Thursday, July 22, 2004

New crime figures published by the Government today are evidence that Labour have failed to be ‘tough on crime’.   The figures released by the Home Office on 20 July show that in the last year, violent crime rose by 10% per cent in Norwich, whilst other kinds of crime fell.

No amount of statistical manipulation can conceal what everyone in Norwich already knows: Violent crime is soaring. The rise in violent crime is extremely worrying, and shows yet again that the Government is not making enough headway in tackling crime and disorder. These figures will come as no surprise to the millions of people up and down the country who suffer daily from crime, much of it drug related, and in our town centers increasingly alcohol-fuelled.

Whilst I support the hard work of the Norfolk Constabulary – who desrve congratulations for the overall fall in crime -  the problem is that the Government’s plethora of initiatives and vast bureaucracy are preventing the police from doing their job. Conservatives have a series of practical proposals to address Norwich’s crime crisis:

· An extra 40,000 police officers across England & Wales, with 457 allocated to Norfolk.
· 18,000 new hard drug rehabilitation places to give young hard drug-users a clear choice: intensive, residential rehabilitation or face the penal system.
· Directly elected police boards, with the Home Office’s current powers over local policing transferred to local people, accountable via the ballot box.
· Reversing the reclassification of cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug, and engage in a proper war on drugs with the aim of creating a drug-free society.
· Resist Liberal Democrat plans to let burglars escape jail, abolish mandatory life sentences for serial rapists and weaken the laws further on hard drugs.”
The Government is drawing up plans for further increases in local taxes across Norwich and Norfolk – either via the introduction of new, higher council tax bands or a supplementary income tax levied by councils.
The plans were outlined in a report commissioned by the Government on the ‘Balance of Funding’ published on 20 July, and further development work will now commence on introducing these new taxes, which would come into effect after the general election.

The review’s report recommends ‘there is a clear case for reviewing council tax bands and the ratios between them at the time of revaluation’; under the proposals being considered, the top band of council tax in Norwich, currently £2,502 could soar to £6,672, with homes across Norwich worth more than £170,000 all seeing substantial rises in council tax. In addition, the report calls for more work on the development of a supplementary income tax -  ‘a supplement to, not a replacement for, council tax’ which could be as a high as 4 per cent on the basic rate of income tax.

Across the country, council tax has soared by an average of 70 per cent since Labour came to power, across all types of home. In Norwich, council tax has risen from £664 to £1,251 on a Band D property. But Labour are now planning for third term tax rises.

Residents whose only crime is to live in areas like Eaton, Bowthorpe, Thorpe Hamlet, Lakenham, the City Centre or the Golden Triangle, where house prices have risen rapidly over the last few years, will be alarmed at the proposals for a new ten band council tax system. Hardworking families and pensioners across Norwich face the prospect of soaring bills from 2007 as a result of revaluation and re-banding, which will be yet another contribution to Labour’s third term tax rises.

As if that is not bad enough, the Government has called for further work on a supplementary income tax that would be levied in addition to, not instead of, the council tax. This supplementary income tax would be a back door way round the Tony Blair’s pledge not to increase income tax at all.

But this assault on the middle classes would pale in comparison with the Liberal Democrats’ proposals for a local income tax, which would mean a return to 1970s-style punitive rates of income tax on hard-working people.

Besides which, £170,000 value is no longer a good indicator of an expensive home.  Perhaps the government should come to Norwich to see the trouble first time buyers have and why that figure does not indicate any threshold of wealth.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The news that the new Norfolk  & Norwich University Hospital is to lose one its stars must come as a shock to the hundreds of committed and hard working staff who keep our much valued NHS going and will only serve to damage the morale of both those who work in, and use the NHS.
My family recently had cause to use the N&N and we found the quality of care to be fantastic.  It really was case of “three stars” all round as far as we were concerned, but still the government strip them of a star because they haven’t hit a certain Department of Health target.
This has got to stop. Star ratings do not give an accurate reflection of a hospital’s performance. They are extremely misleading for patients, who should rightly assume that a three star hospital must be better than a trust with one or no stars - but this is not the case.

The ‘star ratings’ system is misleading, and it distorts priorities and is incompatible with patient choice.  The “star ratings” system is not a viable part of the future structure of the NHS. We need an NHS which responds to the choice and needs of patients, not the dictates of the Department of Health. Star ratings do not represent a measure of the quality of clinical care provided by hospitals, even more so in relation to clinical departments within hospitals. If patients are to exercise choice they need information relevant to this, not misleading star ratings.

Ask the staff and management of those Trusts which have lost stars this year and most will tell you that the quality of clinical care they offer is the same or even better than last year. Star ratings are arbitrary and perverse and there is no place for them in a patient centred NHS. 

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Nice weather for a Tory BBQ!  Last night we had a “thank you” party for everybody that helped during the recent local elections.  A great turnout and (as yet) Councillor Collishaw hasn’t managed to poison anybody – although her party trick of dropping all the food in the hot charcoal raised a few laughs.  Typically the heavens opened and a large group of Tories end up huddling under far-too-few umbrellas for safety.  Who would have thought that climate change could have had such an impact on Eaton already?  The prize for “most plucky Briton” must go to Mr Gaymer – for it took more than a shock lightening storm to prevent him from eating his dinner and the stout chap sat in his garden chair and munching on half a burnt sausage with only a child’s umbrella to fend off the weather.

Friday, July 16, 2004

I have a great many things in my life to be thankful for, and now I have one more ... a slice of cake made by my year ten pupils - and who would have thought that crunched up KitKat could come in *so* handy...

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The subject of the rights of fathers and the extended family is one of crucial importance. I have just issued the following statement of support:

Antony Little, parliamentary spokesman for Norwich, today endorsed calls by Conservatives nationally to review family law and give divorced parents greater rights of access to their children. Today divorce affects almost 150,000 children every year, more than two-thirds of whom are under the age of ten.

Antony, who holds a pastoral role in a City High School, explained,
“When relationships break up, too many children become unfairly cut off from one of their parents, as well as grandparents and other close relatives. The current legal system isn’t working, trapping many families for years in the courts running up massive legal bills.”

Under the three-point plan to guide a review of family law by Conservatives:
· There should be a strong presumption in favour of equal rights for parents to have an influence on the upbringing of their children.
· Mediation should as far as possible always be the first step – taking matters to court should be the last resort for parents who separate.
· The procedures and powers of the family courts should be much more open and fair.

Antony added,
“The current system is hugely expensive, inefficient, unfair, insensitive and often, fairly chaotic. All of this causes resentment, frustration and anger in families across Norwich. I see day in, day out the impact it has on the lives of our young people. I believe there should be a presumption that the extended family has a crucial role to play in the upbringing of children. It's time to put the children first.”

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Speculation today that I might be moving to the House of Lords - but not before victory in Norwich South! Will publish the link when I get it!
Antony calls on Norwich City Council to "get a grip" over the travellers in Bowthorpe - check out the story from the Evening News here.