5 Key Questions: Federica Smith to the Worcester News

Here, the Lib Dem PPC for Worcester Federica Smith answers 5 key questions put to her by readers of the Worcester News:

How do we solve the city’s congestion problems?

I am surprised that, with the population of the city and with it being served by two motorway junctions and various main roads (including bus lanes) running through it, the city currently has no large-scale park and ride scheme in operation.

In order to change people’s habit and lifestyle, public transport needs to be accessible, including in financial terms, and operate seven days a week for long hours with commuters being able to park out of town.

Congestion is also apparent during the school run, so improved and subsidised transport to schools could also assist in alleviating the problem.

Reopening of the Perdiswell Park and Ride scheme would look to alleviate the commuter and visitor-caused congestion, though other initiatives need to be implemented, including better cycle routes and cycle storage facilities to allow a sustainable alternative.

What is your biggest concern for Worcester?

The biggest concern that I see for Worcester is the large- scale developments planned without the necessary infrastructure to support them.

By implementing mass housing development without holistically looking at the whole picture and the impact that this has on services (traffic, schools, healthcare services, etc), this development will have a detrimental impact on the current residents.

While housing will increase the population and look to grow the local economy, and while bearing in mind that there are areas for commercial development within the plan, one must be wary that the city does not become sedentary and just a commuter development for other cities, e.g. Bristol, Birmingham.

The city should be proud of its heritage and what its individual selling point is.

It should attract business to the area so that jobs are created in the city, and it should develop the high street so that it has a unique selling point with a mixture of national retail and independent shops.

All this would allow the city to thrive.

Is the answer to Worcestershire Royal Hospital’s challenges an upgrade of A&E?

The staff at A&E are doing the best job that they can do in a building that was never designed to see the number of patients that are currently using the facilities.

An upgrade of A&E is only part of the answer, but would help to alleviate the strains that are currently being faced.

However, this needs to go hand in hand with other healthcare initiatives around the city and surrounding region.

Investments in GP surgeries, so more unsocial hours are covered so that individuals can see their GP for minor ailments, and minor injuries facilities in locations throughout the city would both assist in helping to tackle the challenges.

Is it worth campaigning over Worcester’s Northern Link Road?

The development of the Northern Link Road is estimated to cost more than £100 million and it has to be considered whether the cost of implementing such a scheme would alleviate the problems of congestion and would it be the best use of such a large sum of money.

For this reason, I support the current emphasis on improving the southern bypass first.

A Northern Link Road would impact many people’s lives, cutting through large swathes of land, altering the countryside surrounding the city and having an impact on the environment.

All of this would, of course, need to be weighed up against what it is ultimately trying to achieve.

Is there – and should there be – an alternative to the South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP)?

Any development plan will have contentious issues in it for the residents directly affected.

However, a plan needs to be in place so developers are not completely left to their own control and not allowed to build just anywhere, and so that the growth of the city is managed from a bird’s eye view, with infrastructure put in place to support it.

Article taken from Worcester News

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Martin Lewis (Money Saving Expert) – Labour’s Financially Illiterate Tuition Fees Policy

Interesting article by Martin Lewis on his blog from moneysavingexpert.com about Labour’s proposed tuition fee cut from £9,000 to £6,000. He highlights that it will only help well paid graduates, not those on low pay whilst costing millions pounds in the process. 

It also highlights that all is not perfect with the current system. Although it was a step in the right direction what is actually needed is a progressive graduate tax which ensures vast amounts of student loans. loaned out by the government, are not written off.

Labour has long touted that it may cut English tuition fees to £6,000 if elected. Today university chiefs wrote a letter about the proposal that made the front pages, saying that they’d struggle to survive on such a drop of income. Yet as I explained a year ago when it was first mooted, the biggest problem with cutting tuition fees is that it helps exactly the wrong people – only affluent graduates will gain.

This all stems from an illiteracy about how student finance works. People worry about “how much I borrow” whereas what really counts instead is “how much I repay”, and changing the level of tuition fees doesn’t do much to change that. So I wanted to bash out a blog to explain.

PS: Before anyone thinks I’m taking a political side, that isn’t it, only a few weeks ago I attacked the Government for its student finance policy.

How much will you repay?

The amount that you pay on tuition fees isn’t dictated purely by what tuition fees are set at but more by what you earn after you leave university.

After leaving, students repay 9% of everything they earn above a £21,000 a year threshold. And this threshold is set to rise with average earnings from 2017 (see my‘don’t change the threshold blog’ for more on that).

A graduate would then continue to repay until they had cleared what they had borrowed plus interest, or until 30 years had elapsed since the April after they graduated – whichever comes first (for a more detailed explanation see my 20 student loan mythbusters guide).

