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My response to the Queen's speech

I am today re-publishing the report of the inquiry into heroin use in Bassetlaw that I held in 2002. 

Read the full report here.

You can also read my anti-social behaviour guidebook from 2007 here and my guide on what every parent and grandparent should know about drugs and alcohol is available here

Heroin in Bassetlaw - report from 2002

I am today re-publishing the report of the inquiry into heroin use in Bassetlaw that I held in 2002. 

People want to live in a brilliant, colourful country. To do so they need to feel secure, confident about their place in that country and optimistic for the future.

The role of the government is to ensure that the power relations and society are sufficiently democratic that this brilliant, colourful country is available across all geographies and sectors of society. Britain today is fragmented.

We need to ask what we want for ourselves and then be sure that what we have is available for everyone else. To do this requires a fundamental shift in who can wield power in Britain away from the nation state, but also away from representative politicians and their appointed executives. It also requires a legislative framework that redistributes power across society.

For too long Labour has had the redistribution of wealth as its primary ideology. Today it is redistribution of power that is the fundamental issue and this does not mean simply shifting power from one part of the state to another as Labour loves to do.

Labour needs to become about community much more than about the state and this means a fundamental change of attitude as well as approach.

We also need to redefine poverty. Nobody lives a more monochromatic life than the children living in workless households one generation after another.

One fundamental weakness we have is that so much of our party leadership only experience life through the eyeglass of living in London. London is different.

What are the concerns of my neighbours and constituents? Well, let me spell out mine.

I feared for the quality of schools for my children as I wanted them to have the best start in life. I wanted to be sure that if my kids had an accident that an ambulance would arrive or that I had a hospital Accident and Emergency that I could get them to. I wanted them to see a doctor when they were ill.

When they became teenagers, I worried whether they would get a job, about drugs and drink, whether they would be killed on dangerous roads. I heard their complaints about being bored.

I am concerned about whether my community will be spoilt by intrusive windfarms, new housing, HGVs and fracking.

If I am burgled, I expect the police to visit me, investigate and try to find the criminals.

I want to be sure that my mortgage is paid off, that I have enough for my retirement and I am concerned about what I would do if I get dementia.

None of these are big worries because I am in work, well paid, an owner occupier and apparently healthy. But I get the concern.

But I have a much wider desire. I want green spaces to remain a place where I can walk without intrusion, noise and cars. I want sports facilities. I want cultural opportunities. I want bespoke pubs, cafes and shops. And there is very little of this.

There are as many cafes on Lower Marsh, near where I rent my room in London, as there are in any one of my towns. And more clothing shops. And market stalls.

I can get to half a dozen Accident and Emergency departments, by public transport as quickly as I can to the one, threatened with closure in Bassetlaw. My constituency is the size of greater London. There are more restaurants within 2 minutes of my London flat than there are in the entirety of Bassetlaw. More bookshops. More delicatessens. More swimming pools within 10 minutes than within an hour in Bassetlaw.

Choice of secondary schools: three. Perhaps four are accessible. Cinemas, well we have one again. Theatres? Islington gets more arts funding than the entire former coalfields. We are 190 miles from London, yet people have to go to London on day returns for culture.

Across Britain, every high street is shrinking to become full of the same routine choices. Starbucks and their global equivalents are spreading everywhere using their tax advantages to squeeze out local enterprise.

And what do we get? Warehouses that recruit Eastern European workers who need housing, schools and health. Good, decent people, aspiring for a better life, competing with our good decent people who want likewise. There is a competition and this dilemma needs tackling.

Monochrome Britain is what we must address and here is how we can do it (in no particular order)

We must make an offer from the British government to the citizens that their rights and freedoms will be extended:

Empowering communities

I have been able to afford a house in an area of my choosing. What I want for my beautiful area and my family living there is what I want for everyone in Britain.

Every family in Britain should have an accessible local school, of high standards, available to them in their locality with preschool and nursery provision within travelable distance

Every family in Britain should have access to a full primary care service within their community, free of charge and with flexible times of access

Every community should have the right to green open space, including the absolute right to designate open space where none exists for community use

Every community should have the absolute right to determine a local neighbourhood plan that cannot be overruled by government other than for statutory designated major infrastructure (and so excluding housing, industry and non-national strategic energy).

Every community (50,000 people) should have the right to a community multi sports facility, including a swimming pool, 3g football pitches and an athletics track and this should be linked to an on-site primary health care facility that challenges spectators to become participants and prescribes activity to tackle the looming obesity crisis

Every community should have the right to a community performing arts venue, open to all ages.

