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The Makeshift Manifesto

December 6, 2019 Leave a comment

MM2We are hearing promise after promise and commitment after commitment based upon what our current crop of politicians and aspiring MPs will do for us if we give them our vote.

The problem is that if any of them do get elected with a majority this week – and therefore attain the ability to actually deliver on any of the things they have promised – the promises they have made will look and sound very different when they come to fruition for many reasons, not least of all because so little thought and consideration has gone into how those promises were actually formed and made.

The UK is desperate for change

If we were able to elect the right politicians, we would not need manifestos at all.

Good politicians would do the right things and would be committed to doing whatever is necessary to get the job done – all without any consideration for what the impact of their actions may or may not be for them themselves, the Political Party they represent or anyone else who has influence upon the way that they think.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the option to choose the right politicians in the 2019 General Election.

The system that we have has ensured that different names, different people and the different things they all say won’t deliver anything different to the outcome or result. Anything and everything they do will always end up being exactly the same.

That isn’t to say there isn’t any value to the things that politicians are currently talking about.

Any good salesman knows that no matter how small it might be, selling anything has to be anchored on the basis of at least one truth.

The politicians we have are savvy enough to be able to focus in on topics that people will identify with and talk about them or make offers to the Public that suggest the politicians will address them. Promises that will be calculated as being just enough to get them elected – which is the only real job or purpose that any and all of these politicians genuinely want to get done.

We don’t know what the outcome of the Election on Thursday 12th December will actually be.

But whatever the outcome of the 2019 General Election is, the fact that we have such poor, self-serving politicians as the majority of Candidates to become MPs means it is pretty likely that even greater chaos than what we have seen in the past two years is well on its way. That chaos may really begin to hit us all very hard in our everyday lives if there really is no change in politics and politicians continue to believe that they can continue to behave just the same as they are.

So what could politicians be doing differently now if they were focused on the right things?

Actually there is an awful lot.

But successful outcomes for us all means having new politicians who are big enough and confident enough in their own abilities, knowledge and understanding to know that the biggest thing they have to think differently about is the desire to always in someway feel like they are in control.

No, not the kind of control we think of like driving a car or riding a bike.

This is the idea that politicians can control future events by the decisions they take now or at a certain time.

They can’t and never will.

It just looks like that – some of the time.

So when I say that good politicians wouldn’t need manifestos, what I mean is that they wouldn’t need to try and bribe us with whatever they can dream up to convince us.

We would just elect good politicians because we could trust them to get on and do what’s best for all of us whenever they make a decision.

We could trust good politicians to do the right thing.

Real Change

Because we don’t have good politicians, it’s worth having a think about the kinds of things they would actually be doing with the power that we have given them as part of that journey of doing the right things on our behalf.

Below is a list of the kinds of new policy ideas and changes that good politicians might be already acting upon, thinking about, questioning, discussing, researching and developing right now, if they were already in government.

It is not an exhaustive list by any means and I will apologise to any reader now who immediately finds the absence of a topic or suggestion in keeping with this document that I have for some reason or none left out.

There is, in reality today a never ending list of things that really need to be done and these are just a beginning or a start.

This is a Makeshift Manifesto

The points are deliberately short to bring focus and attention to the areas that need work in Public Policy if things in this Country were really to be changed and there was a genuine, wide-ranging commitment on the part of politicians to really get things done.

Some of the points will seem controversial, like withdrawing or rescinding the Legislation on Employment Rights that came from the EU.

I have raised them not with the intention of upsetting anyone or winding anyone up. They are there to serve as a gateway to the reality that there are much bigger and usually very negative consequences sitting beyond the mantras and sound bites that are deceptively used to draw voters in. The sweetest sounding lies and partial truths that often hurt the very people that they are supposed to help as they appear to positively impact the people they were designed for, but then negatively impact the world around them and then come back to haunt those same people too.

The way politics and the media operates today doesn’t foster genuine learning, discussion and debate. It focuses on fear and encouraging instant reactions and doesn’t allow anyone to take the time to sit down, go through ideas in the right way. It certainly doesn’t explain.

For example, when talking about subjects like hourly wages and rates of pay with young people and students, they will most often only be focused on what the value of pay to them is actually worth.

Yet when you take the time to discuss and explain how the businesses that employ them operate and what wage rises will actually mean as a result of the knock-on effects to the employer, the customers and the employees just like if not them, they are typically far more interested in what has been said. Indeed, they are genuinely receptive to the steps that would need to be taken to make the money they earn and already have in their pocket have better value. They want to see the changes come into being that would change not only theirs but everyone’s lives for the better – again, getting done what really needs to be done.

So no matter how the following points might immediately make the reader feel, they are offered up as no more than the equivalent of a light being shone on the areas of Public Policy that need to be changed; in some cases removed and in others completely transformed, simply to ensure that the battle to deliver something better for ALL People in the UK – that MPs are not yet fighting – is ultimately won.

‘You can’t do the right thing because it’s too complicated’

This isn’t costed. It can’t be done. Things don’t work like that. It’s not practical. It’s idealist.

These are all reactions that can be expected at the end of reading what follows below.

During conversations with many people about public policy generally and particularly with people who voted to Remain in the Referendum on Leaving the EU, I have become increasingly aware that the majority of us agree with all the kinds of suggestions I am making and with it the principle of ‘doing the right thing’. But they also believe this kind of change is impossible because it’s either too complicated or we will never have the right people in politics to do what it takes to get these things even considered, let alone started, completed or ‘done’.

Whilst this view is completely understandable when considering the mess that British politics is now in, it’s because politicians have not been prepared to look difficult policy decisions and challenges in the eye and deal with them properly as they should that the UK is now in the trouble that it is and so many people are suffering across our communities.

Brexit is a symptom of the very problem where the politicians who have been elected and given the responsibility to lead us and make decisions on our behalf always take the easy option. Do decision making in isolation without care for consequence. And give us government that is always thinking about the next election and is therefore on the run.

The reality is that if politics was done properly in the UK, manifestos and the false promises within them would be redundant.

Issues would be addressed and considered by Government as they need to be, rather than being wrapped up in shiny paper at election time and sold to us as part of some grand but nonetheless hollow strategic plan.

Cost, practicality, how the system works and all those things may be very relevant in considering what is only list of suggestions for consideration that follows here.

Any one of the suggestions made, when considered or even enacted in isolation might be appear impossible simply because of all the other existing policies that already interact with that area of policy, which in the immediacy of that apparently broader sense might make it seem impossible for that one thing to be done.

But none of this is impossible.

In fact, we all deserve an approach to public policy which is not fearful of even considering changes to public policy just like these.

This means that we need to change the way that we think as well as the people we elect to think on our behalf.

Only when we have political leaders who think differently will we all see and then understand how different and how better things in this Country can be if our politicians are prepared to break away from the idea that achievement only comes from compromise when repeated compromise itself means we continually end up with all the same things.

We must have real leaders in Government before we can actually be led.

A small caveat

Everything that follows is basically a starting point or a means to reaching or finding a way to an end. The overriding principle is that we should make better and more effective use of all that we have already got, rather than falling into the trap of thinking that the problems that we have can only be solved by throwing money around or by replacing whatever the problem is with something new.

This kind of thinking might be representative of ‘the way that things have always been done’. But in the long term, it helps no one.

PLEASE NOTE: There is no specific or intended order. As a result of an attempt to avoid duplication (which may have failed here and there…), some points or suggestions may appear to be located under headings which are different to where you might automatically assume they should be. It does however illustrate the point rather well that no public policy decisions should ever be made in isolation as all public policy is joined up!

Thanks for reading!

