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The Labour Party has announced its policies to tackle the scandal of UK’s cold homes.  The plan is to improve vastly our country’s energy efficiency and to help people stay warm whilst reducing extortionate energy bills.  

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On 10 November 2014 the Labour Party announced its policies to tackle the scandal of UK’s cold homes.  The plan is to improve vastly our country’s energy efficiency, and to help people to stay warm, yet also markedly to reduce extortionate energy bills.  The party’s policy paper can be found at:  http://www.yourbritain.org.uk/agenda-2015/policy-review/policy-review/an-end-to-cold-homes-labour-s-energy-efficiency-green-paper

The next Labour Government will freeze energy prices until 2017, and undertake the biggest reform of our energy market since privatisation. These reforms are aimed to improve transparency, competition and, importantly, the position of consumers.  To deliver long-term, permanent savings on energy bills, and to protect households and businesses from future price rises, it is vital that the energy efficiency of our building stock is improved.  

The UK probably has the least energy efficient housing stock of anywhere in Western Europe.  Poor energy efficiency is the single biggest reason why so many households are in fuel poverty.  Compared with an average household in fuel poverty, the average household which has only an average level of energy efficiency, pays £965 less per year for energy and is five times less likely to be in fuel poverty.

The policies of the current Government do not meet the scale of this challenge.  Their so-called “Green Deal” is so pathetic that a mere 2,581 households have had measures installed since it was launched nearly two years ago.  As if that were not bad enough, the “Energy Company Obligation” has resulted in a significant fall in the installation of energy efficiency improvements.

The Labour Party’s estimates for the situation in Wolverhampton South West are:

  • Number of households = 34,503
  • Number of fuel poor households = 6,384           
  • Proportion of households fuel poor = 18.5%

 Improving energy efficiency is vital.  A Labour government would do this by:-

  1. Enabling free energy-efficient improvements for 200,000 households which are in, or at risk of, fuel poverty a year, with an ambition to upgrade all such homes and end the scandal of cold homes within 15 years, saving the average household over £270 a year.
  2. Providing half a million personalised home energy reports a year, detailing how households could save money on their energy bills through insulation and energy efficiency.
  3. Providing interest-free loans to cover the costs of energy-efficiency improvements for up to one million households, during the next Parliament.
  4. Setting a new target to upgrade properties in the private rented sector to a minimum of an Energy Performance Certification (EPC) “C” rating by 2027.
  5. Designating energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority under Labour’s proposed National Infrastructure Commission.
  6. Streamlining regulations and introducing a long-term plan to support investment in energy efficiency in non-domestic buildings.

 

Cold Homes

The Labour Party has announced its policies to tackle the scandal of UK’s cold homes.  The plan is to improve vastly our country’s energy efficiency and to help people stay...

The Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer Mr. George Osborne is the front-runner for my “cheekiness-on-the-year”. I confess that I find it hard even to see who might come close to beating him.

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The Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer Mr. George Osborne is the front-runner for my “cheekiness-on-the-year”. I confess that I find it hard even to see who might come close to beating him.

He’s just written round to those he believes to be Conservative supporters, asking for money. If he were asking money for the Exchequer, I could see that, given how he has so badly mismanaged public finances. Alas no, he is soliciting donations for the Conservative Party.

He claims that “By working through our long-term economic plan, we have rooted out the waste and inefficient spending of the last Labour government.” With all this Tory-led government has wasted on, for example, useless IT systems, he’s got some nerve.

He also says that:  “We have got a grip on public finances.” Get a grip yourself, George. When Labour left office in May 2010, the total accumulated National Debt was £750 billion; a huge amount of money by anyone’s reckoning – except Mr. Osborne’s.  What did he do in the next 4 years?  He added another two-thirds to the National Debt so that, by March 2014 it stood at £1,250 billion.

This Chancellor wants you to believe that he has “we have got the deficit down and got a grip on spending.” The deficit has risen this year. Some grip.

He finishes by saying that his government has “been able to cut taxes so that people keep more of the money they earn.”  Who has had the biggest tax cuts?  You guessed it:  his millionaire friends, with the top rate being cut from 50p to 45p – just the sort of people he’d no doubt like and expect to donate generously to their friendly Conservative Party.

