Opinion: Britain needs jobs, not UKIP/Tory insults
Published on Liberal Democrat Voice By  | Wed 23rd April 2014 – 8:55 am

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Over 4 million British jobs depend on exports to the Single Market.

Those are the words of the Centre for Economic and Business Research regarding their recent report into British Jobs and the Single Market.

When we talk about this issue UKIP and the Tory Right throw around words like “liar”. When people do that it usually means they have lost the argument.

UKIP appear to be temperamentally unable of  reasoned debate grounded in the evidence. Their leaders are like children who cover their ears and say “I can’t hear you”.

Their game is to bully and intimidate with insults. They underestimate the care we have for our neighbours and our country. This care compels us to make the case for being in Europe.

The many millions of jobs linked to our EU membership are not only those in firms that sell goods and services into the Single Market. More jobs are in firms that have their operations here because we are part of the EU. There are more jobs in sectors, like science and research that are funded by the EU (€80bn of EU funds will go into science in the next 5 years); if we leave the EU researchers in the UK won’t be able to apply; many will leave.

There are, of course, many further jobs that are supported by the spending of wages by people working in these three categories.

The additional benefit of the Single Market is for consumers. It means we can buy goods that they want to buy, wherever in Europe they are manufactured. Choice improves quality of life (people can choose goods that better meet their needs) and reduces the cost of living (access to cheaper goods).

These are elementary principles of free trade that every liberal understands.

By way of practical example, last week the Investment Management Association, whose members look after £4.5 trillion of our pensions and savings, said that being in the EU get us a better return.

UKIP and Tories claim that if we left the EU we could still enjoy full access to the Single Market and would not have to comply with expensive “red tape”.  They say that if Europe did not give us market access, we could prevent our consumers buying their goods – a ludicrous threat of mutual self-harm.

If we left it is easy to imagine competitors to UK companies lobbying their governments to place restrictions on UK Single Market access in their sector.  Staying in guarantees permanent Single Market access, with ever closer business opportunities.

Being out would mean that if, like Norway, we had access to the Single Market we would still have to comply with most rules of the Single Market but with no say in the making those rules.  UKIP and the Conservatives have not answered the democratic deficit they would create.

What would happen to British famers who, outside the CAP, would face tariffs to export to other parts of Europe?

There is the expert evidence of a long list of British companies who conclude we get real benefits from being in Europe and should stay in.

The weight of evidence is persuasive that we are better off in the EU.

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* Antony Hook is MEP Candidate for the South East and practised as a criminal barrister for ten years. His campaign website is here.

Lord Roger Roberts writes …What UKIP peers had to say about the Immigration Bill
Published on Liberal Democrat Voice By  | Tue 22nd April 2014 – 1:52 pm

House of Lords chamber

Among Liberal Democrats at least, the House of Lords is viewed as an institution deeply in need of reform. That said, the potential of this house to monitor and moderate the work of the House of Commons was absolutely evident during the passage of the Immigration Bill, which is due for its Lords third reading on 6 May.

The Lords were responsible for moderating the Bill in several important ways, such as:

  1. exempting student accommodation from the proposed ‘landlord checks
  2. creating ‘guardians’ for potential victims of child trafficking, and crucially
  3. blocking the Government’s plans to grant the Home Secretary the power to strip a naturalised citizen of their citizenship even if that would leave them stateless.

The Lords second reading and committee stage also granted the opportunity for Peers to debate other aspects of the Bill, ranging from the implications of the Government’s Article 8 consideration on the rights of children to the potential impact of reducing grounds for appeal. There were, ultimately, only five opportunities tovote, though there were many chances for Peers to air their grievances, concerns and special interests.

It is in the light, and indeed the spirit, of these debates that I became interested in what contributions the three UKIP Peers in the House had made.