 

Best wishes to all,

Adam Tugwell

7 December 2019

The Makeshift Manifesto – December 2019

 

1 – Taxation

  • Reform of HMRC to make it ‘customer friendly’
  • Tax the ownership of land, property and wealth rather than personal income
  • Tax Internet transactions at the location of the customer or the device they were using, not at the location of the company base
  • Simplify the taxation system, providing transparency and remove confusion
  • Aim for flat tax or limited tier system which is not based on the level of earnings, but where all earners pay proportionally the same
  • Aim to reduce and then remove VAT once all other parts of the Tax system have been changed and are working appropriately
  • New ethical ‘in the spirit of’ legislation to prohibit Tax Evasion or Avoidance where no preventative Law is deemed to exist or cover the abusive act, but where Tax Evasion or Avoidance has taken place nonetheless

2 – Industrial Relations

  • Reform union legislation to prevent and make illegal any strike that will or has the potential to effect transport and public service provision
  • Remove right of unions to have paid shop stewards or other union representatives on organisational or company payroll
  • Legislate to prohibit unions making donations to political parties, third party organisations or outside causes

3 – Defence

  • Reinstate National Service to ensure that all eligible young people qualify academically, complete parallel apprenticeships or undertake military training as a key part of their professional development and steps towards the workplace
  • Aim to bring all military hardware and software development and manufacturing into the UK or UK hands, outsourcing only where no other options are available
  • International Military Policy to be non-interventionist and non-aggressive unless directly attacked or there is a requirement to maintain an appropriate military presence overseas either to support UK Foreign Aid activities or as part of Partnership commitments with other Countries (NATO, UN etc)
  • Outlaw civil prosecution against any alleged military ‘crime’ – whether current, recent or historic
  • Continue with the Renewal of Trident
  • New Naval Ship Building programme to include adequate ‘at sea’ Fisheries Protection for all UK Waters
  • Rearm and finance the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Army to ensure that combined forces are able to cover all domestic and possible/likely overseas requirements at all times

4 – Communication

  • Support the telecoms industry to provide 100% Broadband coverage across the UK within 5 years
  • Ensure that all critical infrastructure and software is provided by UK Companies, managed and manufactured in the UK

5 – Education

  • Apprenticeships at 14 for non-academic young people as part of a change to ‘heads’ vs. ‘hands’ parallel routes to age 21 where education is based on experience, academic attainment or both, rather than just exam results and educational level reached.
  • Prohibit bogus or ‘worthless’ degrees
  • Remove commercialism from all places of learning to ensure that the focus is on teaching, not running as a business
  • Cap the salaries of senior academic and management staff in all publicly funded educational establishments
  • Remove ‘private’ interest in any publicly funded educational establishment or vehicle
  • Legislate to support Teachers first and foremost in the parent-teacher relationship
  • Add critical thinking to become a required part of all curriculums
  • Means tested paid tuition fees for further and higher education students for first time applicants of all ages
  • Means tested maintenance grants for further and higher education students for first time applicants of all ages

6 – Foreign Policy

  • Reform overseas aid to provide direct and meaningful support, rather than just funds or contracts to private companies
  • Contracts awarded to private companies as part of Foreign Aid should be given to business indigenous to that specific Country, with the focus that profits and employment end up in the pockets of local people and businesses – not simply back in the UK
  • Create a non-military foreign aid logistics and development service

7 – Brexit

  • Immediate rejection of any of the existing ‘Withdrawal’ Agreements made with the EU
  • A completely Clean Exit from the European Union on WTO Terms – as directed by the UK Electorate in the European Referendum Vote on 23rd June 2016
  • No negotiations on trade until the UK has formally Left the EU and is functioning with trade on WTO Terms
  • No further payments to be made to the EU after the UK Leaves the EU
  • No balloon payments made as part of the process of the UK Leaving the EU
  • Immediate start on the alternative Borders option for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to include the establishment of the Open Border Service
  • Immediate protection orders to safeguard British Farming, Fisheries and all areas of production at risk from foreign imports
  • Immediate implementation of a temporary protectionist policy on all trade with the EU where the products, goods, foods and services are already available in the UK, to stay in place until those industries can self-sustain
  • Immediate ban on the import of all EU derived products, goods, foods and services that are subsidised and therefore underwritten by the EU, unless they are not already available in the UK

8 – Business & Finance

  • Readopt an unashamedly protectionist, UK first approach to all industries and services
  • Adopt a non-global approach to supply chains and production
  • Require all UK Business to adhere to new Covenant of UK Environmental Standards covering all production, operations and purchasing within 2 years
  • Focus new trade deals on Foods, Products, Goods and Services that the UK has not historically provided itself or for the period it remains unable to do so
  • Reform and limitation of financial services and banking to restrict or where necessary prohibit the use of speculative (betting), futures and non-transparent financial devices in any form
  • Restrict the power of privately owned credit scoring agencies
  • Regulate and restrict current system whereby banks and financial institutions can effectively create money through system of leverage
  • Confiscation of all material assets law for all Bankers and Financiers who are convicted of financial exploitation of others
  • Sell here, produce here requirement for products and services in mass Public or consumer use
  • Anti profiteering laws to be introduced
  • Restriction of intervention and right of agency in any supply chain where no value has been added via the transfer
  • services
  • Punitive fines to be introduced for unethical business practices
  • Fiscal prudence law outlawing policy decisions based only on cost and/or spending
  • Reverse changes made by Gordon Brown and the 1997 Labour Government to Pension Funds
  • Legislate to restrict or stop Planned Obsolescence consumerism
  • Legislate to prevent private companies issuing fines for parking offences
  • Create new Parking Court
  • Legislate to remove the grey area where gig economy companies can employ people on sub-contract or self-employed basis without being a full franchisee to be banned

9 – The Internet & Social Media

  • Legislate to ensure that identities of all social media account holders/users to be known to publisher and anonymity of public user identity (usernames) only given for legitimate reasons

10 – Public Services

  • Create Public Interest Companies (Trusts) to provide all municipal services and services across multiple Authorities covering traditional County areas or similar
  • Create new standard or charter for public servants
  • End the role of ‘created’ and unnecessary add-on management, back-room and administrative roles
  • End policies which facilitate and allow redundancy and rehire
  • Reform Local Government & Civil Service Pension Scheme
  • Rescind independence in decision making of all QUANGOs making them answerable Nationally to Parliament and locally to the most appropriate Local Authority or tier of Government
  • Remove EU Tender & Procurement Legislation
  • Prioritise new, small and local business over corporate business for any outsourcing requirement that remains
  • New non-financial or indirect corruption laws for all tiers of government and public services

11 – The Courts & Legal System

  • Reform and reinstatement of legal aid with appropriate fixed fee format, legal professional sector pay and enforcement body to administer and clear penalties for any abuse of the system
  • Reform of legal profession standards monitoring and regulation
  • Divorce Laws to be reformed with first point of call becoming mediation in all civil cases where no Criminal Laws have been broken
  • Mediation to become licensed
  • Create Legislation to impede influence of obstructive and unreasonable Divorce cases not settled by mediation
  • Volunteer Magistrates to be excluded from all Family Law cases
  • Reform Magistrates Service to remove innate prejudice and political correctness from recruitment processes
  • Legislation against ‘ambulance chasing’ or ‘where there’s blame, there’s a claim’ approach to litigation on basis of blame attribution
  • Dissolution of the Supreme Court and return to Law Lords or system that sits outside of political influence
  • Reform of litigation Laws to support David vs Goliath cases where small businesses could not afford to take on big business when in breech of contract

12. Law & Order

  • All convicted Terrorists to receive whole-life tariffs
  • Referendum on Capital Punishment
  • End to Police Community Support Officers
  • End requirement for Police Officers to be educated to degree level
  • End to direct entry for senior officers who have not come through the ranks
  • Resume system of Police Prosecutions
  • Aim for all minor offences to be prosecuted within 24 hours of arrest and before offender release
  • All young people from age 14 to 21 years convicted of criminal offences other than murder, manslaughter or terrorism to be immediately enrolled for National Service
  • Decentralisation of Police Stations and return to locality Policing
  • Remove all targets and statistical monitoring of Police work that incentivises behaviour or quality of work

13 – Freedom of Speech

  • Protection of the tolerant against spurious intolerance
  • Right to be forgotten to become automatic after 3 years
  • New law to support freedom of speech and right to speak with removal of right to inflict views on others verbally, in writing or through intimidation or threatening behaviour of any kind

