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Wonderful Open Day visit to Enfield Mosque

I was delighted to attend and meet the team at Enfield Mosque (Ponders End) whilst they were holding the Explore Islam Exhibition over the course of two days at the

A bold plan for the Environment

This week, the Prime Minister launched a bold 25 Year Environment Plan, with a strategy for a cleaner, greener Britain that will leave our environment in a better state than

Housing Sector – Budget 2017 briefing

The Chancellor pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat today with a stamp duty exemption for first time buyers up to £300K. This was part of his promise to

Pre-budget – Building the housing ladder this country needs

For decades we have not been building enough homes, with prices rising to unaffordable levels. At its peak, 350,000 homes were built in 1970. However, since then there was an

Republicans must speak out on Trump

It is fair to say that leading Republicans have condemned racism and racist groups, but, so far, only Senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham have publicly named Trump after

Wonderful Open Day visit to Enfield Mosque

I was delighted to attend and meet the team at Enfield Mosque (Ponders End) whilst they were holding the Explore Islam Exhibition over the course of two days at the weekend. I attended on the afternoon of the second day and I was made to feel very welcome.

They had such an impressive and wide range of displays and exhibition boards that it took a couple of hours to get round, but at all times there was someone on hand to answer any questions.

Enfield has a wide range of communities and it is wonderful to celebrate and embrace this diversity.

 

 

A bold plan for the Environment

This week, the Prime Minister launched a bold 25 Year Environment Plan, with a strategy for a cleaner, greener Britain that will leave our environment in a better state than we found it for the next generation.

This includes a pledge to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042, encouraging supermarkets to introduce plastic-free aisles, extending the 5p charge for plastic carrier bags to all retailers and issuing a consultation on taxing the most environmentally damaging plastics. All this builds on the Government’s work in recent months for environmentalism that is central to conservatism.

The steps in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan:

· Pledge to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042. We know that we must reduce the demand for plastic, reduce the number of plastics in circulation and improve our recycling rates and that is why we have taken this significant step.

· Encourage supermarkets to introduce plastic-free aisles in which all the food is loose. This will give people the choice to make greener decisions and promote the use of less damaging plastic packaging.

· Extend the 5p carrier bag charge to all retailers in England. To date, nine billion fewer plastic bags have been used as a direct consequence of introducing the charge.This has led to a reduction of 83 per cent and £95 million has been donated to environmental educational, and other good causes.

· Call for evidence next month on a new charge or tax on single-use plastic items, such as takeaway containers. This will encourage industry to take more responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products and make them easier to recycle.

· Inject new funding into plastics innovation through a bid into the government’s £7 billion research and development pot.

· Support a Northern Forest. It will be a new community woodland for Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire, provide a new and enduring amenity for the growing population of the north of England, and act as a carbon sink for the UK.

· Allow young people to learn more about the natural world, targeting schools in disadvantaged areas first. This will be supported by £10 million of investment.

Actions the Government has already taken to help our environment:

· Supporting further restrictions on neonicotinoids and have banned microbeads. These are significant steps toward protecting bees and our marine environment.

· Providing £3.5 billion to support measures to improve air quality. Investing in electric vehicle infrastructure and new charging technologies, supporting the roll-out of low carbon buses, and expanding cycling and walking infrastructure. In the last Budget  announced a £220 million Clean Air Fund, paid for by tax changes to company car tax and vehicle excise duty on new diesel cars.

· Ending the sale of all new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.

· Doubled maximum litter fines to £150. From April, the new range will be £65-150, with a default of £100.

· Releasing beavers to the Forest of Dean, to help reduce the risk of flooding and enhance biodiversity. Beavers are to be introduced into a 6.5 hectare secure enclosure in the Forest of Dean in the spring.

Overall this plan and existing actions are the boldest and most radical plan to support the environment brought forward by a Government. 

Housing Sector – Budget 2017 briefing

The Chancellor pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat today with a stamp duty exemption for first time buyers up to £300K. This was part of his promise to fix Britain’s housing market with a package of measures including; investment, planning reform and tax cuts for first-time buyers, as mentioned.

Lets also look at the other announcements today;