Rob Marris, Labour Candidate for Wolverhampton South West

Cheekiness of the Year

The Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer Mr. George Osborne is the front-runner for my “cheekiness-on-the-year”. I confess that I find it hard even to see who might come close to...

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The National Audit Office (“NAO”) has just published a report entitled “Lessons from major rail infrastructure programmes”.  It says that these lessons should be learned by the government and should inform its decisions on future rail projects – including of course HS2.

The rail projects examined by the NAO are complex and large, with construction either expected to, or having taken, 9 to 10 years, costing a total of £21.4 billion – which is only about one third of the current cost estimates for HS2 ....  The welcome news is that they conclude that the Department for Transport (“DfT”) has made progress in its management of rail infrastructure programmes, and on some of them has controlled costs, managed risks and has responded well.

The unwelcome news is that, worryingly, the NAO also found that there are several factors which the DfT needs to address, or where it needs to provide more focus, as current and future rail programmes develop.  In particular, the NAO suggests that the DfT should develop clear strategic business cases for new railways, and scrutinise the economic analysis of the estimated benefits of them.  

Insufficient evidence of economic benefits

The NAO points out that, amongst other things, there is a lack of evidence to demonstrate the wider national and economic benefits of HS2.  I find that to be deeply troubling.

The NAO found that, if the DfT had bothered to check its economic analysis, then it would have found out what is now apparent to us all; namely that – in its unseemly rush to press ahead with HS2 – the Coalition government made manifest “errors” in its early analysis of Phase One of HS2.  Those errors led to an initial benefit-cost ratio of 2.4:1; i.e. £2.40 back for every £1 invested by the government.  That ratio which has subsequently been revised very sharply downwards to 1.4:1 – much more in line with equivalent programmes.

“Errors” is the NAO’s way of putting it.  Some would say “overegging the pudding so as to mislead”.

Although it might seem obvious to the average ten-year old, the NAO had to point out to this government that its “economic assumptions also need to reflect changes in real-life behaviour.”   Initially, incredible as it may seem, the DfT assumed that business people do no work at all on the train!  So, from the DfT’s point of view, the shorter the journey time (as with HS2), the less time wasted by business people sitting staring out of the train window, and thus the greater the economic benefit of HS2’s shorter journey times – because business travellers would lose less time away from work.

The DfT economists really should get out more, and government ministers should get out of their chauffeur-driven cars; for example, they could take a train from London to Wolverhampton, and see what the passengers in suits (and others, perhaps less visible) are actually doing, and the number of laptops in use.  They would have found that some (well, almost all, actually!) long-distance trains have for years had this new-fangled thing called WiFi.

Surely it cannot be that the government knew about travellers working on trains, but pretended not to, so that the economic case for HS2 would look better … ?

Capacity

Proponents of HS2 say that one reason it is needed is that the West Coast Main Line will be full by the mid-2020s, as forecast by Network Rail – a body which is not exactly renowned for its competence in administering the railways.

However, the DfT’s own figures state West Coast Main Line intercity trains are on average just 32% full, and about 50% full in peak hours.  Moreover, a simpler and far, far cheaper way to increase capacity would be to abolish First Class.  That would increase the seating in each train by about 13%.  It would also be cheaper to lengthen platforms to accommodate longer trains.  Having 12 carriages instead of 11 would increase seating by 9%.  Taken together these two measures would increase capacity by about 23%.

Academic researchers in Denmark discovered that passenger forecasts are overestimated in 90% of major railway projects; and that, on average, passenger growth is less than half the level forecast before the project was started. As far as I am aware, HS2 has not produced evidence to rebut the inference that the forecasts for HS2 are similarly over-optimistic.

Thus the jury is still very much out on the claimed need for massive new capacity on West Coast routes.

DfT out of its depth?

Both the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee and the NAO have repeatedly drawn attention to the DfT’s lack of sufficient “programme management capacity and skills” and its “shortage of skilled staff”.  