14 – Animal Welfare

  • Rescind EU Laws on Abattoirs
  • Support construction of new local Abattoir network and mobile abattoir service for the most remote areas
  • No animal to travel more than 50 miles from farm to slaughter
  • Revise Hunting with Dogs Legislation to outlaw illegal or disruptive intervention by non-hunters, remove any right to prosecute for accidental Fox hunting, whilst tightening Law on prosecution against those seeking to flout Ban using birds of prey or other by-pass devices
  • RSPCA to lose charity status, be taken into public management and given evolved role to support work of DEFRA and all other Public Services and Agencies dealing with Animal Health & Welfare

15 – Nationalisation / Public ‘management’ of Everyday Essential Services & Utilities

  • Place all utilities and services essential for everyday public use into non-profit making status and/or create alternative public managed business providing alternative provider to all customers

16 – Transport

  • Scrap HS2
  • Remove Crossrail Company and replace with non-profit making commercial trust with reformed management structure
  • Build new terminus stations in London and expand number of platforms at existing terminus stations across UK
  • Reopen lines closed by Beaching Act
  • Public sponsorship or loans to new shipbuilding enterprises
  • Create new system of Bicycle & Rider Licensing
  • Focus technological development on Hydrogen and Battery Powered Vehicles
  • Rescind EU Legislation requiring Professional Drivers to do stepped tests for different vehicle sizes in same class (e.g HGV 3 and then HGV1 only afterwards following a qualification period)
  • Rescind Driver CPC Course requirement replacing current system with short online course and tests as part of first Licensing, then regular refresher courses and tests online thereafter to be provided and managed by DVLA for all UK ONLY commercial drivers
  • Professional Foreign Drivers required to undertake same short online courses and tests to drive in UK in ALL circumstances
  • Investment in new road surface technology research to extend lifetime
  • Fines for utility companies leaving temporary roadworks without work taking place at weekends and during daylight hours
  • Utility companies to be made liable for all road repairs where they have devalued the structural integrity of a road surface

17 – Welfare & Benefits

  • Institute a universally applicable basic standard of living rate for all persons
  • Create a people’s bank
  • All Benefits to be paid into a cashless bank account with restrictions on payments tailored to the recipient
  • Removal of assumed right to benefits for any foreign economic migrant
  • Return to common sense approach to disability payments
  • End the use of profit making back to work training contractors

18 – Poverty

  • Introduce a Basic Standard of Living level based upon what it costs to feed, cloth, house and transport a person or persons living in a household at a minimum realistic level
  • Base all benefits on the Basic Standard of Living Level
  • Base all future plans for minimum wage on the Basic Standard of Living Level
  • Explore validity of Universal Income set at Basic Standard of Living Level for the short term unemployed to restrict unnecessary exposure to benefits system and culture
  • Creation of blanket provision of hostels and services for the homeless with tailored approach to individuals and arms-length care and support for those who choose not to use any accommodation offered
  • All supermarkets and food retailers with 3000’ floor space of more to be required to provide and openly promote food bank donation bins

19 – Food & Farming

  • Unashamedly prioritise British Produce
  • Require that all publicly funded meal providers buy British
  • Incentivise local and ethical food supply chains to create a producer to retail industry able to compete directly with National Retailer supply chains with food travelling no more than 50 miles from farm to fork
  • Replace CAP with short term UK Farm Subsidies
  • Remove all EU-derived quotas and restrictions

20 – Politics and Government

  • Reform of electoral system
  • Reform of political Party system
  • Minimum age of Town & Parish Councillors set at 21 years
  • Minimum Age of District Level Councillors set at 25
  • Minimum Age of MPs set at 30
  • Removal of Allowances System for Councillors
  • Introduction of time-served, time-attended, effort-made ‘end of term handshake’ for Councillors
  • De-politicisation of lower tiers of Government
  • MPs barred from holding second jobs whilst in Office
  • MPs barred from holding non-executive directorships whilst in Office
  • MPs barred from holding consultant or sub-contract roles whilst in Office
  • MPs barred from holding any company ownership role with a shareholding of 51% or less whilst in Office
  • Politicians barred from holding more than 1 Elected Office at any time
  • End the Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) system
  • Local Authorities to be barred from using fines from parking and road offences as revenue or as a source of income
  • Lords to either be dissolved or be reformed
  • Reform of the Honours List
  • Reform of Commissions system
  • ‘Cronyism’ in Public Office to become a Criminal Offence

21 – Devolution & Localism

  • All powers that can be more effectively governed and implemented at local level to be devolved to the appropriate tier of Government from Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast
  • Create Parish or Town, District or Borough and County Level independent local authorities where none currently exist
  • Dissolve Unitary Authorities
  • Dissolve Mayor-led Authority Areas

22 – Climate Change

  • Create a Covenant of UK Environmental Standards for all foods, products, goods, services, manufacturing and other items to be published within 12 months and implemented within 24 months
  • Ban on all non-UK based Companies moving into UK Marketplace which do not meet UK Environmental Standards
  • Return public transport to ‘public’ ownership
  • Improve public transport to levels that improve passenger participation
  • Provide 50 free journeys on one form of public transport per commuter per year
  • Prioritise carbon capture technology both for industrial and domestic use
  • Stop pretending that House building is the only solution to the Housing Crisis
  • Invest in water capture, desalinisation and storage technologies, where possible ensuring a crossover with green energy production
  • Introduce Packaging Tax to be applied to all disposable or non-recyclable packaging on a per-unit basis
  • Rescind decision on 3rd Runway at Heathrow until expansion will be at least carbon neutral in current terms
  • Legislate to make better use of existing transport systems and infrastructure prioritising improvement over new construction
  • Tax commuter journeys taken by car
  • Incentivise reduction of car-to-school journeys for children of secondary school age and where adequate and appropriate educational transport or public transport provision exists
  • Legislate to restrict or stop Planned Obsolescence consumerism
  • Subsidise network of community car sharing pools
  • Tax ownership of fossil fuel resources on an annual basis
  • Ban imports of all products not manufactured to UK environmental standards

23 – Planning

  • Dissolve Local Planning Committee structure and remove politicisation
  • Legislate to create Local Planning Courts
  • Create new Government Planning Investigation Unit with remit to investigate historic consent, overturn decisions not made in the Public Interest and given the right to seize land and property where corruption of any kind has been found or to instruct the immediate return of land or infrastructure to the previous state it was in before the Application(s) was/were made at the cost of the Applicant.
  • Reform Planning Policy to remove anchors for interpretation and focus decision making on real-life effects and locality
  • Create National Framework of Planning Policies to be adopted and tailored locally and left as stand-alone except in times of National Emergency or need

24 – Environment

  • All flood plain building and restructuring to be immediately banned
  • Revision of Flooding policy to include equal weighting being given to Fluvial and Pluvial flooding
  • Return to regular dredging and clearance of all river systems

25 – Housing

  • Tax all multiple home ownership at increasing levels per unit and/or depending upon size and unused capacity
  • Introduce staggered and increasing stamp duty upon all multiple house purchases
  • Regulate profit margin per new house for house builders
  • Introduce Tax breaks and incentives for unused room letting
  • All local authorities to prioritise local applicants for social housing

26 – Employment Rights

  • Step away from all EU derived Employment Legislation and end Working Time Directive
  • Regulate to ensure minimum hourly wage in line with agreed contractual hours, overtime rates (minimum 1 x 1.25 minimum wage for all zero hours contract workers) and holiday pay on per hour basis
  • Legislate to ensure that all gig-economy-type roles pay ‘employee’ on basis of zero hours contract AFTER realistic costs have been deducted, whether technically employed or self-employed

27 – Licensing (Gambling & Sale of Alcohol)

  • Gambling industry to have new system of governance mirroring alcohol licensing where ‘point of transaction’ must be managed by a responsible, appropriately qualified and upstanding person who will be held accountable for the safety of all customers on the basis of legally backed right to refuse
  • Internet and/or app gambling to be regulated to reflect the above or banned if the industry cannot present workable solutions to support gambling supervision on remote basis
  • System of Alcohol Taxation to be introduced to encourage use of Pubs, Restaurants and Social Clubs for drinking

28 – Health & the NHS

  • Top to bottom reform
  • Removal of unnecessary or created backroom management functions
  • Ban on consultancy buy-in for management purposes
  • Devolution of management to ward level
  • Supply purchasing to be returned to strategic, cross-NHS level
  • Dissolution of all remaining PFI Contracts
  • Social Care to be managed by NHS
  • Regulation of damages payouts to cover legal costs
  • Creation of Damages Court to filter spurious complaints
  • Legalisation of ‘Right to Die’ under 3x ‘unknown’ doctor sign-off system
  • Sex Industry to be legalised, Regulated and managed as a Public Health concern

