Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Cambridge MP backs campaign to drop the learning tax

MP Julian Huppert has backed a campaign to “drop the learning tax” calling on the government to refund hundreds of thousands of pounds of VAT charged to Cambridge’s sixth form colleges.

Julian, a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Sixth Form Colleges, has added his name to a petition launched by the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association.

The move is the latest in a long-running campaign by Julian to get a fairer deal for the city’s Hills Road and Long Road Sixth Form Colleges and Cambridge Regional College.

Just two weeks ago he brought Business Secretary, Vince Cable to Long Road Sixth Form College to find out for himself the huge amount of money lost to the students’ education because of the government’s VAT rules.

The rules state that sixth forms attached to schools and academies have the right to claim back VAT on goods and services while stand-alone sixth form colleges do not.

Julian said: “I am absolutely determined to get the government to overturn this unfair tax. Our colleges are among the best in the country with students who are progressing well and impressive results. But there is so much more they could offer, especially in terms of extra curricula activities and support if they were put on the same footing as schools with sixth form classes.

“It makes no sense to single them out in this way. I welcome this action by the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association and urge everyone to get behind this campaign to drop the learning tax.”

The Association claims that the average sixth form college is left with £335,000 less to spend on education because of the VAT rule.

More information about the campaign can be found here: and there is a link to the e-petition.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Cambridge MP lobbies Parliament for fair deal for fire-fighters

MP Julian Huppert is lobbying the Government to get a fairer deal for fire-fighters after they fear planned changes to their pensions could leave them thousands of pounds worse off in their retirement.

The changes mean that if fire-fighters are unable to achieve fitness standards at the proposed increased pension age they could be sacked with no job and no pension.

Julian met representatives from the Cambridgeshire Brigade Fire Brigade Union in Westminster to listen to their concerns and promised to act in a bid to try to solve a three year dispute which has led to strikes across the country.

Fire-fighters fear that the planned proposals could lead to up to 66 per cent of their members failing fitness tests between 55 and 60 resulting in them being sacked or losing a quarter of their pensions to which they personally contribute £4,000 a year. These statistics are drawn from evidence uncovered within government’s own review by Dr Tony Williams on the impact of the proposed increased pension age for frontline fire-fighters.

Julian has signed a Commons’ Early Day Motion calling for the new regulations, which were presented to Parliament last month, to be annulled.

He said: “We clearly have to find a compromise here. This dispute has been running for three years and we are no further forward.

“It is unacceptable for these men and women, who put their lives at risk to rescue others in dangerous situations, and their families to face hardship in their later years because we couldn’t find a better way.

“We need to look at all the options so that we can find a way to move forward and show these people the respect they deserve.”

Cambridgeshire Brigade FBU Secretary, Cameron Matthews said: “The current proposals are unfair, unachievable and unworkable.

“It is a fact that we are going to get older and as government’s evidence suggests the majority of people won’t be able to reach the levels of fitness required of a fire-fighter. But there are no transferable non-frontline jobs which will allow them to keep their current terms and conditions. That means that if unable to meet fitness standards the majority will lose tens of thousands of pounds from their pensions at the end or be sacked just for the crime of getting older.

“Cambridgeshire fire-fighters welcome and appreciate the support from Julian in this vitally important matter, through signing EDM 454 and backing the campaign for justice and a fair deal.

"We truly hope it will encourage other Liberal Democrat MPs to now also take the real opportunity to view the overwhelming weight of evidence and support their fire-fighters against the Fire Minister’s unfair, unaffordable and unachievable pension proposals."

Mr Matthews added that alternatives to Westminster government’s proposals had been offered to fire-fighters in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales with a view to protecting them. As such, fire-fighters under the devolved governments had not taken strike action following receipt of these alternatives.

“Currently only English fire-fighters are in this position,” added Mr Matthews. “We are perplexed as to why the Prime Minister cannot offer us these options or similar.”

Friday, 21 November 2014

Lib Dems meet residents over controversial Parkside bus stop

MP Julian Huppert will join Liberal Democrat councillors on Monday (November 24) to meet residents concerned about plans for a permanent long distance bus stop at Cambridge’s Parkside.

Their visit comes after they fought to prevent Cambridgeshire County Council making a decision on the £400,000 plan before carrying out a full review of alternative locations.