In practice, of the graduates who earn enough to repay – which is most of them – all but the highest-earning after university will be repaying for the whole of the 30 years.

Reduce tuition fees to £6,000 and only high earners gain

So let’s examine the real impact of this policy. The only people who would gain from it are those who would clear their entire loan for tuition fees plus any loans for living costs, plus the interest, within the 30 years. To do this you’d need to be a high earner.

To see the exact amount, go to my student finance calculator and play about with different scenarios – watching the impact of reducing tuition fees. It shows that only those with a STARTING SALARY of at least £35,000 – and then rising by above inflation each year after – would pay less if you cut tuition fees (we have assumed the student also takes out £5,555 in maintenance loans per year).

That’s a very high amount, mainly only City law firms, accountancy firms and investment banks pay that much as starting salaries. Is that really who Labour wants to target with this plan? Worse still, by cutting tuition fees it will reduce the bursaries that universities can give to attract poor students.

Thus, while it seems counter logical, cutting tuition fees this way risks being a regressive rather than a progressive policy – in other words it benefits those with more rather than those with less. I suspect if any other party had a policy which in tabloid terms meant “student from poor backgrounds would subsidise City Bankers” – Labour would be up in arms.

NB. The student finance calculator makes some assumptions over future rates of inflation and average earnings growth, changing those changes the answers – which the calculator allows you to do. Yet I’m using some pretty standard assumptions here.

There is a psychological gain to cutting tuition fees

The one positive of this plan is that cutting tuition fees is likely to reduce fear among those who don’t understand the system. Yet instead of spending billions to do this, why not spend £100 million on financial education for potential students and their parents to fight unfounded fears?

This is something I did with the Independent Taskforce for Student Finance Information, which I chaired, and we achieved fantastic results explaining the system with less than £100,000, never mind £100 million.

If I were in charge I’d up the repayment threshold and change the name

Much of this whole issue centres around the confusion over who is “rich”. Who is more/less deserving of help: a student from a wealthy background with a low income after university, or a student from a poor background with a high income after university?

We should ensure those from non-traditional university backgrounds aren’t unnecessarily put off university by the fear of debt. Yet we shouldn’t be doing that by pumping in extra cash to hugely affluent graduates.

If you want a more progressive system – and to stop the marketisation of universities (ie, different courses, different prices) – then make them all £9,000 but increase the repayment threshold, for example to 12% of everything earned above £30,000 (that’s a rough example, not a fully worked figure). Though of course that’d cost the Exchequer billions too…

And just as importantly to fight off fear – change the name! Student loans are as much a tax as a loan, in fact they’re somewhere between the two, and as I’ve said before (see student loans aren’t a debt – change the name to avoid a national tragedy), calling it a graduate contribution would both be more accurate and promote better understanding.

Labour isn’t the only one who gets this wrong

Labour isn’t the first one to be financially illiterate over the tuition fee issue. The Coalition itself did it when it set up the new 2012 system. Not just because it fundamentally miscalculated how much people would repay, but also because it allowed universities to offer some poorer students a choice between a fee waiver and cash as a bursary.

Yet, for the same reasons as above, a fee waiver did little to help, only very high earning graduates afterwards would have gained from it, so in truth I was out there shouting vociferously: “Make sure you take the cash.”

Below is a link to Martin’s blog:

http://blog.moneysavingexpert.com/2015/02/02/labours-plan-to-cut-tuition-fees-to-6000-is-a-financially-illiterate-policy/

For more on the Worcester Lib Dems follow us on twitter @worcesterlibs

Danny Alexander on the Economy – Lib Dem Spring Conference 2015

Below is Danny Alexander’s message on the Liberal Democrat record of achievement on the economy and what is to come if still in power in the next parliament. He was speaking at the 2015 Spring Conference in Liverpool. 

He asserts that the Liberal Democrats will borrow less than Labour, who will harm the economic progress made over the last 5 years, and cut less than the Conservatives, who want to cut state spending to a level last seen in the 1930s – before we had the NHS! This policy of moderation is the only way to create a stronger economy and a fairer society for all.

For more information on the Worcester Liberal Democrats follow us on twitter @worcesterlibs

The War on Drugs Isn’t Working

The so-called ‘war on drugs’ is failing. Everyone knows it – but now, change is happening.

In a joint speech with Virgin tycoon Richard Branson, a drug reform campaigner, Clegg said that the current system was ‘idiotic’ and that the UK seemed ‘oblivious’ to the ‘tectonic shift’ in attitudes to drugs.

“If this was your child and you found those drugs would you go to a doctor or police officer to help them? I think nearly all of us would call the health expert. And, in the same way, I just don’t think it is right for us as a society to write off these young people who haven’t hurt anyone else, just made the wrong choice, so early. We need to put an end to this ludicrous situation. Our focus should be on getting them the help they need, not punishment, so they can go on to realise their ambitions and make a positive contribution to society”

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to end jailing people for possessing small amounts of drugs for personal use as young people should not be penalised in later life with a criminal record.