I personally have a private member’s bill currently awaiting second reading that would reduce the time period asylum seekers had to wait before being able to apply for permission to work; I tabled amendments at committee and report stage to pursue this aim. As we saw in the Commons, some MPs used the Bill as a vehicle to air their concerns over free movement within the EU. Within the scope of a Bill such as this, there are clearly options for formally pursuing aims tangential tothose of the Bill itself.

I discovered that among the three UKIP Peers in the Lords, not one contribution had been made to the debate, and (alarmingly) not one vote had been placed. I wrote an open letter to the three noble Lords Lord Pearson of Rannoch, Lord Stevens of Ludgate, and Lord Willoughby de Broke, that was subsequently published in theEvening Standard, the Independent, the Daily Mail, and on this blog.

The Lords in question have all since replied to my letter. As I noted, Lord Stevens is currently unwell, but assures me that he is making a full recovery. However, all three Lords expressed a shared sentiment regarding Europe, immigration policy and their position in the Lords that I find quite distressing:

For your information I do not believe in wasting my time on discussions about immigration policy when it  is now  an EU competence; the EU calls the shots on immigration, not Parliament.(Willoughby)

… you should know that the UKs Immigration policy is decided by Brussells [sic]. (Stevens)

I suppose we should have taken the trouble to point out that the Bill was a waste of time,but Their Lordships haven’t taken any notice of what we have been saying,rightly, about the EU and its wonderful euro for many years,and so on this occasion I am afraid we just didn’t bother. (Pearson)

I would argue that debates and votes in the House of Lords are not a waste of time. The Government defeat on its citizenship proposals demonstrates that the Lords has a very important part to play in UK politics, and in holding the Government to account. As UKIP has no MPs, the Lords is the only formal political institution in the UK within which UKIP can make any kind of political impact. That they ‘didn’t bother’ speaks volumes.

UKIP states, in the ‘issues’ section of its website, that ‘[a]s crisis follows crisis, our politicians do nothing in the face of dangers rearing up all around us.’ I’m sad to say that, as a politician who strives to do something, this sentiment is a sad indictment of a political party that seems to demonstrate the same hypocrisy it accuses all other politicians of displaying.

* Lord Roberts of Llandudno is a Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords

Vehicles of the future get £130 million investment

Vince Cable has announced £133 million of new investment into projects that will put Formula One technology into buses and diggers, developing the next generation of engines. These projects will provide both economic and environmental benefits.

Investment will go into the research and development into technologies for the vehicles of the future. This has the potential to secure up to 30,000 jobs currently linked to producing engines and it will create many more in the supply chain.

The winning projects include Ford, GKN, Cummins and JCB, which have all received funding for projects to improve fuel efficiently and reduce carbon emissions.

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Vince Cable commented:

“Over the last few decades the British car industry has been transformed and today a new vehicle rolls off a UK production line every 20 seconds.

“To capitalise on the success of our motor industry these projects will be the first of many to receive funding from the new £1 billion Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) which we set up to turn technologies into products. The Government’s industrial strategy is giving business the confidence to invest securing high skilled, long term jobs and a creating a stronger economy.”

Ed Davey: Energy Act will create 200,000 Green Jobs

Ed Davey has published an article announcing that the Energy Bill that he has been driving through Parliament is now law. After Labour’s legacy of underinvestment in the energy sector, the Liberal Democrats have been working to increase green energy, whilst making sure that consumers are protected.

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The article is as follows:

Creating the world’s first ever low carbon electricity market is a major achievement for the Liberal Democrats and the Coalition. And it has been delivered on time.

So, what will the Energy Act deliver?

It will create 200,000 green jobs.

The framework we’ve now put in place will create 250,000 jobs in the energy sector by 2020 – and 200,000 of them in renewables. The investment that we’re unlocking will produce green jobs up and down the country in offshore and onshore wind, biomass, solar and other renewables.

It will keep the lights on.

The Coalition inherited a shocking Labour legacy of underinvestment in the energy sector and without prompt action, would have left the UK with a serious threat of the lights going out.

