Monthly Archives: December 2013

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RORY BACKS CAMPAIGN TO GET PENRITH AND THE BORDER’S SCHOOLCHILDREN TALKING AND LEARNING ABOUT MONEY

Rory has called for local schools to get their pupils talking and learning about money, as part of a charity’s new campaign to help improve the financial capability of young people.

Every primary and secondary school in Penrith and The Border has been sent Get Money Smart posters and teaching materials by national charity PFEG (Personal Finance Education Group), which wants to get children talking about money in the classroom. The charity’s Get Money Smart posters – for children aged up to seven, 11, 14 and 16 – are designed to encourage classroom discussions about things children can do to learn more about money and personal finance.  Ideas for different ages include checking your change, estimating the cost of a weekly shop, comparing mobile phone tariffs and planning and budgeting for a trip. Schools in Penrith and The Border are being encouraged to hold discussions with their pupils over 4 things the posters suggest they can do to learn about money – with the 5th being left up to each class to decide.  Ideas for the 5th activity can then be shared with other classes across the country on Twitter using the #5thingstodo hashtag.

Rory is throwing his weight behind the initiative as a way of helping young constituents to gain the vital skills and knowledge they will need to manage their personal finances throughout their lives.  The move follows news that after years of campaigning by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Financial Education for Young People, PFEG and MoneySavingExpert.com’s Martin Lewis, that financial education will be taught in secondary schools as part of the National Curriculum from September 2014.

Rory said: “I strongly support any initiative that gives our children the tools to deal with finance, and to manage their finances in a sensible way. Too often, children grow up and leave home knowing very little about the basics of sound financial management: things like making savings in small ways in order to increase capital for bigger purchases, or budgeting ahead of time. I am really delighted to know about PFEG’s work, and indeed wholeheartedly applaud the government’s decision to incorporate financial education into our National Curriculum, which is excellent news.”

Tracey Bleakley, chief executive of PFEG, said: “We are thrilled to have the support of Rory Stewart for this free new scheme for primary and secondary schools in Penrith and The Border.  I hope all local schools will seize the opportunity to use their Get Money Smart posters to bring money to life in the classroom.  This is a crucial topic that every young person should learn.  Getting pupils talking about money and the financial decisions they will face in the future is a great way to start.”

The campaign has been made possible through a personal donation to PFEG from MoneySavingExpert.com’s Martin Lewis, which has enabled the charity to send free copies of theGet Money Smart posters and teaching resources to primary and secondary schools in the Penrith and The Border area and across the country.

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ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENTS SHOULD BECOME MORE IMPARTIAL

At present, with all development projects, including wind-farms, the various providers for the Impact Assessments, (including issues such as hydrology and wildlife) are all chosen and paid-for by the developer.

This produces an obvious conflict of interest, which is one of the worst sins of governance. He who pays the Piper calls the Tune. And indeed this is what happens. The reports are usually very long and dull (so they are not read too closely by councillors), and are packaged to be independent. But most are in effect geared to helping the paymaster.

Providers of Environmental Impact Assessments are well aware that if their reportPayday Loan doesn’t ultimately help a developer, then they are unlikely to be hired by other developers. Quite apart from the issue of whether the environmental reports are influenced by financial considerations, there remains the ever-present issue that not only should these matters be fair, but they should be SEEN to be fair.

There is an easy solution: Councils, who are dealing with these environmental issues should provide a Preferred Suppliers List. The Developers would have to choose from this list. This would not entirely solve the problem (ultimately the assessments would still be paid by the developer) but it would considerable reduce the issue of Conflict of Interest.

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THERE SHOULD BE A STATUTORY MINIMUM DISTANCE FROM LARGE TURBINES TO RESIDENTIAL DWELLINGS

There are two different reasons for this.

First, visual impact, which can wreck a family’s beloved home.

Second, the issue of noise. Although this issue is both complicated and controversial, there is no doubt that some people suffer severely from hotspots of amplitude modulation. This is not such a widespread problem as the landscape issues; but it does in some cases cause very real distress, including loss of sleep and depression. It appears to be a type of thumping, which is far worse in some places than others. When impact assessments are conducted, they often seem to ignore the hotspots online instant no fax payday loans, and just test in areas where the thumping is not so bad.