      • Government committed to deliver an average of 300,000 homes a year by the middle of the next decade, the biggest annual increase in housing supply since 1970.
      • Since 2010, Government overseen over 1 million new homes being built. Housebuilding is at its highest level since the crash, but housing remains unaffordable for many.
      • Abolishing stamp duty for over 80 per cent of first time buyers – up to £300,000. The exemption will also be available to properties up to £500,000. This means an effective discount of up to £5,000 for a property of £500,000.
      • Investing an additional £15 billion for housebuilding – taking the total this Parliament to £44 billion. To include; £2.7 billion to double the housing infrastructure fund, £1.7 billion to unlock small and strategic sites, £400 million on estate regeneration, £1.5 billion to support SME builders, and provide £8 billion on guarantees – committing a total of £44 billion over the next five years.
      • Helping Local Authorities to deliver new homes – The Homes and Communities Agency will expand to become ‘Homes England’ bringing together money, expertise, and planning and compulsory purchase powers with a clear remit to facilitate delivery of sufficient new homes, where they are most needed, to achieve our goal and to deliver a sustained improvement in affordability.
      • Reforming planning to unlock land for homes. Government maintains to protect our green belt, and make better use of urban land. They will consult on introducing minimum density rules in urban areas and near transport hubs, and expect councils to permit more homes for first time buyers.
      • Getting the skilled workforce in place to construct the homes. Funding to provide £40 million to develop construction skills across the country, so to create skilled jobs and build the high quality homes needed.

  • Driving the housing market will be crucial to addressing the downgrade in the UK’s economic prospects. The OBR cut the projected growth rate for 2017 from 2 per cent to 1.5 per cent. That said the Stock Exchange reacted well, with the FTSE 100 share index rising 0.1 per cent to 7,453.65, its highest close in eight sessions.The Chancellor stated, “Put simply, successive governments over decades have failed to build enough homes to deliver the home-owning dream that this country has always been proud of“. Lets hope this Government can succeed where others have not.

Pre-budget – Building the housing ladder this country needs

For decades we have not been building enough homes, with prices rising to unaffordable levels. At its peak, 350,000 homes were built in 1970. However, since then there was an overall year on year decline down to 75,000 homes in 2009. These numbers have subsequently seen some recovery, rising to 220,000 last year

The Chancellor has stated that the budget tomorrow will set out how the government will build 300,000 new homes a year.

Already, there have been a number of steps taken to help confidence in the market. Councils and housing associations in England have been provided with long term rent certainty from 2020.

The £3 billion ‘Home Building Fund’ already has over half its budget committed and will deliver over 100,000 new homes built across England.

Through the government’s Housing White Paper, unnecessary delays will be tackled –  ensuring councils release more land for housing, giving them new powers to ensure that developers actually build homes once they’re given planning permission to do so.

The ‘Help to Buy’ scheme has already helped over 130,000 more families. An additional  £10 billion has been committed to the scheme to help a further 135,000 households by 2021.

Unlocking larger scale developments will need Government support for infrastructure. The introduction of the £2.3 billion ‘Housing Infrastructure Fund’ will help with this.

One key question is whether the 300,000 homes target will make inroads into the issue of affordability and market demand. Experts, overall, agree that yes, if this delivery rate is achieved it will help – but is a starting point.

Tomorrow we will see what other measures the Government will put forward to help the development industry.

Republicans must speak out on Trump

It is fair to say that leading Republicans have condemned racism and racist groups, but, so far, only Senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham have publicly named Trump after his awful statements surrounding the events in Charlottesville.

Trump’s Tuesday impromptu Q&A at Trump Tower in New York, brought widespead shock and condemnation when he reverted to his initial equivocation, when he said  there was “blame on both sides”.

Today Trump has gone even further by condemning the removal of Confederate Statues.

Sen John McCain tweeted, “There’s no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate & bigotry. The President of the United States should say so”.

Sen Lindsey Graham in a statement said, “Through his statements yesterday, President Trump took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally and people like Ms. Heyer. I, along with many others, do not endorse this moral equivalency,”.

We have seen a significant number of business CEO’s leaving Trump’s business advisory group, a total of eight in three days. So much so that the two business groups have now been disbanded.

This is in addition to Democrat politicians directly condemning Trumps comments.

But it is now time for Republican politicians to step forward as well and directly condemn Trump’s comments on Charlottesville.

  • UPDATE
  • Mitt Romney has made the following statement;“I will dispense for now from discussion of the moral character of the president’s Charlottesville statements. Whether he intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn. His apologists strain to explain that he didn’t mean what we heard. But what we heard is now the reality, and unless it is addressed by the president as such, with unprecedented candor and strength, there may commence an unraveling of our national fabric.

    The leaders of our branches of military service have spoken immediately and forcefully, repudiating the implications of the president’s words. Why? In part because the morale and commitment of our forces–made up and sustained by men and women of all races–could be in the balance. Our allies around the world are stunned and our enemies celebrate; America’s ability to help secure a peaceful and prosperous world is diminished. And who would want to come to the aid of a country they perceive as racist if ever the need were to arise, as it did after 9/11?

    In homes across the nation, children are asking their parents what this means. Jews, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims are as much a part of America as whites and Protestants. But today they wonder. Where might this lead? To bitterness and tears, or perhaps to anger and violence?

