A Living Wage for Powys County Council – success for 6 strong Labour Group!

Despite the idyllic postcard look and feel to Powys, if you scratch the surface there is real poverty and deprivation – sometimes disguised by our rolling hillsides.

The Independent-run council has happily allowed more than 1000 of its workers to scrape by on poverty pay for years, but since Labour increased its numbers in the 2012 elections, we have been using our new muscle to push the case for a Living Wage.

As one of Labour’s newly elected Councillors, I led the campaign and mobilised support across the Trade Union movement. The determined efforts of the Labour Group, and its Trade Union allies, to help lift the council’s own workers out of poverty has finally paid off: Powys Council staff will now be paid a Living Wage.

That’s Labour making a difference to rural communities, despite being in opposition, and it’s a record that Labour in Powys is proud of.

Labour’s three year campaign was won through hard work and dedication, but most of all it shows why a Labour voice is as relevant to rural communities as it is to cities.

The local party have got their sights set on the Council’s shameful use of zero hour contracts now. Powys traps 25% of its workforce on them.

This battle is won, but the fight continues!

Matthew Dorrance is Labour Candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire and a Powys County Councillor

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Labour: Coast & Country.

Advertisements

The politics of justice – enforcing the minimum wage

I was astonished and genuinely outraged (as others have been) at the reported remarks of my MP Conservative George Freeman. When answering questions about the low enforcement and prosecutions for those not paying the minimum wage (under this government, there have only been 9, prosecutions and 162 named and shamed) Freeman talked about this criticism as “practising politics of envy”. Stella Creasy MP is absolutely right to call him out , saying this is “the politics of justice “.

When I first heard this on social media, I dug deeper to read his actual words:

Prosecutions may satisfy the politics of envy, but they are not the best mechanism to drive compliance”(This from the MP who thinks that the hunting ban is unenforceable and wastes police time!)

He also has a statement on his website saying that criticism of him is “scurrilous electioneering “. Pots and kettles?

The contexts of his remarks are equally important, particularly in relation to his own constituency and his Conservative party.

He is not just an MP (on £67,000), but has a ministerial salary on top – some £25,000 or so. Whilst Mid-Norfolk is not the worst off constituency, relative to some other parts of Norfolk , there are many pressures on those in work, those unable to work  and those who work on zero hours contracts and low pay.

The Conservative Party and David Cameron opposed the minimum wage before it was brought in by a Labour government. After all this time its hardly “scurrilous” to raise the issue of the low number of prosecutions for breaking the law (bankers, HSBC anyone?!), as opposed to those who are penalised and have benefit sanctions for the slightest breach of the laws (i.e. being 2 minutes late for interview ).

Mid-Norfolk has around 35-37% of jobs paying below the Living Wage and has had an increase of over 30% of those in work claiming housing benefit. Meanwhile, the Mid-Norfolk Food bank use has increased to 2,400 in 2014, up from 800 in 2011. Shameful in this day and age –and on Freeman’s watch. I have actually visited the food bank and have volunteered – very humbling and an eye opener – has George Freeman? Come and spend a day with me and meet your constituents.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by his comments – it’s not what he says, but how he votes that speaks volumes. He has voted and supported every Government action that makes his constituents worse off, in many aspect of their lives: keeping the bedroom tax, abolishing the EMA for students, putting up tuition fees, reorganising and privatising the NHS (with no mandate to do so), abolishing the Agricultural Wages Board, wage freeze for nurses and doctors. He has also supported the National Planning Policy Framework, the consequences of which, large hostile housing developments, are there to see across our area, not to mention weakening the amount of affordable housing developers should include.

In his pre Christmas expensive, glossy photo-op brochure, Freeman talked about how he puts constituents before party. Clearly that’s not the reality.

On the anniversary of the Hunting Ban (which he wants repealed), he said we needed to preserve our “traditional way of life“. I think his constituents deserve a decent way of life, and that’s what I will strive for if I have the honour and privilege to be elected as the MP for Mid-Norfolk. I will be an MP who is in touch.

First published in Labourlist.