Lord Reay, before he died , was introducing a bill in the House of Lords on this subject. At one stage he modified the bill after consultation with the government. The latest version of his bill suggested that if a turbine was taller than 25 metres, then there should be a distance of more than 1 kilometre between the turbine and a residential dwelling. If taller than 100 metres, then 1 1/2 kilometres; If taller than 150 metres then 2 kilometres.

These seem very reasonable and uncontroversial suggestions.

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WINDFARMS AND LARGE TURBINES SHOULD NOT BE PERMITTED IN DESIGNATED “AREAS OF OUTSTANDING NATURAL BEAUTY”

So far there have been only two windfarms allowed in AONBs. But more applications are arriving. While the main remit of a National Park is quite a wide one, the remit of an AONB is much narrower – to conserve landscape. The key words are “to conserve and enhance NATURAL beauty”.

There is simply no point in designating Areas of Outstanding NATURAL beauty, and paying for all their concomitant bureaucracy, if their landscapes can’t be protected from industrial structures.

Eden Valley and the North Pennines

IMPROVE THE WELFARE OF POULTRY

A  massive amount of public attention has been devoted to the issue of hunting foxes. Indeed more parliamentary time has been spent on the issue of fox-hunting that on the invasion of Iraq. This attention to fox-hunting , which affected a few thousand foxes, has distracted attention from the horrendous life-long conditions of many millions of farm animals.  The largest numbers of victims are hens, which in their tens of millions have suffered appalling conditions that would deeply shock the public if they ever saw what is happening.

There has been some legislation to improve conditions.  The startling cruel battery cages for hens have been made illegal,  and hens are supposed now to be kept in ‘enriched’ cages.   But they still live in dreadful, unnatural cramped conditions, and for its entire life each hen has hardly more room than a sheet of A4 paper.  The fact that the hens still have to be de-beaked to prevent aggressive feather-plucking and cannibalism is sure evidence that that their cramped conditions are distressing  and extremely unnatural. There is also an exceptionally high incidence of painful problems with weakened bones.

It is only quite recently that the legislation has forced hen farmers to improve conditions, doubtless at considerable expense.  So it would not be fair to oblige the farmers immediately to move to a less cruel system; but we should be moving that way.

The RSPCA has requested that all cages for laying birds should be ended, and that the hens should be housed in a barn or free-range system. And this is something we should be aiming for, even if not immediately.

In fact even the free-range systems need reforming and better regulation. When the supermarkets sell ‘free range’ eggs to the public, many of the purchasers would be shocked to see the conditions of the chickens – very far from a pleasing rustic image of free range. In fact the huge flocks of chickens are sometimes so traumatized that they cower inside their sheds, not daring to venture outside.

It is not only egg- laying birds that suffer. The hens in broiler systems also lead a desperate life.  Some of the broiler units are colossal, with flocks of more than 100,000 birds.  In fact the British  poultry industry
produces a total more than a hundred million birds a year. Most live in horrible conditions, and we should be ashamed at the cruelty being quietly perpetrated on such a massive scale. Why should chickens be any less deserving than foxes?

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HOSPITALS SHOULD MAINTAIN FULL CARE AT WEEKENDS

Most of our key industries now manage a 24/7 continuity, and our hospitals should do the same.  It is unacceptable that, in one of the richest countries in the world, patients should suffer unnecessary pain, alarm, or even death, just because hospitals are not fully functioning at weekends.

Recently a hospitalized friend had a painful tube inserted to drain fluid from his lung. There came a time when it would have been safer and far less painful for him to have had it removed; but because this was on a Friday evening, there was no doctor on duty to give permission for the removal; and he had to suffer the discomfort for an entire weekend.  Such stories are frequent.

To make an additional parallel with our industries, it is absurd and a great waste of wholesale electronic cigarettes resources that scanners, and other hugely expensive equipment,  lie idle and unused at weekends.

There is an additional reason why hospital emergency services shouldn’t crank down at weekends. There is an increased chance of accidents from DIY, which many people leave till weekends.  Also, unfortunately, there is a large increase in drink-related accidents (or fights).

The problem of weekends in hospital have become so bad that it has been reported that MRI scans (which may be crucial for life-saving treatment) were six or seven times less likely to be conducted at that time. In the same report we are told that there is a 24% higher death rate for patients who had an operation on a Friday. And, scandalously, death rates for emergency admissions were higher at the weekend in 122 out of 143 acute cases.

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FURTHER REFORM AND REGULATION OF PAYDAY LOANS

It is good that there will now be something of a cap on the stratospheric interest-rates on payday loans.  However, much more needs to be done to prevent rapacious companies lending irresponsible sums of money to those who can ill-afford it.  Often these are people at the very bottom of the heap, already mired in debt and poverty.