This shortage is no coincidence.  It has arisen because of Conservative government policy.  They seem to believe that the market will do everything, and that everything would be better if we had far fewer public sector employees. So this government has failed to invest in hiring the right people to work in the public sector; for example at the DfT. 

How naïve can you get?  Without those skills in-house, the DfT is at the mercy of the private sector, who do employ people with the necessary skills   Then, guess what?  The skilled private sector runs rings around the insufficiently skilled civil service.  We’ve seen this time and time again when it comes to negotiating rail franchises, most of which have been a failure from the passengers’ point of view – but a big success for the fat-cat private companies.

What to do with your spare £60 billion

From a national perspective, because of the unreliable figures I don’t know whether building HS2 is a good idea or not, but I can think of a lot of other worthwhile things that government could get for £60 billion; for example, a million desperately-needed council houses built on government land.  What I do know is that, as someone who has lived almost all his life in Wolverhampton, it looks to me as if HS2 is going to lead to a worse train service for us – yet in round terms this government wants us to pay almost £1,000 each for the privilege.

 Rob Marris, Labour Candidate for Wolverhampton South West

To HS2 or not to HS2?

The National Audit Office (“NAO”) has just published a report entitled “Lessons from major rail infrastructure programmes”.  It says that these lessons should be learned by the government and should...

... as the Tories confirm they expect to lose the General Election  

More Privatisation in the Criminal Justice System

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Compared with the same period in 2013, the backlog of asylum claims has increased by 70% to 16,273 in the first quarter of this year, says the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC). 

In addition, the Home Office:

  • has wasted almost £1 billion on computer systems;

  • cannot find 50,000 rejected asylum seekers;

  • is already missing its own new targets for processing asylum seekers’ claims.

 All this chaos arises just 18 months after Mrs May abolished the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

 Chair of the PAC Margaret Hodge MP, has commented:

"The pressure is on, and the Home Office must take urgent steps to sort out this immigration mess. The Home Office scrapped the UKBA in March 2013, partly because its performance in dealing with backlog cases was not good enough.  However, the department has also failed to get a grip on the long-standing problem of asylum backlogs.  To make matters worse, the department is also failing to meet its targets for dealing with newer claims, so it is creating another backlog for itself.  The failure of major IT projects – designed to streamline processing – not only leaves the department reliant on archaic systems, but may also end up costing the taxpayer up to £1 billion.  The cancellation of the Immigration Case Work programme and the e-Borders IT programme could mean a gob-smackingly awful figure being wasted.”

Mrs May should do the honourable thing, and resign now.

Rob Marris, Labour Candidate for Wolverhampton South West

Rob Marris: Theresa May Should Resign as Home Secretary

  Compared with the same period in 2013, the backlog of asylum claims has increased by 70% to 16,273 in the first quarter of this year, says the Commons’ Public...

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The choice is stark:  Labour supports the NHS as a service delivered by public servants, not by private companies. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats support privatising parts of the NHS. For example, just next door in Staffordshire, the Coalition government is currently hawking to the private sector a 10 year £1 billion contract for provision of cancer services. Companies like Virgin Healthcare are in the running.

So just how good is the NHS as a public service? Much is revealed by the tables below. Compiled by independent academics, these tables compare several health services in western countries. Guess what? The NHS wins by a mile.

Moreover, the NHS does so relatively efficiently. For example, as a proportion of GDP, in the USA they spend twice as much as we do, yet tens of millions still have no health cover. In France they spend 50% more.

Of course the NHS needs to improve further. For a start, it needs more funding. After all, the Tory-led government broke its promise to maintain NHS funding in real terms year on year.

Nevertheless, we should be realistic about just how good the NHS is, and we need to build on what we’ve got – not go privatising it. Only Labour will keep the NHS as a cohesive, free public service.

Rob Marris, Labour Candidate for Wolverhampton South West

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[Source:  The Commonwealth Fund, June 16, 2014; http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/fund-reports/2014/jun/mirror-mirror]

 

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[Source:  compiled from New England Journal of Medicine article on the Equity of Healthcare Internationally= http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1406707]

Keep Our NHS Public

The choice is stark:  Labour supports the NHS as a service delivered by public servants, not by private companies. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats support privatising parts of the...

