Sunday, October 16, 2011

Jon Williams Reports on "Open Day" at the Labour Party Conference

Question Time at the Labour Party Conference

Wed 28th Sep Labour Party Conference “Open Day” by Jon Williams

As part of Labour’s New Politics, Fresh Ideas to encourage a wider participation in politics Wed 28th Sep was open to specifically non Labour members by invitation; it also allowed Labour members to apply. Activities at Conference were Exhibition stands, Policy Workshops and Seminars plus the access to the Main Hall at 5pm to take part in Question & Answer session hosted by Labour’s leader Ed Miliband. I attended the following events and made a few notes on the discussions below,

Policy Workshop in the Open Zone in the Exhibition Hall: Helping the next generation do better than the last

This was an open forum with 3-4 MPs answering questions from open day attendees. Some of the topics / questions asked by the audience were,

Tax avoidance – more inspectors should be employed to recoup lost tax

Families on low income – how will they cope?

Poverty is on the increase under the Tories

University costs – 30 years to clear £50k worth of student loans

There was concern about the removal of BSF (Building for Schools Fund)

Legal Aid cuts – how this will impact on local authorities to provide an alternative when pressure is to make cuts

Youth employment – NEETS (Not in Education, Employment or Training)

Increase in retirement age will take away a source of child care

Removal of pension tax relief for high earners was sought

Change procurement rules to support UK industry when bidding for European work e.g. Bombardier and include a requirement for companies to run apprenticeships before they can apply for public sector contracts

Support for small business now RDA’s have been scrapped, will LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnership) provide similar support?

Co-operative Councils Network and the Co-operative Party Seminar

Chair Anna Turley Co-operative Councils Network

Rt. Hon MP Tessa Jowell

Cllr Steve Reed Leader London Borough of Lambeth (Co-op Council)

Cllr Sharon Taylor Leader of Stevenage Borough Council (Co-op Council)

Changing local communities together: Co-operative Councils

Interesting and worth explaining,

What is the Co-op Party – it is the political arm of the co-operative movement and is a party of social justice. You can achieve more working together than alone. They believe the only way to create a just and fair society is through power being spread evenly through society and not based on wealth, class, gender or race. Co-operatives don’t have share holders, they have members. The members own and control the organisation. The Labour and Co-op MP Ed Balls introduced co-operative trust schools – a new type of educational institution in which everyone has a stake in the school’s success i.e. parents, support staff, local people and students. There are more than 100 co-operative trust schools in England.

Tessa Jowell:

There are currently x17 co-operative councils working to implement mutualisation, cooperation and partnering, there was a worry Tories were hijacking these themes for the Big Society and a cover for cuts. This was really Tory ideology against the state.

One of the biggest worries was management of risk where ownership of buildings was involved, responsibility for maintenance and financial liability were big concerns.

It was hoped with shared partnership with councils these issues could be overcome.

Overall it was a positive action during these troubled times, it was an alternative solution to cuts.

Sharon Taylor:

The Tories Big society idea was fine for people with wealth and spare time to implement but those without it was almost impossible without help.

Co-op councils provide help for these people to make decisions and run activities, these were normally small/micro/autonomous activities e.g. community centres, parks and open spaces.

Co-op Councils would provide funding support.

One example is a Leisure centre run as a “Not for Profit” company and running an ALMO

Stevenage Borough Council is a fair trade council.

Steve Reed:

Quoted other public sector bodies working with local communities e.g. health and police

The public sector model is changing and driven by Tory cuts agenda

Where the middle classes have a choice whether to use public sector – the working classes don’t have a choice.

Historically public sector was a top down service that issue instructions from above – instead of bottom up.

People were looking for control of their day to day lives – to work together with councils.

Examples quoted were; co-op housing in Rochdale, micro mutual’s, school co-op trust & mutual school services in Newcastle and other community lead service delivery, living wage and local currencies.

Big ideas were “Service Enablers, Labour Localism and Swapping Ideas.

Other contributions from;

James Alexander Leader of York City Council

Current trend of schools becoming academies outside local authority – another option was a mutual trust

New model of service was to become a mutual operation

It is quoted how they set up Wi-Fi hot spots and transferred this expertise to other co-op councils to empower residents

Nick Forbes Labour Group Leader of Newcastle City Council

Suggested private sector contracts could be renegotiated – change them to mutual status

Discussions about what does it mean to be a citizen – how to be less passive and more engaged.

Can being a mutual improve on health in a community?

There need to be changes to how “language” is used to transfer ideas and meaning

Again it was bottom up, empowering and creating local champions

Other questions asked,

  • What was the relationship between trade unions and co-op councils? It was suggested it should be commission lead, workers rights need to be protected and work as a partnership.

  • Employment opportunities for work are limited when child care has to be found, especially when facilities such as Sure Start are being closed.

  • Via the Big Society the Tories are hijacking the agenda of a new way of working in the public sector

  • When setting up mutual contracts should be specific in what is required from the partnership including stating any differences in values.

  • A good example is which has based its work on person centred solutions – bottom up.

  • Similar to Shared Services between NEDDC, Bolsover and Chesterfield

In conclusion it was HOPE versus CUTS.

Young British Talent Showcase

Six young people under the age of twenty gave short presentations of activities they have initiated and run them from day to day. Schemes ranged from giving a spare bedroom over to interns or low wage earners in return for help around the home to combating knife crime and sprucing up redundant buildings as a means of starting the process of getting back to work. The event was to showcase and celebrate the potential of younger generations.

Leader’s Question and Answer Session

Ed Miliband took questions (and gave answers) from open day attendees (non Labour party) and Labour party members in the Conference Hall. These were mostly home topics with one or two foreign questions.

I’ve given a brief overview of the Questions & Answers given below which can be seen in full by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page,

  • Should Scotland leave the Union? No

  • Ed supports Palestine and Israel to determine a two state solution

  • Egypt human right abuses and why nothing was done to prevent such abuses? We need to be on the right side of the movements for change

  • Would Ed allow German companies to take over PFI hospitals? No, only partly e.g. private companies like independent hospitals for hip and cataracts

  • Public sector pension contract changes, made a comparison to Dutch ones where what they sign up to would be the same when they retired.

  • Will Ed be bringing Brother David back into the Shadow Cabinet? That would be his decision

  • Would Ed be legalising drugs? No

  • Disability campaigner asked why gave the impression he treated all sick & disabled people as scroungers – Ed admitted he had got that wrong in his speech and promised to meet up after the conference.

  • What would Ed do about BAE job loses – Government could do more to support.

  • What would you do if we have a double deep recession? Ed only thought there would be low growth.

  • Why are you against the right to strike? Ed does agree it is right to strike only as a last resort.

  • EU referendum – No I think it’s a settled issue

  • Replace Trident – only if it was agreed with other nuclear countries i.e. multilateral.

  • Do you believe in a maximum wage? No but corporate rewards have to been seen to be fair.

My overall impression from attending my first conference was a positive one. There were many new ideas of hope for the future. Even in opposition the Labour Party can make a huge difference to the direction this country takes during these difficult economic troubles.

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