29 – Science & Technology

  • UK First Policy
  • Regulate ownership to restrict foreign influence and call upon new technologies
  • Subsidise development of real technology
  • New public managed pharmaceutical development company
  • Incentivise scientific development, automation and artificial intelligence only to improve production, output and quality – not purely for financial purposes
  • Revise policy on foreign investment to ensure that Companies and Technologies critical to the UK remain in UK hands

30 – The Monarchy

  • Immediate scaling down to preclude ‘shirt tail’ and no longer relevant Royals
  • Remove any obstacle to prosecution under all UK Laws for any Member of the Royal Family, whether perceived or otherwise.
  • Further Royal Palaces to be given over to Public use as museums and tourist attractions
  • Crown Properties to be returned fully to Public hands with no income paid to Members of the Royal Family from profits

31 – Voluntary Sector, Charities & Charitable Giving

  • Review of Charities and fundraising to remove unnecessary and unhelpful duplication of services
  • Create a centralised charity giving system or personal account, possibly managed by HMRC where money is deducted at source and then allocated according to the choice of the individual with gift aid automatically added

 

The list above is not exhaustive by any means. There is plenty more.

If you would like to download the pdf version of this Blog, please click here:  Makeshift Manifesto PDF2

Adam’s Book for Kindle ‘How to get Elected – doing politics the right way’ can be purchased and downloaded now from Amazon by clicking HERE.

 

 

Our Politicians are failing us over flooding, but this is nothing new. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is simply the method they use to prioritise everything they do

November 14, 2019 Leave a comment

 

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Tewkesbury in Flood. Image thanks to http://www.theguardian.com

It’s now 12 years since the 2007 Gloucestershire Floods.

The people living and working in Villages and Towns around mid and Northern Gloucestershire and South Worcestershire experienced the worst that inland flooding can throw at us – and for a great many even more, when critical infrastructure was affected and the drinking water supply dried up as result.

Nobody could argue that the impact of the event did not come to the attention and supposed scrutiny of Westminster Politicians at the time. Pictures of RAF Rescue Helicopters winching stranded people to safety whilst hovering against the backdrop of the Cotswold Hills quickly caught international attention. I stood outside the Local Council Offices when then newly appointed Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived.

At the time, within the immediacy of the flooding event itself, it felt like the powers that be simply couldn’t do enough.

But the moment that the floodwaters receded, the RAF had returned their big yellow flying machines to their bases and tap water supplies were restored, the media’s and therefore the attention of the politicians with the real power to do something meaningful simply drifted off to elsewhere and beyond.

Yes, remedial flood protection work took place here and there – especially in places that are very much in the wider public’s eye.

But the changes made in response to the Floods that year were in many ways little more than being aesthetic.

There was then and has been since no change in the way that Politicians, Government and the Agencies address the causes, influences upon and effects of flooding across the UK – despite many similar experiences for other people and communities across the Country that have already happened and are taking place in Yorkshire and the East Midlands today.

What was clear to me as a Local Councillor at the time of the 2007 Floods here, was that the Environment Agency wasn’t fit for purpose; that flooding was and always would be managed on the basis of so-called tried and tested thinking. And worst of all, that there was absolutely no room for new approaches or original thinking to deal with the problem as the specialists and those who possess the fiefdoms that are public sector responsibility would always know best – no matter what the reality and impact upon real people was or would be that was involved.

Nothing has changed.

If anything, things have got worse.

And whilst processes and procedures to deal the impact upon families that have to move out of their homes and perhaps live in caravans as a result for many months now appear to have become normalised, the fact that Government has concentrated only on managing the effects of any flooding crisis at the time, rather than dealing with the causes and what lies ahead should be telling us all that we really need to know.

Flooding isn’t a vote winner when there’s no water on the ground

With the shallow, self-serving politicians that we have in power today, the harsh reality we must all face is that in their majority, Politicians and the Political Parties that they represent are not interested in seeing any task through from start to finish, unless they believe that doing so will secure them more votes.

What our Emergency Services, our Military, and the people on the ground will do in Yorkshire and the East Midlands during the current crisis to help people will not be an issue in Westminster once the water has gone and this ridiculous General Election Campaign has passed by.

Addressing the issues that count and will make a difference – that’s Planning Policy, responding to the Housing Crisis, how we address Climate Change and the way that the Public Sector itself actually works, are not and never will be on the agenda for longer than it remains in the news. Or at least not until we have politicians with very different motives and people-first mindset involved.

Planning Policy

Many people don’t understand that Local Authorities don’t make planning law. They just interpret it.

And with rules that come from the centre – rules that sound great because they seem to consider this and sound great because they appear to consider that – we have all been misled into believing that a one-size-fits-all approach to the way that we build in all locations, environments and conditions across this Country can work out for everyone wherever they are in the same way – even with different people with different motives doing the interpretation that is involved.

There is no room within the Planning System for local understanding and anecdotal evidence to be considered.

For instance, the Planning System is itself so arbitrary that floodplains that have been built up and covered with dumped earth and inert debris then qualify as being safe to build on. Yet there is no consideration for the displacement of floodwaters that would have historically rested at that location. Nor is there though given for how that water might flow around this newly created island or indeed what other properties or places would now be affected by what will be both a new and at time of flooding inevitably different water flow.

For the impact of future flooding events to be limited for existing properties, Towns, Cities and Villages to the same levels and impact that they are having right now, Planning rules and the way that we interpret them must change to embrace the increasing likelihood of the black swans, rather than the imbedded mentality of ‘it couldn’t happen here’.

Unswerving technical adherence to manmade rules doesn’t allow for reach and impact of Mother Nature.

Solving problems without creating others must be a priority for all areas of civic life and activity.

The response to the Housing Crisis

 Yet another of the political footballs that is currently being bounced around is the topic of which Political Party will build more houses and how quickly they will build them if they should find themselves in power once the Election question has been resolved.

The myth that we need to build so many new houses evaporates the very moment that you consider how much they actually cost.

How often have you seen house prices drop in any part of this Country when a new estate or development has been built?

The truth is that prices of old and new property in the local areas usually rise and like most things where prices and need can be manipulated, profit and therefore greed are the underlying cause.

Building at the levels we have already embraced is already creating a time bomb for potential flooding incidents that would never have had this kind of impact in the past – especially with planning policy as it is.

There needs to be a massive rethink and politicians who were thinking about the people they represent would certainly bring this foolish and ill considered approach to the problem to an immediate stop.

The way to deal with the housing crisis is to make better and more equitable use of the houses and buildings that we already have.

It isn’t helpful to pretend that the only solution is to keep on building more and more, whilst creating many more real ones than the hollow one that it is supposed to solve.

Climate Change

Yes, Climate Change or the Climate Crisis that our young people are now beginning to champion and the way of thinking that they are challenging is a very real part of the flooding problem too.

The weather in this Country and around the World is changing – no matter what your views might be about the cause.

The cold hard reality that we all have to face is that the weather patterns that are here today will take many years to reverse.

But there are steps that we can take to address their progression and pathway to becoming worse.

It is not simply about legislating to change the behavior of people who are already trying to make the best of what can be very difficult lives.

This is where the inexperience and impractical idealism of young people could easily be seen to make a valid argument that is beneficial to us all seem outwardly very wrong. Like Flooding events, protests soon disappear from the minds and plans of the wrong politicians and that is the truth – no matter how wrong.

Sadly, with Climate Change, much of the problem is again about money and greed.

The businesses that have the biggest part to play just need to be led to think differently and see that the profit which is their obsession is still there for them tomorrow as it is for them today. It will just come from them investing, operating and behaving ethically in a very different way.

Industry and money might not be listening now, but that will be different when we have different people in charge.

The necessity of political change that wont be served simply by having a General Election

The complexity of the problems that are contributing to the Housing Crisis, the failure of Planning Policy, Climate Change and Flooding as an issue in its own right will never be dealt with in the way that it needs to be by politicians who are only interested in the outcome of the next Election and how they convince all of us to give them their vote.