Around one-fifth of generating capacity is due to close over the next decade, including all but one of our nuclear power stations as well as almost all coal stations. To meet this energy gap, Liberal Democrats in Government have already secured more than £30 billion of investment in renewables and the Energy Act puts in place the framework to unlock a further £40 billion.

Make no mistake, under a Labour Government much of this would be brought to a grinding halt. If you don’t believe me then the Head of the OECD’s comments are worth considering. Angel Gurria said that under Labour’s price freeze plans, investors in energy will “probably go bankrupt.” Labour’s policy threatens the action we have taken to keep the lights on and to tackle climate change.

For the investment our policies are stimulating means Liberal Democrats are delivering on tackling climate change.

The Energy Act will ensure that by 2020, 10m homes in the UK are powered by green energy. As a result, CO2 emissions will plummet by 20m tonnes a year – the equivalent of annual emissions from 7m UK households, or 30% of our cars.

And our Energy Act will protect consumers.

Keeping bills down for consumers is also at the heart of the Act.  Increasing the amount of home-grown green energy will ensure we don’t become increasingly reliant on importing gas – the key driver behind energy bill increases over the last few years.

Liberal Democrats have also introduced measures to ensure the Big 6 energy firms that emerged under the last Labour Government are forced to provide much simpler bills and switch people to cheaper tariffs, and face stiffer competition in both retail and generating markets. And consumers will now be directly compensated if they have been hit by wrongdoing by energy suppliers.

Liberal Democrats should be proud that we’re increasing green energy, and with it creating thousands of green jobs. All while ensuring consumers are protected in the long-term and the Big 6 energy firms that Labour created at last feel the heat of competition.

The truth about Ukip’s immigration billboards

Ukip have published billboards designed to scare people about the impact that being in Europe has on immigration.

The Liberal Democrats believe that it is right to tackle concerns about immigration, but spreading fear and bogus claims is not the answer.

Instead, we are working to deliver better immigration checks and more job opportunities. That’s why we have created 1.6 million apprenticeships, helping young people in Britain find work.

We believe it’s time to tell the truth about immigration.

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Vince Cable to crack down on “rogue” directors
Published on Liberal Democrat Voice
By  |
Mon 21st April 2014 – 9:28 am

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Vince Cable has rogue directors in his sights, announcing plans to stop people who are convicted of commercial crime overseas from being directors of British companies.

The BBC reports:

The business secretary said dishonest directors could cause “huge” harm.

UK criminals can already be banned as directors, and Mr Cable wants the same for those committed overseas.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said the measures are due to be tabled in the Parliamentary session which ends in spring 2015.

They would mean “stronger deterrents” and “more robust sanctions” for the “rogue minority”.

Vince said:

These measures will protect the British economy and our reputation as a good and fair place to do business by banning directors who have already been convicted of offences overseas from running British companies,” he said.

Rogue directors can cause a huge amount of harm in terms of large financial losses, unnecessary redundancies and lifelong investments going down the drain.

These measures come after the very busy BIS department has cracked down on payday lenders, increased consumer rights and attempted to tackle high executive pay.

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Indiscriminate and insensitive overuse of benefit sanctions needs to be tackled by Liberal Democrat ministers
Published on Liberal Democrat Voice
Mon 21st April 2014 – 4:02 pm

Benefits-welfare

I came across this article about some of the circumstances which had led to sanctions being imposed on benefit claimants. Everything in the article is sourced, but I also take it seriously because it resonates with real life examples that I have heard about.

The coalition has dramatically increased the scale of withdrawal of benefit for infringing rules. A claimant can be sanctioned for not apparently looking hard enough for work, for not attending job centre interviews or for turning down job offers. The minimum period you can lose your benefit for is 4 weeks. You get nothing for a month if you are a few minutes late for an appointment at the job centre. Surely that is disproportionate. It’s a very all or nothing approach – the smallest sanction that can be applied is losing all your money for a month. How does that help encourage effective job search. It’s not easy to perform well at an interview if you are hungry. Bear in mind, also, that the maximum help you can get from a food bank is 3 days’ worth of food, 3 times a year.