Every community should have equal access to the fastest broadband and the UK should be in the top 5% of broadband enabled countries as determined by accessibility and speed

Every new property should be carbon neutral, and so free of energy bills and we should invest to retrofit every pensioner property, public building and to be the world leaders in green energy technology through a series of city/region university green energy research hubs

We should expand our university provision, educating a higher percentage of the population each Parliament at university level.

Dementia and residential care 

I do not want a Britain where if I get dementia I have to sell my home in order to survive. I am happy to pay for support, should this ever happen, but the balance is not right currently.  There is a solution.

We should invest in a significant number of pre-fabricated apartments as sheltered accommodation, including on hospital sites, and allow the purchase of apartments for those with dementia- the equivalent of buying a room at a residential care home- and paying for food and warden support- thus allowing equity release and equity retention for those with dementia requiring continuous health care

Defence

I do not want a country defended by part time soldiers, sailors or airmen. The dismantling of the professional British armed services suits neither Britain nor the world. I want expanded new roles in using our expertise in post conflict resolution, in peace-making and in counter terrorism. The cuts to the armed services are not what Britain needs now or in the future.

Fairness in taxation

In my kind of country we would be fair and reasonable in taxing people, not cutting incentives to do well, but we would be ruthless in dealing with those avoiding their fair share.

People expect that Labour nationally and locally will always tax as much they can get away with. In local government this can remain true, with council tax increases immediately after elections in the hope the public forgets. Too often, we have sought to do good things for people, rather than empower them to do it themselves. The biggest psychological change of all is for Labour to become community empowering as opposed to statist when in power.

With taxation, we need fairness, which means effectiveness in stopping tax avoidance. From overseas dependencies who require our protectorate, to EU laws on multinationals, to non dom status and poverty pleading banks, there are many who do not pay their fair share in tax and criminal sanction needs using to encourage them otherwise.

We have also been wholly wrong on VAT. We have claimed that VAT is regressive, but in reality VAT is the one tax we have obtained through most multinationals and we should recognise this.

Instead of a mansion tax, we should be bringing in an additional council tax banding and increasing stamp duty land tax in line with property price escalations, which would bring in significant extra revenue.

 A nation of shopkeepers

We are as far away as we could be in most of the UK from Napoleon’s description. Large uniform supermarkets and the local offshoots have used oligarchic power to strangle suppliers and family competitors. Consumer choice and freedom in Britain is restricted. I want to see a revolution in opening up entrepreneurship and small business, from shops to design, from technology to production. We need significant tax breaks for new small businesses, freedom from planning constraints for all internet based companies working from home, presumption towards diversification in planning policy and simple, relevant regulation and taxation to make business simple.

The key support I needed when running a business was in accounting and law and this is where the greatest added value can be provided by the state, with early specialist support. My kind of Britain would see a plethora of bespoke shops re-emerging across the towns and villages of the country and hubs of advanced products, research and design linked to every university, with the role of the state to build small start-up units on new industrial estates and high streets to open up entrepreneurial Britain. No good idea should die because of a lack of business premises, planning costs or broadband connectivity.

Emergency services

I want emergency services that can be relied on and are uniformly good across all of Britain.

It is an absurdity that we have not moved already to integrated emergency services - not cutting front-line professionals, but developing new expertise and expanding services for disaster management and prevention. Police, fire and ambulance should be started to be relocated together, building a resolute combined expertise.

Immigration

I would like the ability to travel anywhere I damn well want. But I do not expect to have the automatic right to reside permanently everywhere or to claim from the state in any country I arrive in. Those rights should be earned for me to do that. I see it the same way for Britain.

We should negotiate within the European Union for treaty change to give the option of restricting the free movement of labour in areas where there is unemployment. There is nothing sacrosanct or progressive about having open labour markets for just one section of the world and then excluding the rest.

If my child chooses to marry a non EU citizen, why should they not live in this country? Why should someone who has never lived here get priority over someone who has worked and paid taxes here for 50 years in housing allocation? There is no social justice in this. Free movement of labour is open market capitalism writ large.

Neither is opposing it anything to do with previous migrants or their contribution to Britain. I celebrate the diversity of Britain and its generosity to those fleeing persecution. These are British values. I endorse the enormous contribution that migrants have made and do make to Britain. But this does mean I support an open door policy for Fortress Europe. Some remain terrified of applying rational debate on the argument.

I believe that if we need people to work here it should be open choice across the world, and there need be no obligation to live her permanently. I would not expect that. The more we need skills or people, the more attractive the offer must be.

As a country we are increasingly hostile to those wishing to bring their partner into the UK, or to have guests even visit them, less generous to temporary resettlement of asylum seekers, losing money from universities yet open door to all EU citizens. It is an unsustainable position for those areas of the country suffering from underemployment and low wages.