If we want the change that we need with the issues that we are facing not just like Flooding, but which we are experiencing each and every day, we must elect different people into Parliament, our Councils and into positions of power who will put people first. Politicians who know what it will take and – most importantly – are actually prepared to do everything necessary to get all of those things that need doing – and not just Brexit – done.

 

 

 

 

 

The travesty of Tuition Fees was the commercialisation of education, the myth of qualification-related Social Mobility and the creation of lifetime debt for those who can least afford it

November 5, 2018 Leave a comment

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Somewhere, there was a cheer last week. Quieter that the Government was expecting. Bringing noises that didn’t sound quite as expected.

Yes, the dropping of Tuition Fees does sound good. But the question we should all be asking – just as we should have when they were first brought into being is ‘at what cost?’.

Living in the age of political idealism made manifest as we all currently do, it is too easy to get distracted by the noise from the media as new policies are launched.

We fail to look beyond and see the true consequences of what the Government of the day is doing with our money, and what the legacy – and yes, what the fallout will actually be from everything they do.

The creation of Tuition Fees was one of the biggest travesties of them all, simply because it all sounded so good, whilst the negative impact and knock on effects across so many different areas of policy were simply too-far reaching to justify anything about it which was tangibly good.

The UK’s Education System has been failing us all for a long while anyway. But the impact from Tuition Fees was never going to deliver much that really helped anyone in the way that the genuine concept of equality in education for all really should.

That so many former, existing and future students are now destined to have a lifetime of debt must surely now be a given.

Yet it is through the accompanying shift of emphasis from quality of teaching to fee-generation and profit alone within the Further and Higher Education Sectors which has secured the Blair era one of its darkest, yet most unrecognisable legacies as the true cost of ‘degrees for everyone’ becomes manifest and begins to become widely known.

It should come as little surprise that the leaders of the Institutions in these Sectors are now worried that a restriction on Fees may begin a process where ‘struggling’ universities are set to close.

That is the true price of making education a business, when money should never have been the target of a reprioritisation of direction Certainly not where the benefit of both the student, our industries and the National interest itself are so very closely entwined.

Beware the siren calls and suggestion of this being an attack on Social Mobilty too. Academic qualifications have only ever been a very small part of what it takes to get any one person through the perceptual barriers which hold so many people back. Whether they be school-age students, young people, graduates, career changers, returners or retirees, we all have a part to play in everyone else’s future too.

The reality is that the State should pay for everyone’s education. But in doing so, we must be practical and realistic about how access to education is applied and how much benefit is derived to us all from the provision of each and every course.

We must recognise that there is just as much value to be gained by opening up truly vocational opportunities for the less-academically-inclined at the age of 14.

And that as a result of doing so, not only would we release many young people from the painful and unnecessary realities of being in debt, we can also exploit the opportunity to create a parallel track of time-served and experienced trainees to support all of our businesses in a way that the obsession with degree level education has all but denied.

It would be far more sensible to begin this process of change now, accepting that neither the student nor the Nation itself can afford the process of awarding superfluous and non-beneficial degrees. And help the Sector to change through reform, rather than through a process brought on by necessity, which is what is currently sure to happen, if Politicians continue to think that money is the only benchmark by which the future of education can and should be defined.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Years on from the 2007 Gloucestershire Floods: Some things are different, but out of sight is still very much out of mind for the politicians and this is what must really change

July 20, 2017 1 comment
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Unloading water at the Wheatpieces Community Centre, Walton Cardiff, near Tewkesbury, following the July 2007 Floods

With 10 years now passed since the Gloucestershire floods of 2007 we cast our minds back to the magnitude of those events that affected significant numbers of people and communities across the County and surrounding areas in the middle of July that year.

Only a matter of weeks into my first term as an elected councillor at Tewkesbury Borough, I remember well that the significance of what felt like a tropical rainstorm parked overhead for most of that Friday would go way beyond a vast extension of what sadly remains a regular local event.

So much water trying to find its way to a natural watercourse created rivers and lakes in the most unexpected locations and seeing upended cars by the roadside and in ditches the following day, like some scene from War of the Worlds left a picture in my mind which was at the very least quite surreal.

But it was on the Sunday, when word really began to spread that there had been a problem at the Mythe Water Treatment Plant as a result of the Flooding which meant tap water was about to run out, that the real consequences of what we were afterwards told was a 1 in 100 year event really began to unfold.

After an unexpected phone call from a constituent that afternoon, asking where they could get water I found myself spending over two weeks delivering water and coordinating drinking water supplies around my Council Ward, increasingly conscious of how very thin the veil of individual social responsibility, commonly known as civil order actually is, when it was pricked in so many other areas by people fighting over water, steeling it and even urinating in bowsers where communities had been supplied. We can only begin to imagine what would have happened if the emergency services had not won their battle against the rising floodwaters of the River Severn when just centimetres from flooding the Walham Electricity Substation just outside Gloucester.

From my own perspective, the contact with members of the community I then represented that getting so directly involved gave me was of incalculable benefit. Not only did I see the impact of the breakdown of our utility service supply at first hand, I also gained real-time understanding of flooding and also what can be the very localised nature and requirements of our arbitrary Planning system, which continues to fail local people, and the communities in which they live every day.

The news channels have today made use of the good-news stories which followed the 2007 Floods, such as the permanent flood protection and defences that have been erected in places such as Upton on Severn, just a few miles upstream from Tewkesbury. Yet the bigger story beyond remains the lack of understanding or failure to acknowledge the real impact of building not only near or on flood plains themselves, but also on ground which in extreme weather events, would or has historically become the natural channels where a rainfall overload will find its way to our local main rivers via the floodplains in between.

Sadly, consideration of the issues which sit behind those which are most obvious is not something that Government at National or Local level beyond is happy to embrace, particularly at a time when the politically expedient route to solving our housing supply problems is to simply focus on everything that encourages people and businesses to build.

Events like the 2007 Gloucestershire Floods are not rare events. This fact has been only too well illustrated by the many different experiences that Towns, Villages and in some cases even Cities have been continuing to experience ever since, and yet we still have a Planning system, environmental policies and public sector approach which is in real terms not even fully reactive in nature.

The pain, loss and suffering which people suffer, often much longer than during the time of these flooding events themselves should have by now resulted in a proactive approach to flood prevention. But 10 years now gone – a period in which even the very slow wheels of Government could have delivered the creative and fully considered policy changes and developments which might at least have future-proofed existing properties from what might be avoidable disaster – Politicians are still failing to adapt to dealing with the biggest issues which are facing communities, albeit the ones that are far from being obvious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flooding: It’s wet, getting wetter and the funds are drying up. Government Reform and Policy change is the only way to get all the protection that we need and that process must start now

February 10, 2014 1 comment

Flooding and the affects that it can have on all of us has been a consistent theme since the very beginning of my time as a local Councillor near Tewkesbury.

In July-August 2007, Adam spent over 2 weeks coordinating and delivering bottled water across the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward. Pictured here in Pamington delivering to the service point set up by then County Councillor Gordon Shurmer

In July-August 2007, Adam spent over 2 weeks coordinating and delivering drinking water supplies across the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward. Pictured in Pamington unloading at a service point set up by then County Cllr Gordon Shurmer

If you come from outside the immediate area, memories of the summer of 2007 and the notoriety of the July ‘Floods’ in Gloucestershire tend to focus attention more on the water shortages that hit the County for those who still remember, rather than the significant and extremely rapid flooding event responsible which took place in just one day on Friday 20th July 2007.

In less than 48 hours, the life that we all so easily take for granted was compromised. Not because of a war, famine or catastrophic crash of our economy, but because the drinking water in our taps was literally switched off when flood water polluted the tanks at the Mythe Water Treatment Plant near Tewkesbury. These floods suddenly affected everyone, and not just those who had been flooded out; many of whom were themselves within whole neighbourhoods where river torrents coming through your home would normally be the very last thing on your mind on a midsummer day.

