Richard Willis's Blog

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No Third Runway at Heathrow

heathrow2Tonight at the Full Council meeting of Reading Borough Council, Labour Transport Lead Cllr Tony Page will move a motion calling for the environmental aspects of the proposed third runway at Heathrow to be investigated. You can read it on the Agenda here.

Conservatives nationally have led calls for the Government’s third runway plans to be scrapped and alternatives investigated, such as improved high-speed rail links. London Mayor Boris Johnson wants a new airport east of London in the Thames Estuary to be investigated.

I will therefore propose the following amendment to Cllr Page’s motion:

Delete all after “This Council” and insert the following:

1. Is opposed to the proposed third runway at Heathrow airport on the grounds that it will:

i. result in hugely increased noise and pollution for the residents of Reading,

ii. add 222,000 extra flights a year and massively boost Britain’s carbon emissions and

iii. make it virtually impossible for the UK to hit its targets for reducing carbon emissions, which we must do if we are to hold global warming to below 2%

2. Does not believe that maintaining a healthy economy in Reading or the UK is dependent on a third runway and acknowledges that there is an obvious environmentally much sounder alternative in the development of high speed rail.

3. Resolves to,

            i. Join the 2M (Two Million Voices) campaign against Heathrow expansion as many other local authorities, such as Camden, Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead, and Islington have already done.

ii.Ask the Chief Executive write to both Reading MPs and the Secretary of State for Transport to express this Council’s opposition to the third runway.

aircraftIt is important to make clear that I think that Heathrow plays a vital role in the economy of South East England and therefore Reading. However, I share my party’s view that the South East can also do without the increased pollution, noise and traffic congestion that would come from an additional quarter of a million flights at Heathrow.

The answer has to be improved high speed rail links, more efficient use of existing capacity and (in my view) more use of existing excellent regional airports. It is madness to add to the road congestion in and around Heathrow by adding a third runway.

Tonight the Lib Dems will second my amendment and I hope that as a result Reading will join the large list of local authorities who oppose the Government’s plans.

UPDATE: My motion passed with all party support. Despite the Labour Government being behind the third runway, Reading Labour have now decided they had no option other than to oppose it.

March 31, 2009 Posted by | National | 10 Comments

New ComRes Poll – Tories 12% ahead

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There is a new ComRes poll reported tonight for the Independent tomorrow showing the Conservatives lead increasing by just 1%. All changes are within the polling margin of error, so we should be cautious about reading too much into the changes but Labour cannot be happy to be back below 30% once again:

            Conservative          40% (down 1%)

            Labour                       28% (down 2%)

            Lib Dem                    18% (up 1%)              

March 30, 2009 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

Do MPs Deserve a Pay Rise?

commonsSurprisingly, on the day that we read in our newspapers about Jacqui Smith getting taxpayers to pay for her husband to watch pornographic films, comes the news that MPs are to receive a 2.33% pay rise from 1st April. This will raise their salaries from £63,291 to £64,766.

Those MPs who are Ministers will forego the increase in their Ministerial pay as well as their basic MP’s salary. At a time when many people are facing pay cuts or even losing their jobs, this is literally the least MPs could do to share the pain with their constituents.

David Cameron has announced that he will accept no increase to his own salary and that Conservatives would extend the freeze to all Ministers’ salaries in 2010/11. I welcome this and that locally as Councillors in Reading we have already pledged to freeze Councillors allowances for the next year. I think MPs should have done the same.

What do you think?

March 30, 2009 Posted by | National | 4 Comments

The Falklands Are British

falklands-flagOne of the most interesting periods of my life was undoubtedly the six months that I spent on the Falkland Islands in 1994. As a boy I had been captivated by the Falklands Islands when Argentina invaded in April 1982 and I watched the unfolding drama of the task force deploying and subsequently retaking the islands with a growing fascination. For me it was a defining political moment, as it was for Margaret Thatcher’s government and the UK. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the resolve that Mrs Thatcher showed and the fact that the UK was willing to deploy its forces 8,000 miles to oppose and defeat aggression, had a part to play in the fall of the Soviet Union and the spread of liberal democracy across central and eastern Europe.

falklands-mapDuring my time on the islands I took every opportunity to get to know local people and visit many of the places made famous by the 1982 conflict. As well as many trips to Stanley, I also visited Goose Green and Mount Tumbledown, and numerous memorials and cemeteries across the islands. I took the opportunity to spend 3 days on Sea Lion Island, a small island to the south of the main group of islands, which is a nature reserve. While there I got close up to Elephant Seals, various different penguin types and also some rare birds. I spent a day at sea on HMS Dumbarton Castle and watched dolphins swim in front of the prow of the ship as a game. It was a great experience.

