Labour suffered further fallout from the Parliamentary expenses scandal today with the news that a second former Labour MP is headed to prison. The recently resigned Barnsley Central MP Eric Illsley was today sentenced to a year in prison for swindling the tax-payer out of £14,500. He will join his former colleague David Chaytor (Labour – Bury North) who was sentenced last month to serve 18 months for fiddling more than £18,000.
Earlier today in Southward Crown Court a third former MP, Jim Devine (Labour – Livingston), was found guilty of swindling £9,000 through the expenses system. He will await sentencing alongside former Conservative Peer Lord Taylor of Warwick who was convicted last month of swindling the House of Lords expenses system of around £11,000.
As Illsley was re-elected in May last year Labour now faces a second by election as a result of corrupt MPs. Barnsley Central should be a safe Labour seat and the ranking is almost identical to Oldham East & Saddleworth. The writ for the by-election has been moved for 3 March.
The full results in Barnsley Central at the last General Election were:
Illsley (Labour) – 17,487 (47.3%)
Wiggin (Lib Dem) – 6,394 (17.3%)
Tempest (Conservative) – 6,388 (17.3%)
Sutton (BNP) – 3,307 (8.9%)
Silver (UKIP) – 1,727 (4.7%)
Wood (Ind) – 732 – 2.0%
Devoy (Ind) – 610 (1.6%)
Robinson (Soc Lab) – 356 (1.0%)
Late last night came the news that Cllr Warren Swaine has resigned as the Lead Cabinet member for Environment and Sustainability on Reading Borough Council. Cllr Kirsten Bayes will take responsibility for his Cabinet portfolio with immediate effect.
This is a great shame as Cllr Swaine was doing a good job as a Cabinet Member. I can confirm that the resignation was for external reasons and nothing to do with relations between the Lib Dems and Conservatives in the Coalition, which remain excellent.
On Saturday night I went to the Hexagon in Reading to see Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s superb musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat” as produced by Bill Kenwright. It is great that Reading continues to attract professional shows of this quality and I was very lucky to get two good tickets.
When the TV show “Any Dream Will Do” was on, I was a big fan and voted for Keith Jack to win. Since Keith has now taken over the Joseph mantle from the eventual winner Lee Mead, I was keen to see him perform. I was not disappointed.
The show has all the well known songs and some fantastic costumes. The show is fantastic fun, combining the story of Joseph with a wide variety of musical styles and some very humorous moments. Keith was great as Joseph and was supported by an excellent cast.
At the end of the show there were reprises of the best known songs and the guys playing Joseph’s eleven brothers came down from the stage and danced and sang amongst the audience, much to the delight of one young lad in the row in front of me. After the show it was great to meet Keith Jack and thank him for having signed my programme in the interval!
The Hexagon staff were all excellent and it was good to catch up with some that I knew when I used to perform on the Hexagon Stage with local theatre groups. Sadly it was the last night for “Joseph” in Reading, otherwise I would have been tempted to go back again.
Conservative 36% (down 2%)
Labour 39% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 11% (down 4%)
This is the first Populus poll this year and shows Labour taking a small lead, with the Lib Dems down 4%. However, the Lib Dem change is merely a catch up on the situation that other polls have been reporting for some time.
For comparison tomorrow’s daily YouGov poll shows Cons 37%, Lab 43% and LD 9%.
Changes shown are compared to the last daily YouGov poll I reported on 30 January.
Back in June last year I was pleased to take the new administration’s Tree Strategy to Full Council. It set out the Council’s aim to improve the appearance of Reading by planting hundreds of new trees and replacing many that have reached the end of their natural lives. In a time when all budgets are under great pressure it is good to be able to report that the tree planting budget has been completely protected. This means that there is £50,000 for tree planting this municipal year and another £50,000 next year.
To support the Tree Strategy the Council has been working with other organisations like “Trees for Cities” to set up a network of tree wardens. These are people who volunteer to monitor local trees, water them and let the Council know of any obvious problems. This scheme has been enthusiastically adopted by many people across the Borough who have been delighted that the Council is placing such a high priority on making the Borough a better place for everyone.