The complacency and complete lack of urgency demonstrated by officials that follows an event of this magnitude when life is perceived to be ‘back to normal’ is a strange thing to deal with if you have had firsthand experience of it. But this is exactly what people in Tewkesbury and the surrounding Villages have had to frustratingly deal with ever since and what the people of the Somerset Levels have clearly had to endure now too.

Sadly, Towns, Villages, Hamlets, Communities and Businesses simply at risk of flooding don’t have the newsworthiness of water in the way it does when it literally covers the ground. This is a real problem for anyone living with the realities of these events as news teams seldom camp out for anything good. Most people would much prefer not to have the camera crews taking up semi-permanent residence ever again to report such stories. But it seems that it will take exactly that to happen before any sense of urgency to deal with existing and weather-changing threats or those that Developers may indeed be creating, will be adequately addressed.

Taking nothing away from the many people who spent up to a year living in caravans on their driveways after the 2007 pluvial ‘event’ who now also have insurance ‘blight’ as a result, some areas around Tewkesbury and Gloucester such as the historic Village of Walton Cardiff in the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward that I represent regularly have to face the prospect of river or fluvial flooding too.

Residents there have sadly come to be so used to it, that one homeowner with the means to do so has even bought an amphibious buggy which he uses to help other Residents when the roads become impassable. Whilst community-minded in the extreme, I will probably be far from alone in having concerns that such acts are taken by Government Politicians to mean that there is a general acceptance on the part of those living with the risk of flooding that they are simply happy with the status quo. Let me tell you; they aren’t.

The constant threat of both types of flooding is never far from the minds of those whose homes are at risk of either the flooding that it is ‘reasonable’ to expect, or that which ‘normal’ disaster planning doesn’t allow for that comes in the form of events that the Environment Agency and other Organisations communicate in terms such as ‘a one in a hundred year event’.

The problem is that the Floods in question aren’t only happening once every one hundred years or whatever the particular ‘banding’ may be and the type of lottery derived statistics that are being used as this benchmark for support to our communities is now proving to be a form of gamble that’s only paying off for those who are most distant from the problem.

There are actually some very painful realities sitting behind the lack of support for our communities. Getting the results that we all need relies on a significant number of issues needing to be addressed and whilst I have no intention of dismissing the action that the Prime Minister and Eric Pickles are now reactively taking to the Somerset problems in particular, it is only by dealing with all the problems comprehensively – and accepting that matters which on the face of it have little to do with Flooding also have an effect – that there will ever be any genuine first and meaningful steps to dealing with this situation in its truest depth.

The interactive nature of these contributory issues with other seemingly non-related Policies make statements like that made by the the Environment Agency Head Lord Smith last week potentially misleading. Suggesting that there may be a hard choice to be made over whether we protect Towns and Cities or Rural Areas is arguably very subjective indeed. Whilst in the sense of funding for defence and maintenance work accurate, a statement like this doesn’t take into consideration the other contributory issues that come with it. The issues include:

Funding

In isolation, we can all easily draw the conclusion that solving Flood Defence problems is just about the money that Local Authorities, Central Government Departments and Non Government Organisations such as the Environment Agency have to spend. But it isn’t.

Essentially any work that is undertaken does have to be paid for by the public purse as Flood Prevention is fundamentally in the public interest. However, the days when such an issue in itself was enough to trigger an immediate and responsive spend on a ‘size doesn’t matter’ basis has long gone – if it ever actually existed before in anything other than wartime.

The problem for us today is that the Country is now effectively bankrupt after generations of profligate spending by Government on Policies which are considered populist only in the sense of the number of votes that they will win. They should have been in the best interests of the wider community – which is arguably how every political decision should actually be made.

Budgets are and will most likely continue to be cut from all Publicly Funded Organisations and will continue to do so whilst the gargantuan plate-spinning effort to keep the Economy and Public Spending from smashing on the floor continues. Lack of discussion and reference to the National Debt, whilst overplay on the prospect of reaching a zero Deficit in maybe a few years time is a key indicator of the high stakes game that is already well in play. Any upward change in spending that might come from a change in Government could actually bring matters to a conclusion even sooner.

The £100 Million promised just to the Somerset Levels alone this week might sound like a lot of money to those struggling to survive on an average wage. But in real terms and without any unfortunate pun intended, it is in reality a mere drop in the ocean of the fund that would actually be needed to cover the cost of protecting the UK against Flooding if no other options were to be genuinely considered.

Painful as it is to accept, the fact is that without significant change in the way that all parts of Government raise and spend money, there will never be anywhere near enough funds to address the Flooding problems with a cash only solution and Government really needs to start being straight with people about this.

Planning

Prevention is almost certainly better than waiting to work on a cure. Whilst many people who have experience of a Flood Event will already have significant anecdotal evidence to illustrate how building on flood plains has exacerbated the problems that we already face, it is the Planning Policies and Procedures which exist today that provide part of the greatest threat to both individual properties and whole communities.

Unloading water at the Wheatpieces Community Centre, Walton Cardiff, near Tewkesbury, following the July 2007 Floods

Unloading bottled drinking water at the Wheatpieces Community Centre, Walton Cardiff, near Tewkesbury, following the July 2007 Floods

A good example is that Planning Policy arguably only takes fluvial flooding into account, the effects of which themselves can open to the bizarrest forms of interpretation possible. A case which demonstrates this well would be the Wheatpieces Development within my Ward, some of which is well known locally to have been built on what was mapped historically as flood plain. However, I understand that it is not considered to be as such for Planning purposes by the Environment Agency – and therefore Planners – because the houses built on these areas were erected on built up land or infill which when the earthworks were completed then complied with the requirement of being the required ground level height above Ordnance Datum Newlyn, which I also understand was at the time of Permission being granted, some 12 Feet.

Such an undertaking is for current Planning purposes apparently enough to quantify that a development has not been constructed on Floodplain, but then gives sparse consideration for the knock on effects that creating an island in the middle of natures own flood remedy will have had on properties that would otherwise have been at significantly less risk of flooding. Build as many reed beds and flood tanks under a new development as you like, but when storms of the nature we are now experiencing come in the increasingly menacing way that they do, such developments can be akin to dropping a breeze block into an overflowing bath.

Some will call it cynical to say this, but evidence strongly suggests that the deficiencies in Planning Policy today leave existing homes and developments open to threat from the increased risk of flooding which is created by new developments – the properties upon which are unlikely to face the same threat. Couple this with the headlong rush by successive governments to build houses as the silver bullet to solve all ills, and you might begin to realise the level of threat that a Planning Policy which does not consider the whole picture has actually become. Planning Policy isn’t actually working in the best interests of anybody other than the Politicians, builders and companies that lend people the money to buy the new houses.

The irresponsibility of the Government and Opposition in hanging the fate of the Economy and those desperate for affordable homes on house building is not only fueling the growth of an already uncontrollable credit bubble; it is also determining a fate of misery and loss to the owners and occupants for many existing homes who will almost certainly be put at greater risk of flooding.

The role of ‘Respondents’ of the Planning Process

Symptomatic of our correctness culture has been the exponential rise of the Quango and distribution of powers to what are non-elected Bodies, some of whom don’t even report to Government Ministers. A number of these are involved in both the Planning system as ‘Respondents’, but also within the other processes which relate to Flood Prevention.

A great weight of responsibility has been given to many of these Organisations and their opinion, view or interpretation of their Policy in relation to specific cases and subsequently are seen to have what can sometimes feel like limitless power to those who have witnessed it.

Alone, their objections can halt an application on the spot, whilst the absence of an objection from any such Respondent can and does lead Members of Planning Committees to conclude that objecting to an application is little more than a futile act, as with these agencies not objecting, a Planning Inspector will surely approve it should the Application then go to Appeal.

With all working to very centralised; one-size-fits-all Policies which are without any real consideration for the very localised issues that the Planning System does encounter and specifically Flooding issues, the realities of the influence that these bureaucratic entities have is significant. Developers know that if they table Applications that effectively tick all the boxes that each of these Organisations have on their checklists, Local Authority Planning Committees simply won’t have a prayer if a developer then takes a rejection to Appeal  – which they rarely have hesitation in doing so.

The influence that these Organisations have over the Planning Process is simply too much and is at best an arbitrary way of dealing with what are ever increasingly sensitive issues that require a level of interpretation, consideration and understanding which genuinely reflects locality and the concept of Localism that the Coalition Government has done so much to sell itself upon.