stanley-fiI found the islanders to be a friendly and welcoming people. They are mainly of British stock with a small number of Chileans and other nations mixed in. The population in 1994 was only just over 2,000 but has since risen to around 3,000 (For comparison, the ward I represent in Reading has around 7,000 voters and it is one of 15 wards of similar size). For many years they scratched a living from raising sheep and selling the fleece and mutton abroad. Now the Islands are making a very good living from selling licences to fish in the rich South Atlantic waters off the islands. Revenues have surged and there is a more prosperous air to the place. It is ironic that Argentina’s invasion prompted the UK to take the tougher line with Argentina that may have guaranteed the islands future as a British Overseas Territory.

There is also the prospect of oil under the continental shelf, although results have not been as promising as some had predicted. Oil would bring great wealth but also great risks to the natural environment and it may prove a mixed blessing if commercial extraction begins.

In light of all the above the Government was absolutely right to brush off any suggestion from the Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner that the UK should open negotiations on the islands’ future sovereignty. Argentina’s claim is dubious at best and principally rests on historic Spanish claims to the area. Britain has been in continuous occupation of the Falkland Islands since 1833 and the local people have no desire whatsoever to see any change to their status. Argentina’s invasion further set back any likelihood of that opinion changing in the lifetimes of the current islanders.

For as long as the people of the Falkland Islands democratically decide to remain British, that should be their right. Neither the UN nor the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should undermine their status as British subjects. For once I am in complete agreement with Gordon Brown’s words!

UPDATE: For anyone interested in reading a detailed and well researched account of the history of the Falkland Islands and how they came into British hands click here

March 29, 2009 Posted by | International | 211 Comments

Clocks Change Tonight

bstDon’t forget to put your clocks forward tonight.

Tonight at 1am we all have to put our clocks forward one hour to British Summer Time. It will be great to have those longer evenings in the garden and to know that summer is now just a matter of weeks away.

March 28, 2009 Posted by | General Musings | Leave a comment

New ICM Poll – Tories Increase Lead

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There is a new ICM poll reported tonight for tomorrow’s Sunday Telegraph showing a 13% Conservative lead – up 1% from the last Guardian ICM poll. The Lib Dem’s are down 2% which is more consistent with other recent polls:

            Conservative          44% (up 2%)

            Labour                       31% (up 1%)

            Lib Dem                    18% (down 2%)

This would see a healthy Conservative overall majority of 84 seats, according to Martin Baxter’s Electoral Calculus site:

 

            Conservative          367 seats

            Labour                       222 seats

            Lib Dem                    31 seats

March 28, 2009 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

Making Car Tax Easier

dvlaI am something of a cynic about Government online systems and their efficiency but I have just renewed my Car Tax online. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. Previously I had to find my car insurance certificate (usually no easy task), find a Post Office that does tax discs (not all do) and join the inevitably long queue.

This time around I followed the link provided on the renewal reminder to www.direct.gov.uk/taxdisc and followed the five steps. The system automatically checks your insurance details and MOT status, and if that is in order you pay with a debit or credit card and the process is finished. It couldn’t have been easier.

car-taxNow I just have to wait for the disc to come to me in the post. That is where the system could break down but I have taken a print as evidence of payment, so I wait with interest its arrival.

For once a Government agency seems to be providing an effective, user friendly means to interact online and I am impressed.

UPDATE: I am pleased to report that my new tax disc arrived today (Tues 31 Mar), in time to put in my car for the new tax period tomorrow. I remain impressed with the efficiency of the system.

March 28, 2009 Posted by | General Musings | 3 Comments

New YouGov Poll – No Change All Round

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There is a new YouGov poll reported in today’s Daily Telegraph showing the Conservatives continuing to maintain a comfortable 10% lead over Labour:

            Conservative          41% (no change)

            Labour                       31% (no change)

            Lib Dem                    17% (no change)

It is unusual to have no change at all in a monthly series and it will be interesting to see if Gordon Brown gets his much needed bounce from hosting the G20 summit. The augurs are not good!

The only interesting aspect of this poll is the suggestion that the public wants to see public spending in certain areas curtailed. I am not sure that it is news that people want to see less spent on administration.

March 27, 2009 Posted by | Polls | Leave a comment

Monkey Business

I saw this on the “Dizzy Thinks” blog and thought I would share it. It is a superb example of the art of effective and creative advertising.

 

Enjoy!