There should be legislation to prevent companies lending to those who have no real chance of paying it back.  The conditions of lending should become more transparent, with no hidden charges.   And the lenders should not be encouraging their client into rolling over loans, thus creating Online Casino an ever-increasing spiral of  debt. There should also be much stricter regulation, so that the dodgier companies are forbidden to trade.

According to Which? Magazine, nearly a half of those who had taken out payday loans had been hit with unexpected charges such as high fees for reminder letters. When Which? Magazine analysed the websites of payday loaners, they found that most of them failed to show clearly their charges, or charged exorbitant amounts for defaulting.  Nearly two-thirds of the companies failed to ask about any aspects of their clients’ financial situation, apart from their salary.

Payday loans are used by more than a million people.

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REDUCTION OF BISHOPS IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS

Since the last reform of spiritual peers in 1847, there have been 26 bishops in the House of Lords. 166 years later, this has now become an anachronism. And also it is an absurdly inflated number at a time when there are too many peers. A very minor point is that it is also an  unnecessary expense.  In one year the Bishop of Chester claimed £27,600 in attendance allowances, and £4,220  in expenses.

The excess of bishops in the Lords is nor an urgent problem, because it is rare than many of them sit on the same day; but it is a touch-on-the-tiller reform that would be widely approved, and would make the House of Lord less archaic.

The number of 26 bishops was chosen when a large proportion of the population went every week to Church of England services.  Now only a negligible number do so, and proportionately less than other Christian churches.  And in our multicultural society, this preponderance of Anglican bishops seems irrelevant and unfair.

A reduction in bishops would also reduce their tradition of attempting to block reform. Perhaps the most egregious example was their unanimous vote against the abolition of slavery in the 19th Century. More recently several bishops sponsored an amendment that defeated a government bill to reform the benefit system. The reform proposed setting a cap of £26,000 on benefits.

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MASSIVE REDUCTION IN VEHICLE TAX

It is manifestly unfair that a widow on a pension  in a remote rural area, who uses the car, say, for 1000 miles a year (perhaps just on a weekly trip to a supermarket) has to pay the same as a rich person who drives 50,000 miles a year.  Furthermore £225 is a big slug for the widow to pay.

For reasons of administration and control it is sensible to keep the car tax, but it should be reduced to something like £20 a year. The gap in revenue should be raised from fuel.

This also makes sense because it ends the complication of the banding of the vehicle tax. And it would take into account all the issues of engine size, petrol-efficiency, careful driving, and distance travelled. Thus it would also be much greener. It would also mean that the small minority who avoid car-tax would be paying their fair share for their use of the road.

Eden Valley and the North Pennines

REFORM THE ‘REVOLVING DOOR’

It is essential to improve the public’s confidence in our politicians and our governing class. It is especially true of politicians following the long expenses scandal. The Ministerial code makes it plain that “Ministers must scrupulously avoid any danger of an actual or PERCEIVED [my italics] conflict of interest between their Ministerial position and their private financial interests.” Yet time and again Ministers, soon after ceasing to be a Minister, take employment from companies that inhabit the territory over which the Minister previously made crucial decisions.

Recent examples have been Chris Huhne and Charles Hendry, both of them Ministers of State of Energy and Climate Change. In the case of Charles Hendry he signed an energy pact with Iceland, while he was the relevant Minister; but within less than a year after being sacked, he took a job from an importer of Icelandic Power. However honourable Mr Hendry may have been, and surely he was, this is not enough to obliterate a possible perception of a cosy elite profiting from conflict of interest.

The length of time between other types public employment and private employment in related industries should also be lengthened. For instance, there have been far too many army grandees walking into jobs with companies that they have previously helped, either directly or indirectly. And the same is true for civil servants.

When people now retire, say, at 60, their skills, energy and knowledge are still invaluable. So it is natural that they should want employment, and natural that they should go into areas about which they are
knowledgeable. But a touch on the tiller is needed to stop the public suspecting so often that there has been a conflict of interest.

According to Wikipedia, the movement of senior civil servants and government ministers into business roles is overseen by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA), but this is not a statutory body and has only advisory powers. A Transparency International UK report on the subject, published in May 2011, called for ACOBA to be replaced by a statutory body with greater powers to regulate the post-public employment of former ministers and crown servants.