So, here are some examples from the article of how these penalties are imposed:

You get a job interview. It’s at the same time as your job centre appointment, so you reschedule the job centre. You attend your rearranged appointment and then get a letter saying your benefits will be stopped because going to a job interview isn’t a good enough reason to miss an appointment.

You’ve signed in on time, been to interviews and applied for work. Your job centre advisor suggests you make a two-line change to your CV, which you do, but fail to give the updated CV to the job centre (you weren’t told you had to). You are sanctioned for four weeks.

You are forced to retire due to a heart condition, and you claim Employment and Support Allowance. During your assessment you have a heart attack. You are sanctioned for not completing your assessment.

You miss your job centre appointment as it clashes with your work programme interview. You get sanctioned.

Have a look at some of the rest. Some of them are clearly unreasonable. When I shared this on Facebook, a friend of mine posted their own example which I’m reproducing with their permission:

My daughter who has learning difficulties phoned her training provider to say she had no money for her bus fares which cost £7.50 as we had gone out for the day and she couldn’t borrow it from anyone else. She was sanctioned for four weeks. That four weeks we had to pay for all her expenses and food being OAP’s we can’t afford to do this.

These people live in a small village so please don’t suggest that it might have been possible for her to walk several miles on a road with no pavement to the placement in the nearest town. Also bear in mind that with the bus fares at £7.50 per day, that’s over half her JSA of £72.

The fact that over half of sanctions are overturned on appeal is proof that the wrong decisions are being made too often. The knock-on effect is unnecessary stress and time wasted on preparing an appeal that could be used to apply for jobs, but that’s beside the point. We shouldn’t be treating people in a clearly inhumane way. How can anybody have confidence in a system that is so clearly being abused. Of course some sort of sanctions regime is necessary, but it needs to be used with sensitivity and fairness.

In fairness to the DWP, if you read their Decision Maker’s Guidance on sanctions, it is actually quite reasonable. It’s hard to imagine that anybody who’s read it would have imposed a sanction in any of the cases outlined above. The problem, therefore, lies with inflexible and insensitive implantation. DWP staff on the ground are exercising poor judgment. It’s surely time for these decisions to be analysed and if they fall short of being reasonable, then disciplinary action needs to be taken on the staff and managers responsible.

If someone is sanctioned and they feel it is unfair they should do the following:

1) Ask for a full statement of the reasons for the sanction being applied and ask for the decision to be reconsidered.

2) If that doesn’t have it lifted, appeal. Go to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau for help.

3) Claim a hardship payment. There is some anecdotal evidence that claimants are being told by the job centre staff that they cannot do so but they can. They’ll still have to wait two weeks for it, though.

4) Tell their MP. They need to have real world examples of the flaws so that they can put pressure on ministers to do something.

The Citizens’ Advice Bureau website has more information.

And it’s important that this is sorted soon. In February Inside Housing reported that the DWP will sanction those in part time work for not looking hard enough for full time work. Private sector landlords are already worried about offering tenancies to people on benefits when the Universal Credit comes in and the Housing Benefit is paid directly to the tenant. The last thing we need is for there to be fewer homes available for the poorest.

However, when the Universal Credit is fully implemented, the sanctions regime will become more flexible. The pressing question is why wait for that to happen? Why not make those changes now? The Citizens’ Advice Bureau called for precisely that last week, saying:

People need a system that can take into account their situation, set suitable work search requirements and where necessary apply sanctions at a level that won’t limit their chances of employment.  Whilst it is vital that people receiving taxpayers’ support do their utmost to find work, the model needs to work and not make it harder for claimants to find a job.

To date, Work Programme contractors have been responsible for twice as many sanctions on the people referred to them as they have successfully helped people find work. Combined with Citizens Advice’s latest figures this paints the strongest picture yet that the system is not working as it should.

