Miliband has got his energy price freeze a year early – but consumers won’t thank him for locking in high prices

Freeze promiseAt the Labour party conference last year Ed Miliband promised to freeze energy prices for 20 months from May 2015 until the end of 2017. This may have looked like a good wheeze at the time but the consequences of this foolish pledge are now becoming clear.

Yesterday Ofgem called out the energy companies on the apparent anomaly of falling wholesale energy prices not flowing through to lower consumer prices. It is not at all surprising. If you were running an energy company with variable costs and the prospect of a 20 month price freeze you might be forgiven for not giving up your margin now.

You only have to look at what is happening in Iraq overnight to see that the energy companies might be unwise to let their consumer prices drop whilst Miliband’s price freeze policy is in place.

The most significant phrase in Ofgem’s press release yesterday was “In a competitive market …”. The trouble is that since Ed Miliband’s intervention on energy prices the market has got less competitive. This market is already heavily regulated and susceptible to government policy decisions. Miliband’s promise to freeze prices next year overhangs the market and the political risk is not going away for the energy companies until the election is out of the way. So Miliband has got his energy price freeze a year early and it is hurting consumers.

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More bent data from the Fabians

The left keeps up its deluge of bent data. I saw this from the Fabian Society today. One look told me it was nonsense. I wondered why they chose those data points – 1997 and 2012.

Fabian affordable homes graphic

The 1997 point was chosen because it is the earliest date in the reference data provided by the Department for Communities and Local Government. I guess 2012 was the latest data available – since superseded. The 2012 number on the chart is now out of date. What happened in between?

Ratio of median house price to median earnings

So according to the Fabians housing affordability wasn’t much of a problem as the ratio doubled from 3.54 in 1997 to 7.23 in 2007 under Labour. It climbed every year for ten years and peaked in 2007. But, it has been stable and below the level inherited from the Labour government for the last three years and it is a big problem now? Really?

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Ealing Labour has lost the argument

Julian Bell head in handsIn his last chance to lay out Labour’s case for the local elections this Thursday Labour leader Julian Bell had nothing positive to say. No new ideas. No policies to explain. Instead he laid into the local Conservatives.

He first talked about proposed changes to the NHS. He blames the “Tories” for these changes without mentioning that the driver for “Shaping a Healthier Future” is Labour’s own £20 billion Nicholson Challenge programme which was kicked off in 2009 by Andrew Burnham. Labour’s attempt to rebrand their own policy has been going on for four years now. The proposals we are having to endure were dreamt up by NHS managers in response to a financial constraint that was built into the NHS already in May 2010. None of us like their donut solution which leaves our borough with an A&E hole. But, the courts agreed the process was sound when the council took it to judicial review. The Independent Reconfiguration Panel agreed with NHS North West London’s proposals. The only actor in this whole drama who has given Ealing any relief is the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt. Bell and Labour may denigrate Hunt’s promise but it is the best we have had so far. What you will not hear is any Labour politician saying that Ed Balls is going to spend £20 billion undoing Nicholson. Come on Cllr Bell – if Labour is going to undo these changes let’s hear about it. So far we have a promise from Hunt and nothing from Labour.

Bell then goes back to the cuts chant he has been repeating for four years. His argument is rather undermined by council questions (questions 41 and 42), formally answered by council officers, that show that the council is spending much more money than it was in 2010 and is employing the same headcount pretty much. After “unprecedented cuts” the council is the same size as, or even bigger than, it was in 2010. Once you get out of the local government finance hall of mirrors you are left with a huge organisation that is still huge.

Again, you will not hear any Labour politician promising to unwind the tighter financial settlement being imposed on councils.

Labour is trying to scare voters with stories about how extravagant the Conservatives’ pledge card is – at least ours makes some promises unlike Labour’s which is not exactly tangible. In reality our promises are very modest and affordable.

Three years of council tax freeze are already built into the council’s medium term financial strategy (MTFS). The MTFS assumes that parking charges will not rise. The garden tax pledge will cost about 0.15% of the council’s total spending. The roads promise is a choice – there are lots of things we won’t do but we will prioritise the road outside your house. Labour found the money for a useless car park in Southall. Any spare money will go on the road outside your house if the Conservatives are in charge.

Julian Bell and the Ealing Labour party have lost the argument. They are left with cheap insults and scaremongering. The fact is that everyone is talking about the Conservative offer and they like what they see.