    The potential consequences are severe in the extreme. Accordingly, the president must take remedial action in the extreme. He should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize. State forcefully and unequivocally that racists are 100% to blame for the murder and violence in Charlottesville. Testify that there is no conceivable comparison or moral equivalency between the Nazis–who brutally murdered millions of Jews and who hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat–and the counter-protestors who were outraged to see fools parading the Nazi flag, Nazi armband and Nazi salute. And once and for all, he must definitively repudiate the support of David Duke and his ilk and call for every American to banish racists and haters from any and every association.

    This is a defining moment for President Trump. But much more than that, it is a moment that will define America in the hearts of our children. They are watching, our soldiers are watching, the world is watching. Mr. President, act now for the good of the country.”

 

Supporting the next generation at school

It is crucial that we properly fund our schools to support our next generation. During the election their was clear concern raised over the level of per pupil funding. So it is welcome news that the Government is protecting the core schools budget and are giving more money to schools.

The schools budget increased by three per cent in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15; and is at its highest level on record this year at over £40 billion. With an additional £1.3 billion over the next two years – meaning funding will be £2.6 billion higher in 2019-20. This will mean no reduction in per pupil funding.

But money alone is not enough, the standard of education at our schools must be strong. There are 1.8 million more pupils being taught in good or outstanding schools since 2010. The number has increased from 4.8 million in 2010 to 6.6 million in November 2016.

Campaigns for ‘Fairer schools funding’ have been listened to – backed by additional investment – will deliver the biggest improvement to the school funding system for over a decade. It will mean an increase in the basic amount every pupil will get, protected funding for those with high needs, and will ensure every local authority is in a position to
give schools a cash increase.

Trusting our teachers to get on with the job they enjoy – the Government has given schools more freedoms – so that teachers can do what’s right for their pupils. This means
headteachers, who know their pupils best, have more power over their curriculum, staffing and budgets. There are 5,889 more academies and 344 more free schools than in May 2010.

This raft of measures means that we can have confidence, whilst not being complacent, that school education is going in the right direction.

Protecting our ocean life from microbeads

The Conservative Government will introduce legislation to implement a ban on the use of microbeads in both cosmetic and personal care products. This is part of an effort to restore the health of our marine environment. For example, the 5p plastic bag charge has reduced use by an incredible nine billion+ bags – enough to wrap around the world more than 100 times.

Legislation will be brought forward later this year to ban the use of microbeads in personal care products. Adding tiny pieces of plastic to products like face washes and body scrubs is incredibly damaging to our sea life – they can swallow them – but cannot digest them.
Already we are seeing retailers and manufacturers are already taking action to phase out microbeads.

With the legislation, which will be brought forward later this year, will make sure that in future microbeads will have no place in personal care products, like shower gels and face scrubs, that end up going down the drain.

 

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Crossrail 2 takes a step closer

This week Crossrail 2 took a step closer with the Transport Minister, Chris Grayling, stating; “We support Crossrail 2, but given its price tag we have to ensure that we get this right. We have agreed to work with the Mayor of London together on it over the coming months to develop plans that are as strong as possible, so that the public gets an affordable scheme that is fair to the UK taxpayer.”

The next step should be a fresh public consultation to help gather views to improve the scheme and clarify the position around the safeguarded route.

Crossrail 2 is the key to unlocking 200,000 new jobs and 200,000 new houses. Clearly building transport infrastructure has the potential to drive economic growth, create jobs and spread wealth across the country.

The project will cost around £30 billion pounds, so the Government has set the expectation that London needs to pay half of the upfront construction costs.

Increasing demand is placing increasing pressure on the existing infrastructure, a TfL study showed rthe capital’s transport network will be so overcrowded by the 2030s that Tube stations could be forced to bring in drastic measures such as permanent one-way systems or regular closures.

Crossrail 2 plan has been nine years in the making – lets press on and realise this vital infrastructure project. 

An action plan for tackling acid attacks

London, especially, has been hit hard by the scourge of acid attacks. Reported figures show a 74% rise in attacks year on year. A third of the attacks last year happened in the borough of Newnham.

One of the key challenges has been the ease of acquiring these dangerous substances over the counter – often with no questions asked.

The Police have expressed a concern that it is becoming the preferred weapon of choice for robbery gangs. Presumably due to carrying a knife bringing a mandatory sentence – whereas carrying acid does not.

Already leaders in the retail sector have taken action. Stores including B&Q and Homebase have stopped selling sulphuric acid products and the British Retail Consortium support the most toxic products only being available on licence.

This is in addition to the Home Office carrying out an urgent review. Covering whether the CPS needs to change guidance so that corrosive substances are included in the classification for dangerous weapons. Legislative change could come through the Poisons Act 1972 to cover corrosive substances.

Current legislation gives guidance to shops that sulphuric acid is listed as a ‘reportable substance’. This means that whilst a licence is not required for purchase, under the guidance ‘suspicious transactions’ must be reported. However many products do not list the concentration of acid which separates ‘reportable’ products to conventional products like bleaches. This has led to confusion and retailers adopting differing approaches.