March 26, 2009 Posted by | General Musings | 1 Comment

Good News for the Royal Navy

rn-ensignThere has been a lot of controversy in recent months over the level of defence spending and whether all of our commitments and current equipment plans are affordable. Despite this, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is pressing on with some very big ticket purchases for the Royal Navy. Just this week, a further £80m of sub-contracts for the two giant aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales were placed.  Around 40% of the value of the build of the two carriers is now committed and full-scale production is proceeding.

hms-queen-eliz-2The carriers, which will be known as the Queen Elizabeth Class, are being constructed by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA) which consists of Thales UK, BAE Systems, BVT Surface Fleet, Babcock and the Ministry of Defence.

The carriers will each weigh 65,000 tonnes, be 280m long and 70m wide. A ship of this size is necessary to deliver the quantity of air power required. They will be capable of 25 knots and will have a total complement (with air group) of approximately 1500 people. Their flight decks will support an air wing capable of delivering significant offensive air power to support the battle ashore for prolonged periods of time and will be capable of carrying the widest possible range of aircraft in support of operations. They will be specifically developed to provide a base for the US/UK partnership designed Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.

hms-queen-elizThey will be truly impressive ships and only the US Navy will have anything bigger or more effective. They will put the Royal Navy back on the maritime map but at a huge cost. In order to afford these mammoth ships the rest of the fleet continues to be pared back. The number of frigates and destroyers is likely to fall below 25. They are the backbone of the fleet and do the donkey work of patrolling the high seas and protecting shipping and British interests across the world. They are also necessary to provide defence for the highly vulnerable aircraft carriers. At the time of the Falklands War in 1982 the Royal Navy could muster over 60 frigates and destroyers.

As well as the further orders to build the carriers the MoD this week announced the laying of the keel of nuclear-powered submarine HMS Audacious. The number of subs has also been cut back from about 30 at the time of the Falklands War to 10 now (I am not counting the Trident missile boats). However Audacious, which is the fourth boat in the “Astute” class is an impressive piece of kit.

hms-astute

 

 

Weighing in at over seven thousand tonnes, Audacious – which is currently under construction by BAE Systems Submarine Solutions at Barrow-in-Furness – will join sister boats Astute, Ambush and Artful to become a cornerstone of UK defence capability. Astute-class submarines will displace 7,400 tonnes dived and are 97 metres long.  Capable of circumnavigating the globe in a single 90 day patrol without resurfacing, they will have six weapons tubes and massively increased firepower (including Tomahawk cruise missiles) compared with earlier attack submarines.

It is great to see these orders being placed but the MoD is facing a cash flow crisis. It simply cannot afford all of the programmes it has on the books. Unfortunately it is likely that some programmes will be delayed and trimmed in order to balance the books in the short term but a full-scale defence review after the next General Election is probably unavoidable. Without a big increase in defence spending the sums simply don’t add up.

March 25, 2009 Posted by | Defence | 9 Comments

Gordon Gets a Kicking

brown-4I posted yesterday about the dire economic situation that Gordon Brown has led us into and the Government’s cluelessness in dealing with the crisis. Today in the European Parliament South East Region Conservative MEP Dan Hannan publicly ripped Gordon Brown’s economic arguments to shreds in a far more eloquent way than I could ever manage.

Do watch this clip right through. It is wonderful to think that Gordon Brown had to just sit there and take it.

 

I take my hat off to Dan Hannan. It was a fantastic speech and some of our Westminster politicians could take a lesson or two from Dan. It will be a pleasure to vote for him once again this June!

UPDATE: The video clip above has had tens of thousands of viewings despite being completed ignored by the mainstream media who only covered Gordon Brown’s turgid speech. In a demonstration of the power of the new media the clip of Dan’s speech has cropped up on blogs around the world and become a top hit.

Dan has now blogged about it and the Telegraph is running a story on it tomorrow.

March 24, 2009 Posted by | National | 13 Comments

Traffic Management Advisory Panel Meeting

rbc-hex1Tonight I attended two meetings at the Council; the Traffic Management Advisory Panel (TMAP) followed by the Discretionary Parking Permits Appeals Panel. The latter, thankfully, was very short with only two appeals to consider.