I would expect Liberal Democrat ministers within the coalition to be making these points clearly and arguing for change. The current situation is causing misery and costing money.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron’s Musings

Energy switching times to halve by end of year says Ed Davey

Switching energy supplier is set to become much quicker, with energy companies confirming they are committed to slashing switching times by 50 per cent by the end of the year. This will reduce the time it takes to switch energy supplier from five weeks to around two and a half weeks.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey challenged energy suppliers back in October 2013 to reduce switching times dramatically, as part of the Government’s work to help energy customers get the benefits of increased competition, and called on the industry to work collaboratively to bring about major change as soon as possible. This is the first key result from that work.

Ed Davey said:

“Faster switching is the latest in the many steps we’ve taken to improve the poorly performing energy markets we inherited from Ed Miliband in 2010. With more suppliers, simpler bills and less complex tariffs than in 2010, switching can now save some people hundreds of pounds off their energy bills. So we wanted to make it faster to switch, as well as easier, and now we know we can.

“I’m pleased the industry has responded to my challenge and will now cut in half the time it takes to switch energy supplier. Delivering this by the end of this year is a challenge in itself but with the technical code changes with Ofgem for final approval, firms now have the time to change their IT systems and I’m reassured they can manage the remaining practical issues.

“While it’s great news we are making energy switching twice as fast, my long term ambition remains to get to 24 hour switching. Our ambitious programme to roll out 53 million smart meters by the end of this decade can unlock this and next month Ofgem will consult on the most effective and quickest ways to introduce next day switching.

“But I would urge people who want a better deal on their energy bills to switch now – don’t wait for these latest improvements to happen. Over 2 million people switched energy supplier between October last year and March this year, as competition is now hotting up. Some of the new smaller suppliers are cutting prices and forcing bigger players to respond, so check out today’s deals.”

Energy UK, energy companies and relevant industry bodies have now completed the work on proposals to modify electricity and gas codes which will allow faster switching. Switching hub changes are expected in November, with the industry on track to start offering customers faster switching by the end of 2014.

24 hour switching will be supported by the roll-out of Smart Meters, the majority of which are expected to be installed by energy suppliers between 2015 and 2020.

Nick Clegg: Where would you rather live – Great Britain or little England?

The following article was written by the Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg and published yesterday on the Guardian Website.

If you agree that Britain is better off in the EU, make yourself heard now. The Lib Dems can’t win this argument alone

This Easter we find ourselves in the middle of a European election campaign in which the question at the heart of the European debate is finally being addressed: should Britain remain a member of the EU, or is it time to leave?

The isolationists have been allowed to peddle their myths unchallenged for decades. Of all Nigel Farage’s far-fetched claims – and there are many – the most outlandish is the idea that Ukip’s call for an exit is the insurgents’ battle cry. European withdrawal is presented as a great revolutionary promise, held in stark contrast to the status quo upheld by a homogeneous political elite.

What poppycock. For a start, Farage is every bit the professional politician he enthusiastically reviles. He and I were elected to the European parliament on the same day in 1999. I left after five years. The Ukip leader is still there. More important, there is nothing remotely new about his party’s ambitions. Ukip is simply the fresh face of a long-standing Eurosceptic establishment, supported by many in the Tory party and significant parts of the press.

The sceptics’ free run over this debate must now be challenged. On 22 May every gain they make will propel Britain closer to the door. We risk finding ourselves drifting further and further away from our biggest export market, jeopardising our still fragile economic recovery and threatening millions of jobs. At a time when the world’s economic powerhouses are reaching beyond their own borders and working more closely with their neighbours, we will be turning away from ours.

If we end up stumbling out of the EU our police will be denied the cross-border co-operation they enjoy at present – in effect asking them to keep us safe with one hand tied behind their back. At every international summit and on each of the great dilemmas thrown up by globalisation, climate change, trade, global finance, terrorism and organised crime, Britain will be increasingly isolated, its influence diminished in the world.