Changes to tackle these awful attacks should include;

(1) Sentences for carrying corrosive substances without a lawful excuse as currently covered within knife crime sentencing (up to four-years).

(2) Legislative and CPS guidance changes to ensure that attacks with acid are covered as dangerous weapons.

(3) The Poisons Act 1972 to cover all corrosive products – so retailers need a licence to sell and buyers need a licence to purchase.

(4) Purchases will be to over 18 year olds only, requiring proof of age identification; coupled with credit card only transactions – so purchases can be traced if needed.

(5) Manufacturers being required to clearly label corrosive products and the level of sulphuric acid contained.

(6) Increasing intelligence led Police stop-and-search.

(7) Mandatory life sentences on those convicted of grievous bodily harm with intent.

Only clear and bold action can tackle this awful and heinous crime that is affecting the country and London especially.

 

Creating a welfare system that works

WelfarCountless Governments have tried and failed to roll back the benefits system against those that can and wont work. At the outset, let me be clear; I believe in a welfare system that provides a safety net for those that need it and protects the most vulnerable in our society.

Failure of the Labour years.

welfare3During the early years, Labour sought to reform benefits, but when they encountered resistance to change they backed away.

Not only this, they brought forward an approach that had the perverse effect of punishing work. For example – hardworking taxpayers could lose over £9 of every £10 extra they earned. Under Labour the benefit system became so moneycomplicated that for many there was no point in working more because they would lose more in benefits than they would earn in work.

There efforts also failed especially the young; Labour’s much vaunted and expensive ‘Future Jobs Fund’ saw nearly half of participants back on benefits as soon as the six months of their placement were due for renewal.

They also trapped many in low wages by letting the tax credit bill get out of control. Tax credit spending increased by an astonishing 340 per cent between 1997/98 and 2010, while at the same time average earnings increased by 30 per cent. Even Alastair Darling  admitted that Tax Credits were ‘subsidising lower wages in a way that was never intended’.

Reform by the Conservatives

Welfare5The mission, started by the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP, was to make work pay and lift many out of welfare dependency altogether. He understood that the value of work goes far beyond the economic benefits – it significantly affects health and wellbeing.

As part of the broader economic strategy, has seen employment rise by 2.8 million since welfare22010. That means more people with the dignity of a job, security of a regular pay packet, and more people able to support their families.

The flagship policy of ‘Universal Credit’ is a crucial reform to our benefits system designed to make sure work always pays. From this month the Government will reduce the Welfare6Universal Credit taper rate from 65 per cent to 63 per cent – effectively a tax cut for those in work on low incomes. This will increase the incentive to work and progress for 3 million households, and means that a couple with two children receiving the housing element of Universal Credit, where one parent earns £30,000 a year, would benefit by around £425 per year.

During the Labour years, the starting rate for tax hardly moved. Raising the tax-free personal allowance has done more to help ordinary working people than almost anything else. These change mean for example that someone with a salary of £15,000 pays just £800 a year in tax compared to £1,705 in 2010. It single handedly took four million people out of income tax altogether. The personal allowance will raise even further to £12,500.

One of the comments that I heard frequently on the doorstep under the Labour years was hard working families seeing families on benefits being better off. This was profoundly wrong. Introducing the cap on the overall amount an out of work household can get in benefits ensured people cannot claim more in benefits than most earn in work. The benefit cap is being reduced further from £26,000 to £23,000 in London, and £20,000 in the rest of the country.

Benefit levels for a time rose faster than average wages. That is why the Government  capped the increase to 1 per cent to match public sector pay. This will save billions and rewards work by ensuring benefits don’t rise faster than wages.

Supporting the vulnerable and pensioners

For those that cannot work, it was right to exempt those with serious and chronic conditions from reassessments. This will remove unnecessary stress and bureaucracy for the most vulnerable in society.

welfare7On pensions the triple lock was introduced. This makes sure the basic State Pension goes up by whichever is highest of inflation, wages or 2.5 per cent. Last year the basic State Pension saw the biggest real terms increase since 2001, meaning someone on a full basic State Pension is around £570 more a year better off than if it had been uprated by average earnings, and received £1,125 more per year overall than in 2010-11.

For those of working age automatic enrolment in pensions supports people to save for their retirement. This requires all employers to automatically enrol eligible workers in a good quality workplace pension scheme. The number of people saving into workplace pensions has increased by 4.4 million since 2012, and research by the IFS has shown that, between 2012 and 2015, 95 per cent of the rise in private sector membership was the result of automatic enrolment, and that these changes disproportionately benefit low earners. In addition, around 2 million people will benefit from a new market-leading savings bond announced by the Chancellor at the Autumn Statement.

Whilst the path to benefit reform will never be an easy one, with care taken to protect the vulnerable and those most in need, the Government is going in the right direction.