Freeze strap

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Labour spent £1 million on Acton’s roads – the Conservatives spent £4.2 million

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Acton road spending comparison

In preparation for CCA’s Acton hustings this Wednesday I thought I would check on the amount of road spending in Acton whilst the Conservatives were in power. See spreadsheet.

I already knew how much Labour has put in during the 2011-2015 period when they have been in charge: £975,618. They only managed to resurface 14 sections of road and pavement. Less than £1 million for three wards over four years. If Labour had spread its £17.5 million of road spending equally across all wards Acton would have got £2.3 million – so Acton has lost of £1.3 million compared to the average ward under Labour.

I went through the old cabinet papers relating to £25 million of Conservative road spending in the previous four year cycle 2007-2011. The Conservatives tackled 91 sections of road and pavement in Acton to a value of £4.2 million. By this measure Acton has lost £3.2 million compared to what was actually spent when the Conservatives were in power.

Freeze strap

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Labour’s daft parking policy favours Commuters over Residents – Conservatives will slash £4.50 all day visitor charge

The current Labour administration has got the balance wrong between commuters and residents with its latest changes to Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) parking charges.

CPZ voucher prices

On the one hand Labour has put up all day visitors’ vouchers three times in three years. They were frozen at a £1 for four years under the Conservatives. Since 2010 they have gone up to £2.50, then to £3.50, and finally to an excruciating £4.50 a day to allow your visitors and tradesmen to park near your home in an all day CPZ. The Conservatives propose to cut this charge to £2.50 as soon as they are elected in May.

On the other hand Labour is rolling out a £2 a day charge for commuters in CPZs in Acton and Ealing, but notably not in Southall. CPZs are only ever introduced as a result large scale commuter or long term parking problems. They are put in near town centres and transport nodes to prevent commuting. Over the last couple of years Labour has allowed commuters to park near Willesden Junction station, near Ealing Town Centre and Northfield Tube station for only £2 a day and most recently it has allowed commuters to park by Ealing Cricket Club just near Ealing Broadway train station.

I reckon that Labour’s Bassam Mahfouz has misjudged this badly. He has got his CPZ pricing wrong. Charging residents’ own visitors, most often their own family, more than twice as much as commuters to park in a CPZ is just plain wrong. The Council’s first priority should be accommodating the needs of residents over commuters.

The Conservatives will reduce the £4.50 visitors’ voucher to £2.50 as soon as we can after 22nd May. This change will cost very little as sales of these vouchers have slumped since their price went through the roof. We will sell many more cheaper vouchers and the cost of this change will be minimal.

The £4.50 charge applies to all day visitors’ vouchers in all day CPZs:

Zone A: Central Ealing
Zone B: Bedford Park
Zone C and D: University of West London
Zone DD: Bollo Bridge
Zone EE: Brentvale
Zone H: Home Zone
Zone K: Acton Central
Zone KK: The Vale
Zone L: Southall
Zone LL: Southall 5
Zone M: Acton Green
Zone MM1: The Drive
Zone R: Southfields (until it moves to two hours of operation)
Zone S: South Ealing
Zone T: The Vale
Zone T1: The Vale
Zone U: Green Man
Zone V: Southall 2
Zone X: Valetta Road

Full details of CPZs can be found here.

Freeze strap

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Labour leader tries to nail on Labour’s big NHS lie

I should be out in East Acton (the ward I am fighting in Ealing) canvassing and I will be shortly. Meanwhile I just wanted to call out Labour leader Ed Miliband for his personal efforts to nail on Labour’s big NHS lie.

Miliband NHS lie

Miliband says:

Services are closing, waiting times are growing, and billions of pounds are being wasted on a reorganisation that nobody wanted.

Ed Miliband and the rest of the Labour party know that the largest financial driver in the NHS is the Nicholson Challenge. This is a policy put in place in 2009 whilst Andy Burnham was Secretary of State. Labour knew it had to control NHS spending after years of real growth so it put the Nicholson Challenge in its 2010 manifesto on page 4:3.

Labour Manifesto Nicholson Challenge - close up

The Coalition promised to protect NHS spending, which it has, but the Nicholson Challenge was already built into NHS spending plans in May 2010. Since May 2010 the Labour party at every level has simply renamed their own Nicholson Challenge policy as “Tory cuts”. This is Labour’s big NHS lie. The same, or an even worse, financial settlement would have been given to the NHS if Labour had won in 2010. Locally the NHS North West London “Shaping a Healthier Future” outcome would have been the same.

Miliband also alludes to the cost of implementing the Health and Social Care Act 2012. The bill looks like being £1.5 billion according to independent sources so calling it billions is something of an exaggeration. A one off cost of £1.5 billion is tiny compared to the £20 billion EVERY YEAR that the Nicholson Challenge is trying to take out.

