.
So, with all these recent failures to deal with the skills deficit, what does Boris Johnson do ? He removes the post of Skills Minister.
This follows a period when Michael Gove distorted the whole Education curriculum by his obsession with academic learning and theoretical testing. Under the veneer of improved exam results, many feel the harmful consequences of that and those at the lower end are not catching up.
So we have yet another reason for booting out Boris and Michael.
This government has little understanding of the FE and Skills sector and even when it tries (like Sajid Javid has done) to entice people with a temporary hand-out for 16-19 yr olds, it has given absolutely nothing for Adult Education and Life-Long Learning.
Our policy provides for each of these three.
The Personal Education and Skills Accounts (PESAs) not only provide financial help for people aged 25 to 55, but does it in the right way; it puts the person who needs the learning at the centre. That’s a typical Liberal Democrat approach.
Nigel Jones, Chair LDEA
Chair, Newcastle under Lyme Liberal Democrats and PPC