You can read the TMAP Agenda and the background reports here. However, I will summarise the decisions taken:

  1. Minutes of Last Meeting – Agreed
  2. Filey Road Petition – the petition was noted. Several panel members (including me) expressed sympathy for the residents’ plight. However, I think it was generally accepted that it would be wrong to look at Filey Road in isolation. The whole of Newtown’s parking arrangements should be considered as a whole, as action in one street would have a direct impact on another. It was agreed that there should be a further report at the next meeting of the Panel considering Residents’ Parking across Newtown.
  3. Experimental Changes in Hours of Pedestrian Zone in Forbury and Market Place – The Chief Exec of Reading Transport spoke and pointed out that this scheme had had a hugely beneficial impact on bus movements through the town centre. The panel considered the objections and decided to make the experimental order permanent.
  4. Cradock Road Waiting Restrictions – it was agreed that officers should advertise the proposed waiting restrictions in this light industrial road in South Reading.
  5. Gravel Hill – the proposal was an experimental closure of Gravel Hill (Thames Ward) at the junction with Kidmore Road. Access would remain for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders. This was due to the considerable damage being done to Gravel Hill, which is an unmade up road, by excessive vehicular traffic. The road is narrow and rural in character and cannot cope with increased vehicle numbers. The option was to close for 6 to 18 months and assess any objections. I proposed that the closure be six months with a report back at the end of the period. This was agreed.
  6. Highway Maintenance Programme 2009/10 – the programme as detailed in the report was noted.
  7. Network Management Update – this report dealt with significant road works planned for Three Tuns Crossroad, Cemetery Junction and St Mary’s Butts. The works are essential works by Southern Gas to replace old cast iron mains pipes and Scottish and Southern Energy to lay a new high voltage cable. I requested assurances that other utilities had been contacted to see if they planned any works that could be co-ordinated with those in the report. I was assured that this had been done and that the disruption caused by these works would not be quickly followed by other utilities needing to carry out works in the same areas. The report was noted.
  8. Road Safety Status Report and Work Programme 2009/10 – a series of minor works were proposed to improve safety on roads in south and west Reading. Most of the works are on Northumberland Avenue (Whitley and Church wards) following a study on the high number of “slight” accidents occurring there. The work programme was approved for consultation with residents and ward Councillors.
  9. Traffic Management Act 2004: Immobilisation and Lifting of Vehicles – the panel received a report highlighting the problem in dealing with a small number of (mainly foreign) vehicle owners who park illegally and ignore Penalty Charge Notices. At present it is very hard for the Council to take effective action against such people, as for the first 6 months of being in the UK foreign drivers do not have to register with the DVLA. Under the Traffic Management Act 2004 the Council can in exceptional circumstances immobilise or remove vehicles. The panel agreed to recommend to Cabinet that a one year trial of these powers be undertaken.
  10. Cycling Strategy Progress and 2009/10 Action Plan – I spoke to welcome progress on implementation of the Cycling Strategy over the last few months and noted that the Council was well ahead of where it was 12 months ago. The panel agreed to recommend to Cabinet that the actions recommended in the report, such as improved (and linked) cycle lanes and branded signage be further pursued.
  11. Cycling Liaison Group Meeting Notes – the meeting notes of the 14 January meeting of the Cycling Liaison Group were noted. However, Keith Elliott of Reading Cycle Campaign pointed out that Cycle Audits were not being implemented across all transport schemes as recommended by the Department for Transport. I proposed that this be brought as a specific agenda item at the next liaison group meeting on 16 April. It was agreed.

We then reconvened without the press and public for the Discretionary Parking Appeals Panel. The matters under discussion are confidential as they relate to individual members of the public’s appeals, so I can only say that two cases were considered.

All in all it was another busy evening.

March 24, 2009 Posted by | Local | Leave a comment

A Dire Economic Inheritance

debtA couple of people have messaged me to ask for my thoughts on the economic situation, taxation and the weekend Inheritance Tax row. I have already posted previously on the economic situation but it seems to be constantly deteriorating and the Government continues to thrash around with no real idea what to do. In the mean time Labour are building up a debt burden unprecedented in peacetime or war. I was reading today that the budget deficit could reach as much as £180bn or 12% of GDP next year. The total burden of debt will continue to rapidly escalate after that as the shortfalls in taxation receipts and the increased expenditure on benefits payments resulting from soaring unemployment, combine in a toxic combination.

 

The Government’s solution has been to cut VAT, pour money into the banking system to prop up banks, and to effectively print money. Each of those measures in my view is wrong headed. The VAT cut was a complete waste of money, coming at a time of up to “75% off” sales in shops and in some cases was not even passed on to consumers. For example, my monthly bill from Virgin Media has not changed despite the VAT cut and the bill saying that “VAT is applied at the correct rate”.

 

Pouring money into the banks was like pouring money into a bucket riddled with holes. A lot of the banks’ bad debts are overseas and therefore a large amount of the money has leaked abroad. Far better in my view to have allowed one or more of the big banks to have gone bust, whilst providing a comprehensive deposit guarantee scheme for British-based personal and business depositors. This would certainly have been very much cheaper than the banking bail-outs so far.