There is no sign whatsoever that Labour is proposing to find £20 billion to make Nicholson go away. And not surprising: this sum is not far short of all council tax collected every year or all business rates collected every year. It is a truly large sum of money. Labour is using its own policy to knock the Conservsatives and it has no plans to unwind it.

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Acton’s roads neglected by Labour – Acton loses £1.3 million

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The photo above is Valetta Road in East Acton, the ward where I am standing on 22nd. It could easily be Spencer Road in Acton Central or Bollo Bridge Road in South Acton. Acton has had a terrible roads deal under Labour. At first sight this seems surprising as Acton has 9 Labour councillors and the leader of the council, Julian Bell, lives in Acton. Although Labour has committed almost a £1 million to Acton’s roads and footpaths during the 2011-2015 period that they have been in charge this still leaves Acton £1.3 million short.

The following roads and footpaths will be resurfaced in the 2011/2015 period:

Acton roads

As I explained on Thursday Labour is only spending £17.5 million on roads in the current four year cycle, a drop of one third compared with the previous Conservative administration.

If this cash had been shared equally between all 23 Ealing wards they would have got £761K each. East Acton has done least badly but is still short £287K. South Acton has lost £486K. Acton Central has fared worst losing £534K. Across Acton that adds up to £1,307K.

Why has Acton lost this money? Because it has been diverted to Ealing North.

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Southfield’s roads neglected by Labour – Southfield loses £500K

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Southfield Shirley RoadThe Southfield ward, the part of Chiswick which comes under the London Borough of Ealing, has had a terrible roads deal under Labour.

Pictured right we have one of our Southfield candidates Patrick Barr on the repeatedly patched Shirley Road.

No footpaths will be renewed in the 2011/2015 period during which the current Labour council has been in charge of deciding road spending.

Only three short stretches of road are being resurfaced:

Southfield roads

As I explained on Thursday Labour is only spending £17.5 million on roads in the current four year cycle, a drop of one third compared with the previous Conservative administration.

If this cash had been shared equally between all 23 Ealing wards they would have got £761K each. Southfield has only had £232K. Southfield has lost £529K.

The Southfield LibDem councillors cannot protect Southfield from the depredations of a Labour council. The only people who can make sure that Southfield gets its fair share are the Conservatives.

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Is Ealing’s Labour council sharing out road spending fairly?

We know that Labour has cut road spending by a third (which is £8 million). As well as this huge cut the distribution of the remaining money has been very uneven. I commented on this last year but the pattern remains the same this year.

Road spending 2011-2015

If you analyse where the roads and pavements have been worked on there is a marked divergence between each of Ealing’s three Parliamentary constituencies.

Ealing Southall has lost out, getting only 1/4 of the money rather than the 1/3rd it might have expected – and down a third at the outset too. Ealing Central and Acton has done even worse, getting less than 1/5th of the overall spend. Meanwhile Ealing North has had over half the money, more than the other two constituencies combined.

You might expect some ebb and flow from year to year but to see such a notable distribution over four years seems strange indeed to me. I reckon that Ealing Southall is down about £4 million compared to when the Conservatives were in power and Ealing Central and Acton is down £5 million. The lucky people in Ealing North are £1 million up even in these straightened times. It is incredible to see one constituency getting 3 times more than another over four years.

Road spending 2011-2015 table

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The Conservatives will get rid of the street drinking culture

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Street drinking is an issue across the Borough. It is a problem in otherwise very law-abiding Northfield where I am currently a councillor. It is a very visible problem around the Mount in Acton but more generally across Acton too. It is a problem across the wards of Northolt, Greenford and Perivale where every other alley is used for drinking or as a toilet. It occurs in many of our parks. I have heard this complaint on the doorstep in every ward in the Borough.

The whole borough is a controlled drinking zone so the police do have some tools to deal with it. There is not enough evidence that they are using them consistently and effectively. Street drinking is not a priority for the police – it should be.

A Conservative led council can provide political leadership. It can use the council’s communications tools such as Around Ealing to explain in a measured way that this behaviour is not acceptable. It can task its community safety team on this issue. It can use the licensing laws to track down misbehaving businesses and councils have had success in voluntary agreements not to sell cheap, high strength products.

We don’t think that this will be remotely easy. It will require a consistent approach over time. We cannot change behaviour that has been tolerated for a long time by the wave of a magic wand. We can start the journey though and we can change the behaviour over time.

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