The UK should compete for high wages and high labour standards, not for cheap labour and excessive flexibility

In the immediate term, we should restrict access to any out of work benefits to those who have had a British national insurance number for 10 years or 5 years continuous paying of contributions. National insurance numbers should be automatically allocated to UK citizens on registration of birth.

We should require a holder of a national insurance number granted to an adult to have been paying national insurance contributions for five years to qualify for out of work benefits. We should increase the minimum wage.

We should tie government contracts, including sub-contacted government funded contracts to a requirement to train 16-19 year old apprentices.

Requirement to register with the local authority

Similar to the German legal requirement, everyone working in the UK or claiming benefits should be required to be on the electoral role where they live or on an additional role of residents , working in an area, but ineligible to vote, maintained by the electoral registration officer.

As well as assisting in fraud elimination, this will give government accurate data of who is living there, maximize electoral registration at 100% of those eligible and will allow public service expenditure and planning (eg school size, NHS provision) to be apportioned efficiently.

With individual voter registration creating a check on national insurance, this also removes from employers the need to maintain their own independent verification

Paying for the NHS

Like most Britons, I am proud of the NHS and proud enough to pay for it through taxation. I want to change how we collect tax for the NHS

The NHS should be paid for entirely from employee and employers national insurance contributions, who level should be altered accordingly and increases offset by other tax reductions.

The principle should be that national insurance pays for the NHS, the whole NHS and nothing but the NHS.

We do not collect money due to us from foreign governments under existing agreements, because our systems cannot cope with routinely doing so. Every NHS user not paying national insurance or being a dependent of a national insurance contributor should be required to pay directly or their government recharged through the European Health Insurance Card.

Restructuring government

I do not believe that governance of Britain must be centred solely on London.

Major government departments should be moved out of London and to locations in the English regions. Culturally as well as cost efficiently this will improve governance.

If Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland want full fiscal autonomy then they should be prepared to take on welfare benefits, taxation, borrowing and expenditure. For countries that require transportation through England to European markets, this may well prove to be a double edged sword, but one that will have to be considered if voters wish those powers to be devolved..

The abolition of the House of Lords would improve our democracy, and create the opportunity for proper scrutiny be the elected Commons.

Housing Benefits

I want a huge cut in the welfare budget of Britain, without picking on the vulnerable. I believe this is possible.

In all the harmful tinkering with the benefits system, especially regarding the disabled, housing benefits remains the untouched shibboleth. With a £25 billion expenditure it is the gift that keeps on giving. Housing associations are able to make huge surpluses and indeed housing has been literally reconfigured to maximize receipts. There needs to be a re-creation of fair rent and an abolition the ability of buy to let landlords offsetting interest charges in their tax returns. The hidden subsidy to private landlords and associated house market inflation has been a defining symptom of the out of control expenditure. The creation of significant prefabricated and brick council accommodation can quickly and simply alter the market and allow huge savings in the housing benefits bill very quickly.

Secrecy

I want a country confident enough to discuss and examine its recent past.

Successive governments have hidden behind antiquated concepts of national interest to prohibit the release of documents that the public has a right to know about. The statutory limits on publishing archived government documents need to be significantly lessoned allowing governments past to be held directly to account for their past actions. With historic child abuse as one example, the lid on state secrecy needs to be significantly lifted.

Historic child abuse

In my Britain, we will tackle historic child abuse head on.

The scale of historic child abuse has hardly been revealed yet and it is enormous. One immediate requirement is to have a full Royal Commission into how we look after orphaned, neglected and abused children, how we enhance the social work profession and how the rights of children can be better enshrined into UK law. Children do not have votes but they should have equal treatment and priority under legislation.

Tinkering with schools and the NHS

I trust our teachers, heads, and health professions to run the schools, surgeries and hospitals of Britain.

Politicians love to make arbitrary changes to the schools system and the NHS. We should be confident enough to give teachers and health professionals much more control over their environment and get the hands of politicians away.

Enhancing family life

I want a Britain that frees the family to have quality time together.

We should strengthen employment law to allow statutory time off, include longer periods of unpaid time off for family crises, ensure that public services, health and education adapt to the realities of flexible working hours in the evenings, but compensate by giving a legal right not to be forced to work on weekends or bank holidays and we should strengthen the laws about keeping Sunday special.

My vision is one that makes the family the central focus of how Britain should be, making life easier, increasing choices and freedoms, giving protections. There are different concepts of families today, family units change, but underpinning how Britain rightly sees itself, we choose to live in family units, we interconnect most strongly through family units and strong communities, confident in themselves and trusting of those in power, have the capacity to complement the household family with a community family of neighbours. This is what my country is about.

A brilliant Britain

People want to live in a brilliant, colourful country. To do so they need to feel secure, confident about their place in that country and optimistic for the future.


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