Maintenance – when money isn’t a problem

The Environment Agency once again plays a critical role in the preventative maintenance which is already or should already be undertaken on watercourses and rivers, as do Local Borough, District, County and Unitary Authorities that have Drainage responsibilities.

The often complex relationships or rather chain of decision making that arises as a result of multiple organisations or ‘stakeholders’ being involved in a decision relating to Flood Prevention will almost always cause delays, or worse still, like the Planning Process, will result in one of them being perceived to carry more weight, and for the buck to effectively stop with them. In a compensation and blame culture, taking action actually appears to be the very last thing on the mind of the Representatives of these Organisations, and this can serve no purpose other than their own.

Sadly I do not recall one conversation with Residents or indeed other Politicians which has reflected positively upon the work of the Environment Agency. I have spoken to Farmers who have watercourses and rivers crossing their properties and most look back comparatively fondly on one of the forerunners of the Environment Agency, the National Rivers Authority (NRA) which is remembered for a much more proactive, less obstructive and therefore constructive approach to clearance and dredging.

I can remember seeing specially modified tractors working the banks of the contributory rivers to the Severn during the period of the NRA’s tenure and it is clear that anecdotal evidence of the benefit of such work correlates well with a period when fluvial flooding seemed to affect a whole lot less of the area.

The NRA itself adopted the responsibilities which were once included within the portfolio of the ten former Regional Water Authorities with what we now know to be this expensive, but critical form of work not being adopted by the privatised Water Companies. One could easily conclude that the formation of the Environment Agency and absorption of the NRA within it in 1996 was seen as the ideal time to cut back on proactive and costly Flood Prevention works and that this may have been considered a much safer time to do so rather than the late Eighties when Privatisation itself took place.

I will add that one of my own experiences of questioning an Environment Agency Representative during a post-flood seminar held at Tewkesbury Abbey in the weeks following the 2007 Flood, I can honestly say that I found the responses given to my questions on dredging and clearance to be conflicting. I walked away with the distinct impression that giving excuses rather than any meaningful response was the chosen modus operandi  of this Organisation – even when they might have honestly said  ‘there isn’t the money available’.

Distance and lack of situational objectivity on the part of decision makers

Flooding is an issue that is simply not recognised for the problem that it is right now, has been and will be by Government and the Staff of the Organisations that matter. People making  decisions do not have the first hand knowledge or exposure not only to the Flood incidents themselves, but to what can be the very localised nature of the contributory factors as they exist today and how they may come into play as the result of apparently unleashed development.

Officers of all the Organisations discussed who may be rightly and properly qualified to be called experts arguably don’t use their expertise in the way that the public should rightly expect. Tick box decision making appears to have replaced that of using common sense and recognising the need to seek the fullest perspective, arguably for little more reason than the threat which comes from taking responsibility within the protectionist culture which is now an inherent part of Government Administration.

The earlier system of buck-passing which grew decision making into a very expensive system of ‘one-job, one-role; keep passing it on until we can justify engaging a consultant’, has systematically inflated the size of ‘back room operations’, and taken money that was available away from frontline service delivery, where ironically as a result, the need for even more precise and robust decision making becomes ever more critical. We can all see the results.

The Weather

There is no question that weather patterns are changing. We don’t however know if this is due to a phenomenon like global warming, or whether it is actually part of very extensive climate changing cycles which have affected the earth historically, and which there is evidence to suggest might be the case.

Whatever the cause, it is clear that Government and the Organisations involved have not developed a proactive bias to Flood Prevention measures and that the approach taken is far more reactive in nature. It is what could easily be called ‘out of site; out of mind’ management, as work only seems to be concentrated on issues which are in the Public view – or can be guaranteed to be regularly so.

Many will probably be quietly asking whether the ‘intensity’ of effort now focussing on Somerset will for instance continue once the roads are passable and life is deemed to have returned to ‘normal’.

These are apparently ‘irregular’ events after all. But it was indeed telling that the Military first arrived in the form of just two Personnel who apparently decided that there was nothing at that point which they could do. Given that much of the amphibious and landing–type craft which could at very least help these stranded Communities are likely to be based with Royal Marine and Royal Naval Units in the South and South West anyway, should it really have been that difficult to put some of these vehicles on low-loading lorries and get them to the Levels within a few hours? 

Either way, attitudes must change even if the funds are limited. Government has been entrusted with great power on our behalf along with the responsibility to use it. So why aren’t they?

The painful reality is that there are likely to be other contributory factors that I and certainly others are not aware of, but which are important all the same.

Money is the overriding factor which has, is and will continue to inhibit the development of capital flood defence projects whether they are inland, riverside or on the coast and there is a danger that neither the realistic sums which could be raised for these projects, nor the changes in the many other policy areas that could positively assist will come into being unless there is a complete change in the way that Politicians assess, develop and then act upon their priorities.

Tewkesbury in Flood. Image thanks to www.theguardian.com

Tewkesbury in Flood. Image thanks to http://www.theguardian.com

As we have seen in Tewkesbury with the effect on water supply; in Devon with the effect on Railways and in Somerset with the effect upon land and roads; doing nothing places critical Infrastructure at risk. So funnelling truckloads of borrowed cash into any service or benefit that will put around 350 MP’s or more in power for the next five years when all they will then do is think about doing the same again – all to the incalculable cost of the majority of Taxpayers – can simply no longer be sustained.

With money being the problem that the Government doesn’t want to talk about, it is unlikely that any Minister will stand up any time soon and simply say ‘we don’t have the money to do all the work that needs doing’. Even less likely would be finding one of them saying and actually meaning ‘we don’t have all the money, but we will make all the changes that we possibly can which will serve all of your interests’ best’.

When these Politicians have moved past the sound bites, the portrayals of being belated men of action and giving hollow apologies when pinned down by interviewers, the best advice any Politician could now take would be to stop treating the Electorate like they are idiots and that the issues facing Government are beyond their understanding.

Good communication crosses all barriers and honesty coupled with the emotional intelligence that can only be utilised by those who are fully ‘in touch’ with issues will surely build the foundations of a wholly different kind of support. They might start by:

Listening Locally

It will be in everyone’s interests to develop a culture where local voices are heard even when they don’t have the profile of people like Michael Eavis, the founder of the Glastonbury Festival who wrote a very useful and telling article in the Mail on Sunday on 2nd February 2014.

Mr Eavis brought precisely the kind of invaluable and historical knowledge of the Somerset Levels to the table that no doubt many people could, if they were given the opportunity to do so.

Too much useful information is discounted because of the emotional buy-in that often accompanies very local issues and which is often badged as being Nimby-ism. Yes, there are people who will say no to everything simply because they don’t want change or others who make demands simply because they want something for themselves. But applying this very negative and destructive view on anyone who is promoting a local view, without taking adequate steps to discern the value from what they may be saying, is ultimately selling everyone short and is far from the hallmark of a fully enlightened form of Politics.

Reforming the Planning System and creating Local Planning Courts to make Localism really mean something and empower local people in the process

In the absence of the money that we need being available without either borrowing or taking money from services which may actually be invaluable elsewhere, Planning and its reform will be a key factor in proactively addressing future Flood Events.

Power of veto – whether negative or indeed positive, should never be held in the hands of unelected bureaucrats or people who are neither trained nor prepared to make decisions which truly reflect the very localised and area specific issues which relate to flooding.

We must move away from tick-box decision making which brings little more than the one-size-fits-all mentality to almost every Planning Application that will have an affect on the wider community and particularly so when it comes to Flooding.

Agencies and Local Authorities should inform, but ultimately not define the planning process and the only eventuality in which Government Ministers should intervene should be at moments when the genuine National interest overrides that of the local community and those who will be directly impacted by developments within it.

This could be done by transferring all Planning Decisions to a local ‘Planning Court’, in which evidence could be given by the Applicants, all respondents and interested parties to a Judge or panel, but where the power of appeal is limited to the same or a similarly localised Court, and where the Policies upon which decisions are based are those developed democratically by the Local Council’s themselves.