Harry Clarke is Labour Candidate for Mid-Norfolk

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Labour: Coast & Country.

What does Labour need to do to win the rural vote?

How will Labour win the rural vote? I’ll some it up in three words: policy, process, and people! People with passion for the rural, for the countryside and coastal communities which help define this island nation.

But first of all, we must be clear on what we mean by the “rural vote”. That really matters!

  • The “rural vote” implies some horrible homogenous mass, that politicians can target crudely by devising a one-size fits all set of policies for a one-size-fits all countryside. That’s not only wrong, but downright condescending. The strength of rural communities lie in their great diversity, and their interdependence with market towns and the urban.

  • The keys to unlocking the “rural vote” lie in addressing the real rural issues that make a difference to people’s lives, both in quality of life, and their standard of living. This includes the health and wealth of the people and communities, and well as the health and wealth of the natural environment.

  • My final comment on the “rural vote”, which the Tories – and LibDems -have simply taken for granted for far too long: as Shadow Sec of State Maria Eagle said yesterday at a Labour Coast and Country fringe, “Labour doesn’t have a rural problem. Rural Britain has a Tory problem.

Now I don’t want to dwell on this. But … let’s cast an eye over the record of the so-called “party of the countryside”, who have spent the last four and a half years acting like absentee landlords to rural communities and the rural vote.

Rural areas are characterised by lower-earnings and self-employment, yet this has been made worse by the lack of growth in earnings over the last 5 years, the increased use and abuse of zero-hours contracts and under-employment. There is a nationwide cost-of-living crisis in which we are from being “all in this together”, an austerity drive far from being balanced on the shoulders of those who can bear it the most, yet rural areas suffer this more with the cost of services and goods, the costs of accessing public services and work, schools and training, the poorer transport and digital infrastructure. Food banks are not just an urban phenomenon.

Housing costs, food, water and energy bills, transport and childcare are often more expensive in rural areas. On average, rural households pay nearly £1000 more per year on transport yet their access to public and integrated transport is worse. Rural businesses and households have seen the soaring energy costs, but have an added burden, in that 1 in 5 in rural areas and over 1 in 3 in sparse rural areas have no grid access, forcing them to use more expensive alternatives for heating.

A government – LibDems included by the way though some have recently had a pre-election Damascian moment – that is happy to see people forced from their homes and rural communities, from their children’s schools and places of work, through the callous and downright daft bedroom tax. It has more of an effect in rural communities where alternative suitable accommodation is even rarer.

And if you’re looking to buy a home, in rural areas the average deposit for buying a home is three times the average salary.

In rural communities places where people gather are important economically but also socially. Local pubs have been closing at a rate of 26 per week. Post Offices are adapting but still struggling to survive, dependent on the link with Royal Mail, and now threatened by the fire-sale privatisation of Royal Mail.

Oh, and of course, the same government that tried unsuccessfully to flog off our public forests, was criticised for the way its decision to break up the Food Standards Authority contributed to a confused and delayed response to the horsemeat scandal, downgraded flooding as a priority in Defra, and frankly doesn’t seem to know biodiversity from its bio-detergents.

Rural Britain needs championing. It needs champions.

Labour will champion rural Britain because a truly One Nation party and a One Nation government must speak for all of Britain in all its splendid diversity, urban and rural, city and market-town and hamlet.

Labour will champion Rural Britain because the social, economic and cultural linkages between urban and non-urban are integral to the future success of every to our nation, and to every community and every individual. In this interdependence and mutual reliance is our strength, and our national character.

Labour will champion the people and businesses, communities and organisations of Rural Britain: because it is right to share the proceeds of economic growth equitably, and to promote a good quality of life and standard of living for every person.

So Labour in government will strive to:

  • Secure the recovery in rural communities by building more affordable homes, helping businesses grow and prosper, and delivering universal broadband as part of a high-tech rural economy.

  • Work in partnership with local government, voluntary and local organisations to ensure effective and efficient delivery of frontline services in rural communities

  • Promote sustainable and profitable food, farming and fishing industries, and secure meaningful – and I mean meaningful – reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy

  • Preserve and protect and enrich the diversity of our countryside and natural environment, whilst protecting it against flooding and adapting to climate change.