The Prime Minister David Cameron insists the current policy is working saying that number of people being prosecuted has been going down. He doesn’t recognise the millions being made by drug barons on the illegal market and the unnecessary harm a criminal record for something so small can cause.

If you want to see a change in drug law after the next election, vote Liberal Democrat on May 7th

For more information on the Liberal Democrats both locally and nationally follow us on Twitter @worcesterlibs.

Liberal Democrats Manifesto 2015 – 5 Pledges

Manifesto-Cover-2015.jpg

Prosperity for all 

Creating a stronger economy is about more than just clearing the deficit that’s why we will balance the budget fairly and invest in building a high skill low carbon economy. To build a strong, green, innovative economy we need to invest in upgrading our national infrastructure and producing the clean renewable energy that will power our future prosperity.

Fair taxes 

Creating a fairer society by cutting income tax by an additional £400 by raising the tax-free allowance to £12,500.

Quality healthcare for all

Creating a fairer society by properly funding our world class public services by investing in them as the economy grows. This means making sure the NHS has the extra £8bn a year it needs by 2020. Ending the stigma around mental health and putting it on equal footing with physical is vital to building a fairer society.

Opportunity for every child

Protecting the education budget from cradle to college, so that every child and young person has the opportunity to fulfill their potential, from nursery school to higher education. Giving children the best start in life by making sure there is a qualified teacher in every class.

Our environment protected

Protecting the environment so that future generations are not left paying for the mistakes of the generations before them. Fighting climate change with five Green Laws.

Taken from http://www.libdems.org.uk 

For more info on the party locally and nationally follow us on twitter @worcesterlibs

The Gove Files : Why Britain needs a Liberal Influence in Government

The changes Michael Gove made to education during his four years as education secretary (2010-2014) will go down as the most catastrophic in recent times. Gove’s well publicised agenda of academies, free schools with unqualified teachers, and exam reform which encouraged the re-introduction of a ‘success or failure’ culture, have been deplored by teachers and those in the education industry.

The Gove Files – released by the Liberal Democarts yesterday (2nd Feb 15), highlight the policies of his which were stopped and the policies we have managed to implement despite him.

David Cameron’s announcement on education further highlights how the Conservatives can’t be trusted with our schools. He pledged that no further cuts will be made and the budget maintained. However, it is not set to rise with inflation, meaning that in real terms it will have reduced. Cameron’s attempts to mislead the public were foiled, as BBC political editor, Nick Robinson forced him to admit it during a press conference on the issue.

The Liberal Democrats have saved the system from being transformed for the worse during the current Parliament. The following have been implemented, despite Gove’s vocal opposition :

1) The Pupil Premium – A £2.5billion a year policy to help raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and close the gap between them and their peers.

2) Universal Free School Meals – All children in Key Stage 1 (Reception – Year 2) are now entitled to hot, healthy free school meal.

3) Duty for Schools to Provide Career’s Advice – Enabling young people to be more prepared for the world of work after they leave formal education.

Without the Liberal Democrats none of this would have taken place. Gove instead wanted to do the following:

1. Have profit-making free schools
2. Bring back the old O-level and CSE divide
3. Cut new nursery buildings
4. Rewrite history in the national curriculum
5. Axe climate change from national curriculum
6. Change the Early Years Ratio
7. Axe speaking and listening and human rights from the national curriculum
8. Politicise Ofsted

All of these were successfully blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

All the above examples highlight the incompetence of the Conservatives on education and show how the Liberal Democrats have fought tirelessly to ensure young people from all backgrounds have more equal opportunities.

The the full ‘Gove Files’ click on the link below.

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/7474/attachments/original/1422868675/Gove_Files_-_How_the_Lib_Dems_improved_education.pdf?1422868675

Danny Alexander on the Conservatives Planned ‘Destruction of Public Services’

During the coalition, the Liberal Democrats have been accused of being similar to the Conservatives. The following article, published in the Independent on the 24th December 2014, shows how this is not the case and that the coalition was one largely built on compromise rather than similar ideology. Mr Alexander is portraying the party as centrist, one more responsible than a Labour government who would overspend and stifle the economic recovery, but fairer than a Conservative government, obsessed with the ideological belief in a small state and public service cuts. If you disagree with both of these and want a choice based on fairness and realism, then the Liberal Democrats are for you!

George Osborne has been accused by his Liberal Democrat deputy of planning the “wilful destruction” of key public services if the Conservatives win next May’s general election.