In the last couple of weeks I have joined local people to celebrate new lime trees on the Oxford Road, new cherry trees in Caversham Heights, and today we planted 20 new plane trees along Richfield Avenue. The event was publicised to all Councillors and registered tree wardens but even the organisers were amazed at how many people turned up to help. Both Reading MPs came along to lend their support and I counted 10 Conservative Councillors present. We were not just there for a photo opportunity. I and colleagues rolled up our sleeves and got on with digging holes about 2-3 feet deep and across. Then we had to hammer in the big stakes that would support the tree, before positioning the tree and backfilling the hole. It was quite hard work as the ground was very hard but even some of my older colleagues got stuck in to help digging the hole and shovelling earth.
Planting trees is an undoubted good thing which will leave a serious legacy for future generations. We benefit hugely from the legacy left to us by out Victorian and Edwardian forebears and I am very proud that we are leaving a similar legacy for our successors. It is rare as a politician to be able to point to something tangible that we have done but in this case I feel ownership of the tree that I helped to plant today. In years to come I can point to it and say “I did that!”.
Following news earlier this week that in January manufacturing grew the fastest since records began in 1992, comes the news today that the service sector also rebounded strongly from the down-turn at the end of last year. The service sector reached an eight month high in January.
This is good news for the Government and confirmation of Chancellor George Osborne’s view that the surprise 0.5% fall in the economy during the last quarter was largely attributable to the severe weather at the end of the year. Stripping out the weather effect the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated that the real situation was flat in the last quarter of last year. However, the ONS regularly revises its initial estimates and we will have to wait some months before the true picture of last year becomes clear.
This week’s figures suggest that fears of a “double-dip” recession have been over-played. It is also particularly encouraging to see manufacturing and manufacturing employment growing so strongly. The Chancellor has made it clear that it is his intention to stick to the path of reducing Labour’s deficit and getting the economy back on the right path and this week’s news will be welcome confirmation of his strategy.
There is a debate going on in Parliament at the moment as to whether or not prisoners should be given the right to vote. The urgency of the issue was brought about by the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that the UK was in breach of prisoners human rights by denying all prisoners the vote on a blanket basis. They also noted that the UK Parliament had not expressed a view on the matter for at least 100 years.
Most Conservatives are repelled by the whole concept of law breakers helping to chose law makers but the Government is in a very difficult position. If it ignores the ECHR ruling it opens up the tax payer to large numbers of compensation claims from prisoners. The initial Government compromise was to suggest that only prisoners serving less than four years would get the vote. Many other European countries limit prisoners’ rights in this way. However, it is clear that this compromise will not satisy most Conservative MPs and that is why they will now be given a free vote on matter.
An additional complication is that many Lib Dem’s support prisoners having the right to vote. There is a liberal argument that by allowing prisoners to vote it helps to ensure their continued connection to civil society and aids the transition when they return to the wider community. I am not convinced by that argument. There is widespread coverage in the press today of Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s call for MPs to back prisoners’ right to vote. Yet again Ken is out of touch with public opinion and the rest of his party.
I hope that MPs will vote to reject any plan to extend the privilege of voting to prisoners and stand up to the ECHR. When Parliament has expressed its view that should be the end of the matter!
Reading Borough Council has published the details of all expenditure greater than £500 for 2009/10 and for 2010/11 to date. The publication of expenditure follows the Government’s Transparency Agenda and the announcement requiring every local authority to release such information in the interests of openness and accountability.
Reading Borough Council believes transparency is a key condition and driver for the delivery of Council services. As a public funded organisation, the Council has a duty to the residents that it serves to be transparent in its business operations and outcomes.
The full expenditure data can be found at http://www.reading.gov.uk/councilanddemocracy/transparency and will continue to be updated quarterly. Senior Salary Data can also be accessed by following the link.
Reading Borough Council Leader Andrew Cumpsty said: ‘Residents expect their Councillors to spend their money wisely, on services that matter to them. Through this new initiative, we will ensure openness and honesty, with all our residents being able to see how we are spending their money. Through this new open approach, any resident will be able to see how Council Tax is spent at the touch of a button. This is more openness, honesty and accessibility in Local Government.”
This is a sharp contrast with the approach of the previous Labour administration which seems to have gone out of its way not to let the public know what was going on!