They claim the National Express buses would be better stopping at the railway station or Park and Ride sites instead where they could link up with other forms of transport and where infrastructure either will or can be more easily provided.

They also want residents living near the Parkside stop and passengers using the buses to have their say on its future.

Julian, who sat on the joint council committee which gave temporary permission for the bus stop, said: “When this permission was granted it was given on the understanding that it was never meant to be a permanent measure.

“This is such an important issue for the people living around Parkside and the people who use these buses. It’s a decision which cannot be taken until we have all the information and that means looking at all the alternative locations and listening to those who live near the bus stop and those travelling on the buses.

“We have received complaints from residents about the noise and fumes from the buses and it is important that their concerns are heard.”

Cambridge City Councillors supported a Lib Dem motion earlier this month to prevent the bus stop becoming permanent until the county council carried out a full review of alternative locations.

Cambridge Lib Dem Leader, Tim Bick, who will attend Monday’s meeting with residents said: “This was intended as a temporary bus stop and yet it has been in place for eight years during which time the county council has made no attempt to explore alternative locations.

“We don’t want the temporary use of Parkside to continue or permanent facilities put in place until this whole issue has been fully examined. We know we can do better than this satisfying both residents and those who travel on these buses.

"Long distance travellers should legitimately expect facilities such as toilets and a waiting room when getting on coaches or changing between them. But it is doubtful this is going to be possible to provide when the location remains at the edge of Parkers Piece, without throwing planning policy out of the window. To be able to look after their customers, National Express really needs to show some flexibility about the location and the county council some leadership."

Friday, 14 November 2014

Lib Dems celebrate as they claim back Queen Edith's from Labour

Liberal Democrats are celebrating victory after Viki Sanders took back the Queen Edith’s seat on Cambridge City Council from Labour last night (Thursday, November 13).

Addenbrooke’s Hospital sister, Viki, polled 933 votes – 143 more than her Labour rival – to claim the seat following the resignation of Labour Councillor, Sue Birtles.

She said: “I am absolutely delighted to return to the City Council to serve the residents of Queen Edith’s.

“I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all those people who turned out to vote for me yesterday and to the hard working Lib Dem team and others across the country who supported me.

“The Lib Dems have achieved so much in Queen Edith’s and our result is testament to the work we have been doing here. But there is still so much more to do and I look forward to working with residents to get the best for our community.”

Cambridge Liberal Democrat Leader, Tim Bick said: "This is a disappointing result for Labour, who, as their own former councillor acknowledges, show little interest in this part of the city.

“The Lib Dem team in Queen Edith's has campaigned for the community there for 30 years and I'm delighted to see Viki Sanders back with us on the City Council to reinforce their efforts and reduce Labour's overall majority.

“This is a great fillip to Lib Dems in both the city and south Cambridgeshire as we approach the general election."

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Cambridge MP pushes Government to safeguard ESA for disabled workers

MP Julian Huppert is pushing to make sure people too unwell to work don’t suffer benefit cuts after Conservative Ministers refused to rule out cutting the Employment and Support Allowance.

Julian challenged Work and Pensions Minister, Mark Harper to give assurances that the government would protect the benefit for people who have been assessed as too disabled or too ill to be ready for work.

But although Mr Harper told Parliament yesterday (Monday, November 3) that a news report on the issue “does not reflect government policy”, he failed to rule out any future cuts to the benefit.

Julian asked Mr Harper: “Can he reassure me and others that it will not become Government policy and that he will not consider making cuts in that area? People who are unwell or disabled often face additional costs to those faced by everyone else.”

Fears that the government might act to reduce the benefit comes after it was revealed that the support is likely to cost £8 billion plus over the course of this Parliament, more than originally planned.

And the Office for Budget Responsibility said: “spending would remain higher ….. because of the delays of the work capability assessment programme”.

Later Julian said: “I am determined to make sure that disabled people receiving Employment and Support Allowance get the benefits to which they are entitled. The Work Capability Programme, established by Labour, has caused many problems, and although we have now fired ATOS, who they hired to run it, improvements are still needed.

“It concerns me greatly that Mr Harper failed to rule out any future cuts to these benefits. We’ve managed to block it in Government so far, and I will continue to hold the government to account on this issue. It must not happen.”