Danny Alexander, a loyal ally of the Chancellor since the Coalition was formed in 2010, said Mr Osborne would make £60bn of unnecessary cuts by 2020. Claiming that his Treasury boss wants to “shrink the state”, he warned that even deeper cuts would be needed to deliver the Tories’ planned “unfunded” £7.2bn income tax reduction.

In an interview with The Independent, the Chief Treasury Secretary said: “The Tory agenda to keep reducing public spending beyond what is necessary would result in the wilful destruction of important parts of our public services. That is not appropriate or right for this country.

“People are prepared to go along with deficit reduction when they see it is necessary. When you are past that point, to where it is an ideological choice, people don’t agree with that.”

The Lib Dems support clearing the deficit on day-to-day spending on services by 2017-18 but, unlike the Tories, would meet 20 per cent through tax rises on the wealthiest.

Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in his office Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in his office (Justin Sutcliffe)
Mr Alexander said: “When you go beyond that, you have to start looking at things that to my mind are just wrong.”

He warned that the schools budget, provision for 16-19 year-olds, nursery education, and the pupil premium for children from low income families would all be at risk under Tory plans. In contrast, the front page of the Lib Dem manifesto next May would pledge to protect such spending.

He criticised Mr Osborne for ruling out any tax rises while proposing more welfare cuts.

“I find it very difficult to see how you find £12bn of savings focusing purely on working-age benefits. Having looked at it hard, I just don’t see how that is possible whilst maintaining a degree of fairness and a proper safety net,” he said.

If the Lib Dems were still in power, they would veto Iain Duncan Smith’s plan to limit child benefit to the first two children.

“A two-child policy on child benefit is just not on our agenda. I just don’t think it is right to say we are going to have some sort of limit on family numbers,” Mr Alexander said.

On the proposed £7.2bn of tax cuts, he said: “The Tories are playing fast and loose with the economy and frankly with their own credibility. It is not affordable or achievable, especially as they said they do not want any tax rises. Presumably to shrink the state, they would also have to make further spending cuts needed to pay for their tax cuts. I don’t think it adds up.”

His strongest-ever criticism of the Chancellor will raise the eyebrows of some Lib Dem activists, who worry that Mr Alexander has been seen as too close to Mr Osborne as he wielded the axe.

George Osborne and Danny Alexander, taking in a game of cricket last year George Osborne and Danny Alexander, taking in a game of cricket last year (Getty)
Mr Alexander insisted his relationship with Mr Osborne is “absolutely fine”. But using the past tense, he added: “George and I have worked effectively together in the Treasury to get on with the job of sorting out the economy. That is what both of us came into the Treasury to do, whilst recognising and understanding there are big political differences that cause arguments about policy.”

A strong supporter of Britain’s EU membership, Mr Alexander criticised Tory ministers including the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond for saying they might vote to leave in an in/out referendum. “That is a gross dereliction of duty. To have a foreign secretary who is willing to stand up and contemplate taking Britain out of the EU is completely potty,” he said.

Although many of his criticisms echo Labour’s, Mr Alexander is equally scathing about Ed Miliband’s party, saying it has not learnt from its economic mistakes. He argued the weakness of the two big parties creates a “monumental opportunity” for the Lib Dems.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond’s comments on the EU were ‘completely potty,’ says Danny Alexander Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond’s comments on the EU were ‘completely potty,’ says Danny Alexander (Getty)
“Having the Lib Dems in the mix in the next parliament becomes the only way to stop the country lurching to one extreme or the other,” he said. He is sure the Lib Dems will do much better next May than commentators suggest, but smiled: “We may be leaving it a bit late.”

The 42-year-old MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey does not rule out running for the Lib Dem leadership one day, saying: “I have got a huge job to do. All these other things are bridges that will be crossed when and if we come to them.”

Mr Alexander has been dubbed the “King of Candy Crush” at Westminster after reaching level 241 of 785 on the online puzzle game on his iPad. Unlike the Tory MP Nigel Mills, he does not play in the Commons but only “on a long plane to journey back to the Highlands or at home late at night”.

“There could not be a worse time to argue that we should abandon our plan…We won’t do it. It is the foundation for everything else.”- Danny Alexander, amid growing calls on George Osborne to abandon his Plan A, September 2012

“George Osborne and I work very closely together within the Treasury.” – Danny Alexander, March 2013

“George and I both work hard to make sure that the Treasury is the department where the Coalition works best, because it is the department that is responsible for the policy area that brought the two parties together in the first place.” – Danny Alexander, July 2013

“The Treasury team gets on famously well. The relationship between George [Osborne] and Danny Alexander is very, very good.” – Rob Wilson, Conservative minister and former parliamentary aide to the Chancellor, February 2014

“If that’s what people think about me, then they are wrong. I am Liberal Democrat – full stop, end of story.” -Danny Alexander, February 2014, on Lib Dem claims he had “gone native” at the Treasury.