Such a process would be much more tailored to localised needs and allow and encourage Agencies to advise rather than administer, and leave people feeling much more empowered when it comes to their fate. It would also give the opportunity to consider new forms of information that come available through advances in technology and understanding, such as up-to-date computerised flood or water behaviour mapping, which would allow considerations to be made for issues such as pluvial flooding, which is likely to become ever relevant.

Central Government would have its role to play in assisting this by changing all appropriate Policies to reflect a genuine need-led, rather than projected development requirement and bringing into being all forms of legislation to prevent economic reliance and profiteering from building developments and multiple property ownership which skews the market.

Moving responsibility for Preventative Maintenance back to the Water Companies

It seems incredible that dredging and maintenance didn’t remain the responsibility of the Water Companies after Privatisation, but now makes a great deal more sense as we begin to gain a better understanding of the true costs involved and the resistance of any private company to undertake work which may be in the public interest, but which itself is distinctly non-profitable in nature.

The Water Companies gain significant benefit from the use of rivers and watercourses both as a source of water and as a route of discharge for treated effluent which no longer has value in its current form. These Companies could once again be harnessed with the responsibility for all the services that they once were before Privatisation and thereby take a more commercial approach to long term flooding defence and maintenance provision, which it would seem most natural for them to do so.

With successive Governments already responsible for failing to adequately regulate the profiteering nature of these Companies, the risk that the transfer of this responsibility would be seen as just another opportunity to raise fees would be real. As such, this would be another vital area where Government would have policy making work to do, but where the blood and guts approach of a return to real conviction and end-user focus politics could really make a profound difference in future flooding risk, whilst also dealing with key components of the real cost of living crisis.

Government Reform to facilitate the Funding that can come from no other source

Ultimately, only significant capital spending of a level which the Country currently cannot afford would provide the sea defences, river defences and perhaps even dykes of the kind seen in the Netherlands that the UK may now actually need to protect against and limit existing threats that exist right now. And there is of course the requirement to ‘future-proof’ or to then prevent against the impact and escalation which comes from the changes in weather patterns.

The money to do this will never be available whilst Government spending continues on the levels based only upon election-focussed service provision and a benefits system which propagates legitimate abuse. The services which attract most public money are themselves at risk from the same black financial cloud hovering above us, but could be run far more cost effectively – and arguably at lower cost – with the kind of holistic, joined-up and end-user focus reform that so many services provided by Government now need. Public servants must be encouraged to move away from the ‘what’s will be the benefit or risk to me’ culture and start focussing on a ‘how we can do the best possible for Taxpayers’ culture instead.

Sticking plaster solutions are no answer either to Flooding issues or to the many other problems which the Government faces. Parliamentarians seem so unwilling to tackle complex policy making and reform for the greater good and meanwhile, almost everyone else suffers.

Getting to the place where communities need to be; a place where they feel safe, protected and able to maintain a basic standard of living that doesn’t require lending money or a compromise of the services that they should be able to expect is a long and tough journey.  People must again be trusted locally by Parliamentarians and empowered to deal with the matters which relate only to their own fate, without centralised Policy or non-elected bureaucrats being able to override them.

A Coalition Government will never be equipped to even begin taking the steps which will be necessary to achieve this because they are by their very nature a relationship built upon compromise. You will never get the very best solution for all when a compromise has been necessary.

We can only hope that the next Government will take their responsibilities to all of us far more seriously. But with things looking as they are, it may not happen next time either.

See Adam’s related Blogs on:

Flooding

Dealing with the Energy Companies

Why the Political focus on house building is wrong

The Real Cost of Living Crisis

The influence of Utility Providers on the cost of living

Flooding: A truly democratic system should allow for changes in Planning Legislation which will limit the damage which future flooding events have the power to cause

December 25, 2012 1 comment

Christmas will not be that merry for many who have been hit by flooding over recent days, weeks and what has now become months. Even today, news that the seemingly freak weather patterns that have haunted the UK in 2012 are staying put will be sending a shiver down the spines of all those who have closely witnessed or experienced the nightmare of being in a flood.

But is the perceived change in weather patterns the only factor we should be considering for future flood protection, or are the issues governing the severity of future flooding events far more deep seated, but with the potential for control?

In July 2007 and less than 3 months into my first Term as a Councillor, Tewkesbury Borough sat at what felt to many of us like the epicentre of a disastrous flood which demonstrated just how the impact of unforeseen water damage and a systematic failure to plan ahead can actually be and how its power can touch the lives of people who would never normally have reason to live in such fear.

Over a period of 36 hours, home after home in areas that had never been previously considered at risk of flooding became submersed by the affects of just 1 days deluge right across Gloucestershire. Whole Villages went under and for some home owners, many months of pain and torment lay ahead as driveway-based caravans suddenly became the only way to live, rather than the home from home that many choose to put on the road every Easter.

Perhaps the most significant consequence of this unpredictable event was the pollution of fresh drinking water supplies at the Mythe Water Treatment Works near Tewkesbury. Residents and businesses throughout Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury were left without drinking water for over two weeks and stories of water thefts and fights at distribution points soon made many aware of just how quickly the civilised facade of our society can begin to break down when the basic elements of daily life that we take for granted are put at risk.

Daily deliveries of bottled water throughout the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward thereafter and dealing with many flood related issues on behalf of Residents to date has provided an invaluable insight into both the flooding events themselves and the way that the whole issue is handled by organisations as diverse as single-issue pressure groups, local Authorities, the Environment Agency and Central Government.

One of the most concerning elements of that experience has been the illumination of the way in which our centrally-derived Planning Laws and Policies simply do not allow people with local knowledge to exert meaningful levels of influence on building which many quietly agree does not consider either extreme levels of river or fluvial flooding or indeed the more concerning and unpredictable rain-based or pluvial flooding. It is such pluvial events as in 2007 that can present those extreme volumes of water in such short periods of time that  rivers and streams cease to exist leaving an out of control torrent to create its own destructive pathway to its gravity-borne destination.

Most worryingly still is the apparent lack of interest from authorities in these pluvial flood issues, with most prevention work concentrating on fluvial targets and where anything else may be ceremoniously rebuffed with the excuse that such events are so very, very rare and perhaps a only a ‘1 in a 100 year event’. When coupled with such arguable intransigence as the suggestion that built-up land on flood plain by its very nature ceases to be a flood plain – irrespective of where future floods might therefore go; you might see that even politicians like myself have good reason to be concerned for what the future may hold not only for those communities already experienced with floods, but also for those whose experiences may regrettably be still yet to come.

It is a frightening reality that Local Authorities with Planning functions are at this very moment in time formulating policies and projections on building development for the next 20 or 30 years. Development which when even only in existence upon paper is by that very existence arguably irreversible when Councils have effectively been coerced by Central Government to let the development genie out of the bottle, thereby granting the wishes of developers who now appear to be out of control. Developers who have pockets deep enough to challenge any refusal to grant planning permission by those Councils who may go against what may actually be official advice and challenge on the basis of what is right. Councils that may if not already, soon be on the verge of bankruptcy because of other centrally derived and disastrous ‘one size fits all’ policies that are serving nobody but their political architects.

In times when sustainability is a Government mantra, the unsustainable practice of what is in effect unbridled green-field development has to cease.

Housing need must not only be determined by local people at local level; that level of development must itself be based upon what any one local area can support and not upon what Westminster Officials decide as being a requirement.

As a Nation, we simply cannot concrete and tarmac over fields in order to sustain exploding population growth which itself is not contributing either the equivalent or more of what it then demands from a paymaster which continues to function well beyond its means.

Long term housing projections should cease, not only for being the gift that they have become for unscrupulous land-banking developers, but also because we simply do not know what lies in store for us as a population next year, let alone that which may be the case in 30 more.

It is local people and their representatives who should have both the power to decide upon what is and is not sustainable in building terms, along with the right to say no to developers without any fear of unseen bureaucrats undermining or reversing those very same decisions based upon an external and self-serving strategy.

Mankind may not have yet discovered the way to change the weather, but a democratic system should actually allow for changes in Legislation which will limit the amount of damage which future flooding events have the power to cause.

Local people should have the choice to protect their homes, businesses and even lives right now. Not when there is nothing left insurable.

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