  • Re-instate and strengthen the processes by which we get the right policy choices in Whitehall, at a regional level, and at a local level. This means “sharper-elbows” in all levels of government for rural-proofing and for mainstreaming policy, and sharper-elbows in town halls and in regional consortia, so that policies are fit for purpose, right for rural communities, always and automatically. It means devolving power and responsibility away from Whitehall to the town hall and parish hall.

So, some early practical examples of this approach: Labour will pay off-grid households their winter fuel payments early, so pensioners can buy fuel cheaper, and not make the choice between heating and eating; and we will freeze energy prices to save those small rural businesses over £5000 per year; we’ll give communities the powers to protect their bus services so they get better value for money; and we will push the minimum wage

To sum up: it is the “Three P’s”: Policies that matter to people and make a difference, the Process in government that helps that happen, and people – Labour people – who will make that happen!

Labour has to mean what it says about rural communities, and – just as importantly – look like it means it! Labour has never been just a party of the city and the suburb. Our roots go deep in the countryside too. But we sometimes don’t shout loud enough about it.

But we are under-represented in rural areas politically, and we must work to change this, because otherwise the voice of social justice in rural areas is missing.. We need champions of people and rural communities, from a local level to the very top of government. That is out mission.

There will be a rural conference. There will be a rural manifesto. There will be a stronger rural voice and more rural champions in parliament after the next election when we turn our PPCs into MPs.

Huw Irranca-Davies, Shadow Minister for Food and Farming | Conference 2014

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Labour: Coast & Country.

Devolution, Localism and Representing the Coast & Country…. Conference Diary 2014

Today, the devolution debate continues, though often now in the guise of localism, and how labour will deliver that localism for the people of Britain.

At the LGA fringe, Deborah Mattinson, founder of the polling organization Britainthinks, highlighted the need to think of people beyond any demographic category – their interests and needs are more complex than that. She also offered the thought that pledges might no longer work, such is the low level of trust with which (pledging) politicians are now held – politics had to bring people and politicians much closer together.

Ed Cox of IPPR North highlighted their recent report ‘De-centralization decade’, noting that to really deliver localism (and its twin decentralization) required an organized and concerted effort planned over many years. Thankfully he acknowledged that devolution was as much about counties as cities, and parishes and town councils must have a role to play – clearly, they could be a powerful way to reconnect people and politicians in the policies and decisions of their place.

At the Countryside Alliance event the focus shifted to what Labour needed to do to win the rural vote in 2015. Some were surprised to hear the CEO of the CA highlight the findings of their own polling, in which Labour (on 27%) and Tories (on 30%) were almost neck and neck in rural areas. And yet, as other speakers highlighted, Labour still needed a narrative to show they ‘got’ non-urban areas and could translate voting Labour into benefits that worked for coastal and country communities.

What might those polices be?

All the panel members were agreed that for the vast majority of people living in these areas the questions were ones of work, pay, and security of employment; getting round the difficulties of access, be that physically getting to work or training, or virtually to fill in the digital forms now so often required by government, as well as the other benefits of online and mobile connectivity – in many cases the very things that also concern urban citizens.

So, to name but a few, we would need to:

  • address digital hot spots

  • look at low pay

  • sort out public transport

  • empower town and parish councils

All things that could mirror the right approach to urban Britain, better connectivity for the modern economy, pay and terms and conditions that allow people to live without benefits, and devolution that allows people, politicians and politics to be carried out nearer to home.

Plenty of food for thought – for the devolution debate; for the cost of living debate (it is often worse in non urban areas); and to begin to answer the question of how Britain can work better for all the people of Britain.

LCC will continue to work with our friends and supporters to help the Party get the right policies into the ‘Rural Manifesto’ and to put those in front of the voters of coast and country for the General Election in May 2015.

Hywel Lloyd, founder of Labour: Coast & Country | Conference 2014

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Labour: Coast & Country.