Bell overstates his case – big time

Yesterday the online version of the Gazette published the latest opinion piece from Labour council leader Julian Bell. He rightly points up the opporitunities facing Ealing but makes too much of the dreaded cuts. He says:

Over the last four years we have already cut our budgets by £87m and things have been tough.
To have to find another £96m of cuts over the next four years is near on impossible.

Bell’s claims about cuts are exaggerated to say the least. He says that: “we have already cut our budgets by £87m”. This is a very misleading statement and forward looking statements by Labour and the council officers can be discounted as being equally misleading.

The reality is that total spending by the core of Ealing council increased by about £10 million in cash terms in the 2010-2014 period of the last council. If the council hadn’t been packing away underspends into reserves or using them to pay for capital projects spending would probably have been maintained in real terms in the core of Ealing council.

I asked Question 41 at the end of the last financial year:

Please state the council’s revenue spending for the following financial years: 2009/10, 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14.

If figures for the last financial year are not available please use the latest forecast out turn figures. Please separate out education spending and housing benefit spending. Everything else can be lumped together unless there are other large items that distort the figures.

The council, typically, did not answer my question as straightforwardly as I might like, in a way that is easily comprehensible by the public. That is because they are embarrassed by the gulf between the story they have been telling and the truth.

Ealing Council Schools Expenditure

In the four year period education spending increased from £203.3 million to £259.7 million, a rise of £56.4 million or 28%. Generous indeed and well above inflation.

Ealing Council Housing Benefit Expenditure

In the four year period housing benefit spending increased from £236.8 million to £271.3 million, a rise of £34.5 million or 15%. Certainly a real increase after inflation.

The council received a totally new public health grant to take on responsibilities from the NHS. It was much more generous than they were expecting at £21.4 million and council officers are convinced they will be able to manage this money much more effectively than the NHS and make it go further.

Ealing Council Housing Expenditure

Spending on council housing rose from £65.1 million to £69.0 million, a modest rise of £3.9 million or 6%. Maybe a slight fall in real terms but more or less flat.

All other spend

Finally, we get the everything else column which is a net figure for the core of Ealing Council. In other words they have taken total spending and already subtracted that part of it which is covered by income from fees and charges so the actual spend is many £10 millions larger than this. They don’t want you to see the whole picture because it makes the “cuts” look rather more manageable.

As it happens £10 million of the “cuts” Bell talks about are increases in charges for everything from parking to paying for carers. So the bit you can’t see got £10 million larger but they are not admitting to it. No wonder they say local government finance is opaque.

The figure for “All other spend net of fees & charges” was level rising from £337.2 million in 2009/10 to £337.3 million in 2013/14. This is a real terms drop but it is not so bad due to the extra £10 million from increased charges which is hidden in this presentation of the sums.

This picture doesn’t even tell the whole story as the council packed money away into reserves by underspending over the last four years. If the council had wanted to maintain spending in real terms it could have done by not underspending. The modest real terms cut has only arisen because the council chose to underspend on the current account.

Overall the council has seen flat or growing spending in some areas and only suffered a real terms cut to its core because of underspends. Julian Bell, and the council officers who maintain the fiction of cuts, really should be ashamed of the way they misrepresent the facts.

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Slow progress on recycling – big spending on ads

Yesterday Labour’s Bassam Mahfouz was bigging up the Borough’s recycling last year – 44%. This is an improvement on the administration’s previous three years which showed only a very slow improvement in recycling rates after they doubled under the Conservatives.

Recycling rates

When the Concersavtives were in charge recycling doubled from 19% to 38% in four years. Under Labour the rate of increase has been much, much slower. Recycling rose from 38% to 44% in the last four years.

Mahfouz refers to “inventive communications”. He maybe should have said “expensive communications”. The council has spent £300,000 talking about recycling over the last year. Most of it was spent in the run up to the local elections – ten times what Labour was allowed to spend on leaflets during the election campaign.

Labour keeps changing its mind on the idea of achieving 50% recycling of household waste in the Borough.