 

Let us also not forget that the Lloyds / HBOS merger was dreamed up in Downing Street; something that the Government was keen to trumpet when it looked like the merger would save HBOS. Now that HBOS is a mill-stone around Lloyds’ neck, they would like us to forget that fact.

 

Printing money (or “quantitive easing”) is also the last refuge of a collapsing economy. It is the kind of measure adopted by Weimar Germany or Zimbabwe. I remain of the view that this policy is storing up inflationary pressures which will be very difficult and painful to address, once the immediate problem of deflation has passed.

 

In the light of all this, what could the Government have done? This is summarised very effectively on the Conservative.com Economic policy page. I suggest that those people who say that the Conservative party has no polices or would do nothing, read the policy document that is linked at the bottom of the page. These are the policies that would really get the economy moving again and at a fraction of the cost of the failed Brown/Darling measures.

 

With regards to Inheritance Tax, there is no doubt that Ken Clarke spoke slightly “off message” at the weekend. The raising of Inheritance Tax thresholds so that only millionaires pay the tax is a pledge not an aspiration and the Conservative Party has immediately clarified that once again. In a way the policy is less important now that house prices have fallen from their peak and the Government has made its own pledge to increase the threshold to £700k from 2010. However, a promise is a promise and I think that ironically the Conservative Party will benefit from the slight confusion resulting from Ken’s comments. Firstly, because it reminds people that Ken Clarke is back in the Shadow Cabinet and secondly because it will remind people that it was a Conservative promise that estates under £1m would be taken out of this hated tax.

 

The next Government is going to face a monumental task getting the public finances back into shape. Yet again it is likely that a Conservative Government will have to clear up an economic mess left by Labour. Public expenditure will come under intense scrutiny and taxes in general will have to rise, initially at least, just to balance the books. However, as the economy recovers the Government will see its revenues increase again and it will be able to sell off the public stake in the banking sector. Done in tranches in a growing economy this should raise considerable revenue, just as the privatisations of the 1980’s did.

 

I hope that a Conservative Government will simplify the tax system after 11 years of it becoming more and more complicated. It should prove possible to close tax loopholes and remove complicated reliefs while cutting headline rates of tax and offering targeted tax cuts in some areas. At the same time I would raise tax on some things like tobacco, alcohol and non-recyclable goods.

 

We have to accept that overall taxes are likely to have to rise in the early years of a Conservative Government but our aim should be to greatly simplify the tax system and make the UK a premium destination for overseas investment. This should go hand in hand with improved over-sight of the financial sector and at least a partial reversal of Gordon Brown’s changes to the regulation of the financial services sector.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | National | 5 Comments

Out and About in Peppard Ward

door-knocking1Sorry about the lack of posting this morning. I had problems uploading items to the blog!

 

This weekend I joined a team to do some door knocking in my own ward. This was the first time I personally had been door knocking this year, although other colleagues have been out around Reading for the last few weeks. We got a very positive reception from most people, who seemed pleased to see us around when there was not an election on.

 

As might be expected, I picked up a few issues that I will take up with the Council on behalf of local residents. What was less expected was the number of people volunteering the news that they would be voting Conservative. Until a few years ago my ward was a Lib Dem strong hold but they have faded away in the last few years as they lost their Council foothold there. Interestingly, of the people I spoke to (admittedly a small sample) the number of stated Labour supporters outnumbered Lib Dems.

 

There was some real anger at the economic situation and at yet another increase in Council Tax amongst a number but generally people were content, with no particular issues to raise.

 

I look forward to the next session.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | Local | 5 Comments

New Populus Poll of Unite Union Members

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There is a new Populus poll of Unite union members for tomorrow’s Sunday Times.

At the last General Election Labour had a 25% lead over the Conservatives of Unite members intending to vote, now that is just 3%:

            Conservative          31%

            Labour                       34%

            Lib Dem                    19%

Unite is Britain’s biggest union, is affiliated to Labour and provides a large amount of its funding. 61% of members polled described David Cameron as “strong” compared to only 49% for Gordon Brown. 51% thought a Conservative government would be “good for them and their families” compared to 49% for Labour under Brown.

 

This is quite a remarkable poll and again underlines the depths to which Labour has fallen in recent times. It also suggests that David Cameron is making real inroads into sectors of the population that until recently would never have considered voting Conservative.

March 21, 2009 Posted by | Polls | 1 Comment