With such a bleak future now plausible, my party has decided to take on the Eurosceptic establishment directly. The Liberal Democrats are staunch internationalists. We understand that in order to thrive in the 21st century, our nation must continue to work with others. We are pro-European because we are pro-British: we are determined to protect Britain’s traditions of engagement and leadership on the world stage. We are, as you will hear us repeat endlessly over the coming weeks, the nation’s party of in.

For these reasons I challenged Farage to two live TV debates: he leads the party of out. Some have questioned the wisdom of my decision. The snap polls put me behind my opponent, and as a result I have been asked if I regret instigating these debates. The answer is absolutely not. I would meet the Ukip leader in front of the cameras every day between now and polling day if I could.

I understand the urge to simplify events like these into clear winners and losers: straightforward victory and defeat. This is politics at its most gladiatorial, after all. But prior to these debates the case for in was largely absent from the public debate. Twenty years of deliberate inaccuracies and entrenched mistruths are not going to be reversed in two hours. At the end of the day, I don’t believe it’s possible to win an argument unless you are prepared to have it in the first place.

The arguments for in must, of course, be made relevant, and we must also set out a compelling vision for a better EU. We can capture people’s imaginations by asking them to choose the kind of country they want to live in: Great Britain or little England; a society that is proud of its cultural diversity and open to the world, or one that is intolerant, insular and closed. But equally we must speak to their legitimate concerns.

The EU is not perfect: we need more trade and less bureaucracy and red tape. Britain must use its influence to get the EU back to what it’s good at – enabling nations to collaborate on the areas where we each achieve more by working together. Priority number one must be completion of the single market in services and digital industries, boosting high-growth industries and our competitiveness as a whole.

We need to end any unnecessary meddling. For instance, let’s make sure that small firms which don’t export, such as hairdressers and newsagents, are exempt from EU regulation unless there’s a cast-iron reason. And let’s get rid of the ridiculous waste – £150m every year – that comes with sending Farage and all the other MEPs to Strasbourg every month.

By owning the reform agenda we will make the case for staying in even more compelling. It is not true that the sceptics have all the arguments on their side. People intuitively understand the need for safety in numbers in an uncertain world, and remaining open and outward-looking speaks to the values of millions of British people.

What we need is more volume. The Lib Dems have started this debate – but we cannot win it alone. We want to work with others to deliver the firepower needed to challenge the Eurosceptic establishment. If Labour is still a pro-European party, it needs to come off the fence. Tory modernisers must risk the wrath of their backbenchers and speak out. Anyone who agrees that we are better off in – whether that’s businesses, the crime-fighting agencies, progressive voters or people who care about the environment – make yourselves heard. If you are holding back, ask yourself: what are you waiting for? The fight is on. The threat is real. It’s time to pick a side.

Payday lenders set debt-trap for struggling families

With one in four people coming to Citizens Advice with a debt problem, the charity highlights the financial struggles families are facing.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“Payday lenders have set a debt-trap for struggling households.  In the battle to make ends meet people are turning to short-term loans just to get by.  A lack of checks, high interest rates and fees means what is supposed to be a quick fix turns into a long term nightmare.

“It’s not just payday lenders that are preying on the worst off.  Citizens Advice expects up to 60,000 log book loans to be taken out this year – 61% more than in 2011.  The industry brings together the worst of payday lenders and bailiffs with its threatening tactics, high interest rates and failure to check if people can afford to repay loans.

“People need more options for short-term credit.  There is a gaping hole in the market which allowed the boom in payday loans.  The time for a responsible alternative in the form of a micro-loan is long overdue.”

“It is important creditors pay to help people who are in debt.  The FCA levy on consumer creditors should add to money for debt advice via the Money Advice Service, not be used to reduce the amount existing contributors have to give.”

Recent analysis from the charity shows that money worries are affecting those in and out of work.  People who are self-employed are just as likely to seek help from Citizens Advice with a debt problem as those who do not have job.  Just last week the latest employment figures revealed self-employment had hit an all-time high.

One in four of people who come to Citizens Advice for help have a debt problem.

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