Monday, 3 November 2014

Huppert and Cearns lead drive for better lighting

MP Julian Huppert and Cambridgeshire County Councillor, Ed Cearns are pushing for better street lighting in Cambridge’s parks and open spaces after students revealed their safety fears.

They are calling for joint funding from Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council after students spoke out following 10 sex attacks in the city in nine days.

And they have signed a petition launched by the student newspaper, TAB which calls for “better lighting in our parks and green spaces to ensure that when we walk through Cambridge at night, we feel safer and more secure”. 

The petition, which has 1,500 signatures, came as the County Council pushes ahead with its countywide programme to reduce street lighting to save money and energy.

Cllr Cearns, who represents Cambridge’s Market ward said: “There are real concerns about safety in our city and we must address those concerns.

“We are committed to getting extra funding to address this issue. “We will look at whether a joint funding formula can be put in place to pay for improved lighting on primary routes across out green spaces. And we will be pushing the City Council to make sure that all existing lights are working properly.”

Julian said: “It is clear by the sheer number of people who have signed this petition that there people are worried about the lack of lighting in our parks and open spaces. 

“Some people clearly don’t feel safe walking through parts of the city at night and that is not acceptable. We have look at this as a matter of urgency.”

Hospital sister Viki keeps street lights on for workers

Cambridge’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital sister, Viki Sanders has helped to keep the street lights on around the hospital after canvassing staff.

Viki, who is standing for election to Cambridge City Council in the upcoming Queen Edith’s by-election, found that some staff were concerned about plans by Cambridgeshire County Council to turn off the lights to save money.

They were worried about the prospect of increased crime or the opportunity for potential attackers to hide in the shadows.

Cambridgeshire County Councillor, Amanda Taylor, who represents Queen Ediths, took the survey results to the council’s highways committee and succeeded in keeping the lights on.

Viki said: “Some people were genuinely worried about leaving or arriving at the hospital in the dark and walking through dark streets.

“Staff obviously work different shift patterns and have to use the streets between midnight and 6am when the lights would have gone out and streets are often deserted. They were concerned that turning off the lights could make them vulnerable to crime.”

Viki carried out her survey at Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust after it was proposed the street lights should be turned off between midnight and 6am and lights dimmed at other times by up to 70 per cent.

She added: “It is fair to say that we had mixed responses with some people being practical about the changes and saying they could carry torches. But I was concerned that some were genuinely unhappy about the proposal and that we should act.”

Cambridge MP Welcomes Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat

Julian Huppert MP has welcomed the signing today of a new agreement between the police and the NHS that seeks to improve mental health crisis care.

This project was initiated nationally by Minister of State for Care and Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb who in February announced that 22 organisations had already signed up to it.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough's local mental health Crisis Care Concordat sets out the principles that the NHS and emergency services will seek to implement to improve the system of care and support people with mental health conditions in a crisis. The principles include working together through prevention and early intervention, developing ways of sharing information to enable front line staff to provide coordinated support to people in mental health crisis.
The declaration also supports the principle of parity of esteem, where mental health is valued equally with physical health, by seeking to create a shared care pathway to safely support, assess and manage anyone who asks any of the organisations for help in a mental health crisis.
Julian said:  "It is fantastic that Norman Lamb's mental health initiative is already being taken forward locally. Mental health has been the poor sister of physical health in the UK for far too long, and crisis care is perhaps the most stark example of this lack of equality.

"It is completely unacceptable in my view that while we have 4-hour waiting times in A&E a young person who experiences their first psychotic episode can sometimes wait for months before they receive any support. The Crisis Care Concordat is the strongest statement yet that this must change. It seeks to ensure that urgent and compassionate care in a safe place is provided to those experiencing a mental health crisis.
He added: "This won't happen overnight, but what the Concordat should do is to bring together the vast amount of work that is already being done by local organisations and give it a much sharper focus and urgency. I hope that it results in a list of practical actions as soon as possible.
"I will also continue to make the case that improving mental health care means that a transfer of resources must take place within the NHS and extra funding will be needed while this transition takes place.  We have one of the most underfunded NHS areas in the UK because of a model that we inherit from Labour; more money is needed to support the transition to a more community and prevention-oriented service.”