The UK people know that many people who come to our country make an important contribution to our national life, from the economy to culture to the NHS.  We should recognise and be proud of those contributions. We need an immigration system which reflects our shared values values of fairness and responsibility.

Labour that understands both of those things.  That means we should seek to tackle the concerns which many people have about the impact on wages when large numbers of low skilled and exploited workers come here, and about the pace of change in communities – including the pressure on scarce resources in public services, and about the security of our borders.

Labour understands these are real concerns, and is ready to act on them. That is why Ed Miliband has changed Labour’s approach on immigration.  On 23 October 2014 he set out some concrete changes on immigration which will be in Labour's first Queen's Speech in May 2015:

  • Action to ensure that, when people cross our borders, they are countedin and they are counted out. In that way we will know who is here, who has returned home, and who has overstayed so we can deal with illegal immigration.
  • Making it a criminal offence for employers to exploit workers – whatever their origin – by illegally undercutting wages or conditions here.
  • Preventing recruitment agencies hiring only from abroad.
  • Stopping employment agencies and their sidekicks from exploiting loopholes which have the effect of undercutting directly-employed staff.
  • Requiring any large employer who hires a skilled worker from outside the EU to train apprentices in UK.
  • Ensuring that public sector workers in public-facing roles have a workable standard of English.

As I have long maintained, we cannot have a serious public debate about immigration unless we are also prepared to talk about the free movement of workers in the European Union. I repeatedly raised this in Parliament over 5 years ago, when all the parties were ignoring this issue. For example:

 

Rob Marris MP (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab):  Are the Government prepared to reconsider the free movement of labour in the European Union?

Jacqui Smith MP (Home Secretary)(Lab):  Free movement, and its relationship to trade and the free market, is an important element of our membership of the EU. We have taken action on new member states to ensure that, through the workers registration scheme—which the Opposition opposed—we are clear about being able to count and tackle benefit entitlement.  However, we should maintain that significant ability to travel freely and work in the EU.

[HANSARD, 2 June 2009, column 169]

 

Rob Marris: I am talking about one of the fundamental aspects of the architecture of the EU – the free movement of labour.  I think there is a case for looking at that again.  Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

Chris Grayling MP (Shadow Home Secretary)(Con):  No, I do not think we are going to look again at the free movement of labour within the EU.

[Hansard, 2 June 2009, column 178]

 

Rob MarrisGiven that such a high proportion of foreign workers come from other member states of the European Union, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is time that we revisited the question of the free movement of labour within the EU?
13 Jan 2010:  Column 742

Mr. Hayes MP (Shadow education minister)(Con)That is a different subject for a different day

[Hansard, 13 January 2010, column 741]

 

Now, all the parties are talking about it.  Progress – at last!  Even the shadow chancellor Mr Ed Balls has this month said that a Labour government should not rule out demanding changes to the European treaties necessary to bring about reforms in EU rules on the free movement of labour.

Rob Marris, Labour Candidate for Wolverhampton South West

Rob Marris on Immigration

The UK people know that many people who come to our country make an important contribution to our national life, from the economy to culture to the NHS.  We should...

The European Commission has told the UK that it must pay an extra £1.7 billion towards the European Union's budget.

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Proposed Increase in UK Contribution to the EU budget

The European Commission has told the UK that it must pay an extra £1.7 billion towards the European Union's budget.   Read more

The UK’s huge budget deficit is still growing. So much for the Tory government’s claims on public finances

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A Failed Chancellor

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UKIP has done a deal in Brussels with Robert Iwaszkiewicz MEP. He is a member of Poland’s Congress of the New Right (JKM), which is a far-right party whose leader has a history of Holocaust denial, and of racist and misogynistic comments.

UKIP does a venal deal with the far right

UKIP has done a deal in Brussels with Robert Iwaszkiewicz MEP. He is a member of Poland’s Congress of the New Right (JKM), which is a far-right party whose leader... Read more

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