At a council meeting on 16th December 2008 Cllr Mahfouz proposed that the council went for a target of recycling 50% of domestic refuse by 2010. This was easy to say in opposition.

At a cabinet meeting on 17th December Labour proposed to spend £700,000 to achieve a target of 50% by 2020 – backed by a massive advertising campaign that just happened to coincide with a local election. £300,000 of this cash was spent on advertising.

You might think that Labour would stick with this target having pledged £700,000 of public funds to get this idea across. But, only a month later, on 20th January the Ealing Labour party launched a pledge card that talked about 50% by 2018.

The benefit of Labour’s latest target is that it does coincide with the electoral cycle. Within days of the end of March 2018 we will know whether the council has achieved the target.

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Attlee in perspective

Attlee graphic corrected

Yesterday morning, to mark the anniversary of the post-war Labour government, a man called Matthew Ward published this “infographic”. He calls himself “Historian, edutainer & broadcaster”. He clearly is a Labour supporter. He clearly is no historian. Three of the claims on this infographic are bogus. Four of them are rather weak.

Let’s go through them.

Yes, the Attlee government “created the NHS”, if by that you mean nationalising the existing health infrastructure. The Atlee government built no new hospitals. It wasn’t until the sixties that the NHS commissioned new hospitals. The Labour government merely took existing local authority and charity hospitals into public ownership. The Conservative model put forward in their 1944 white paper was based on local authorities taking the lead – probably a more sustainable model and certainly a more accountable one. A free at the point of use national health service was settled Conservative policy by the end of the war – Labour rammed through a centralised model ignoring the 1944 model agreed by the wartime coalition and widely discussed in the country.

Did he build the welfare state? The modern welfare state took 200 years to build. Liberals, Tories and socialists all played their roles. A key component was Lloyd George’s National Insurance Act 1911. Vast progress on welfare was made by Tory hero Lord Shaftsbury in the 19th century. Yes, the Attlee government pushed forward the ideas of the coalition government as enunciated by Beveridge. To claim the welfare state for Attlee and Labour is way too much. See my next point for instance.

It is utter nonsense to say Atlee introduced child benefit. In those days it was called Child Allowance and it was introduced by the 1945 Conservative caretaker administration. The legislation passed on 16th June 1945, the operational date being set for August 1946, to be implemented by whichever party was then in power. The legislation was put forward by Leslie Hore-Belisha, a Conservative minister, of Belisha beacon fame. Atlee came to power on 26th July 1945. Sure he didn’t stop Child Allowance but the course was already set. At the very best, poor history from Mr Ward.

Legislation on womens’ property rights dates back to 1870. The idea that Atlee’s government played a large role won’t fly. The Married Women (Restraint upon Anticipation) Act 1949 was a fairly minor and technical addition to the law which removed a legal protection for married women which had become redundant. Putting this on a list of Attlee’s achievements does rather make you think it needs padding.

It is freaking outrageous to claim that Atlee “introduced free secondary education as a right”. This was put in place in the famous 1944 Education Act. Pushed through by Tory hero RA Butler. Ward is talking nonsense here.

The UN claim is preposterous too. The UN Charter was adopted unanimously on 25th June 1945. Again before Atlee came to power on 26th July 1945.

Given that the wartime coalition had already promised Indian self-rule the granting of Indian independence doesn’t seem like a great leap. Implemented by socialist hero Lord Mountbatten (not). I admire the patriots who fought for Indian independence. The idea that any post-war British government could have denied them is laughable.

Bought public services back into public ownership – this seems to be some kind of approbation for nationalisation. Yes, he nationalised the railways. The majority of the Attlee nationalisations were rolled back from the eighties and are unlikely to be ever repeated. Let’s give Attlee those two.

UK Unemployment

Achieved full employment? The war achieved full employment, a state that continued into the 1970s. The graph is clear.

Atlee’s record was nationalise like crazy. Most of it has been rolled back and very few serious people argue we should go back. His enduring achievement is the NHS which was the settled consensus of the time and clearly the child of the wartime coalition led by Conservative Winston Churchill.

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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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20130511_120012

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.

Freeze strap

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