BBC BLOGS - Politics Points East

Archives for June 2010

Cracks in the coalition?

Deborah McGurran | 21:33 UK time, Sunday, 27 June 2010


Norman LambA big moment in politics with this week.

I tell Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk, that I saw him scribbling away during Tuesday's budget, but didn't he know what was in it already?

"Yes, of course. I was at the meeting where it was discussed," said Nick Clegg's political advisor.

Then presumably, any rifts were repaired and the coalition are 100% behind the plans.

Someone forgot to tell fellow eastern Lib Dem MP Bob Russell, who is very concerned over child poverty.

Mr Lamb assures us that the Institute of Fiscal Studies maintains that the VAT increase is "slightly progressive", echoing the words of Vince Cable.

It's obviously a Lib Dem mantra ...

It still feels, though, that it's coming out of the wrong mouths.

And it's clear there are some among their own ranks who feel the same.

East or not - that is the question

Deborah McGurran | 20:33 UK time, Sunday, 27 June 2010


John Bridge, Chairman of Cambridgeshire Chambers of CommerceWe're now in the greater south east, according to the government.

Does that matter?

Well it does if you're starting a business because if you do it in any other region you get a national insurance holiday.

It's an offer that lasts three years, and at £5,000 for up to ten workers, it could be worth £50k per annum; a tidy sum.

That puts our start-ups at a disadvantage.

"Why," I asked a government spokesman,"is the east, no longer the east?"

The answer is because we, along with the south and London, have the greatest number of private sector jobs already.

Matthew Hancock, the new Conservative MP for West Suffolk, nods sagely:"Yes that's right, we have less public sector jobs here and more private enterprise."

The measure is designed to stimulate new businesses in areas with more dependence on the public sector. That means the north.

We blame Silicon Fen, and its cluster of high-tech businesses around Cambridge but it's hard to see why nearby Peterborough or Thetford, Ipswich, Lowestoft, Luton and many others should suffer.

The East is not being treated in the same way as the rest of the country and we believe that is totally wrong - John Bridge, Chairman of Cambridgeshire's Chambers of Commerce

John Bridge is the Chairman of Cambridgeshire's Chambers of Commerce."You need to invest in sucess," he tells us.

"The key thing is the priciple that cetain parts of the UK are going to be disadvantaged against the majority. In the east we have tremendous success in terms of business development and start-ups but what we don't believe is right is that businesses here should not have the same opportunities as elsewhere.

"The East is not being treated in the same way as the rest of the country and we believe that is totally wrong. It sends the wrong message.

"This is not isolated either. There are other examples of where we are not being invested in, in the way that we feel is appropriate and necessary for the future."

Last week the A14 scheme from Cambridge to Huntingdon was scrapped; something that's been on the drawing board since 1994. This week there was news of money for transport developments in several northern cities but nothing for us.

"If we're going to get out of the current economic crisis we need to have businesses creating jobs and wealth. The only way we can do that is to invest where we are going to get the best return."

For once I'm going to let someone else have the last word.

Budget Blues

Deborah McGurran | 16:27 UK time, Tuesday, 22 June 2010


In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

Most, if not all of us, will end the day worse off than we began it.

We knew it was coming but it still didn't entirely soften the blow.

You may be worried that your housing benefit may be cut at a cap of £20,000 a year, that's a maximum of £400 a week. If your family home costs the state more, you'll have to pay it or get slung out.

Or it could be capital gains tax (CGT) that's your concern. If you're a high earner it increases at midnight to 28% but for basic rate taxpayers it continues at 18%.

The controversial CGT plans seemed to please Mark Prisk. The MP for Hertford and Stortford, who's Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, nodded vigorously and beamed from his seat in the gallery at the Chancellor's decision to protect the capital gains of the majority of tax-payers.

Most of us in the middle will see our child benefit frozen with VAT increasing to 20% and a public sector pay freeze for two years will hit many.

The Conservatives waved their order papers enthusiastically at the end of the hour-long diatribe but Lib Dem hands stayed firmly in their laps.

The lack of Lib Dem enthusiasm for the cuts was obvious. Bob Russell, Lib Dem MP for Colchester, was very unhappy.

"Only five weeks ago I was campaigning against a rise in VAT... now I'm wondering how this has happened," he told us minutes after George Osborne sat down.

He said he needed to decide what to do next.

Mr Russell's been deeply opposed to the coalition since its inception while fellow Lib Dem Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, who stood by the door taking notes through proceedings today, is in the thick of it as party leader Nick Clegg's right-hand man.

The only sop to Lib Dem policies has been the raising of the income tax threshold by £1000 to £7475 in April 2011 - which even falls short of the £10,000 the party was wanted.

Harriet Harman, acting leader of the Labour Party, asked the House how on earth Liberal Democrats could vote for such a package.

While behind the press gallery we were assured by Rupert, the Conservative delivering the budget briefing, that it was a progressive package and a fair budget.

Unitary decision 'unlawful'

Deborah McGurran | 11:00 UK time, Tuesday, 22 June 2010


Norwich City Hall"Mark my words, this will become an expensive shambles" - the words of South Norfolk District council leader John Fuller almost three years ago have rung all too true.

The High Court ruling that the decision to grant unitary status to Norwich was unlawful must be the final nail in the coffin of a story that has run and run, become more and more complicated and cost taxpayers millions of pounds.

However, it's all academic now because the new government had already decided that home rule for Norwich wouldn't work and had pulled the plug on it.

It was back in January 2007 that Steve Morphew, the Norwich City Council's Labour leader, stood on the steps of City Hall alongside representatives from the Greens and Lib Dems as he launched Norwich's "unique bid" as he called it, to become a Unitary Authority.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Norwich, already the powerhouse of the county, to become the economic driver of the whole of the eastern region of England," he declared.

Yes, it would cost a lot of money to set up, but a single council running all Norwich's services would produce efficiency savings of £32m. Council tax would not have to rise.

What followed was a long and bitter debate involving several reports by the Boundary Commission and legal challenges which left even those close to the process completely confused.

Then, with just months to go before an election, the then communities Secretary John Denham gave the go-ahead for a Norwich Unitary Authority under its existing boundaries, even though the consultation had been on a different proposal.

His civil servants advised at the time that his decision could be successfully challenged in the courts and so it was.

The High Court concluded that Mr Denham had behaved unfairly.

Mr Justice Ouseley said that by changing the criteria at the last moment "the secretary of state had simply made a mockery of the consultation process".

The last government rushed through the orders creating the Norwich Authority before the election and confidently predicted that any new government would find it hard to reverse the legislation.

But they hadn't reckoned on Eric Pickles, the new tough no-nonsense Communities Secretary, who just told Norwich to "forget it" before he even tried to undo the legislation.

That legislation is being held up (as Labour predicted it would) but Mr Pickles is determined and, besides, the courts have now ruled the whole thing illegal.

Mr Morphew has now conceded that the unitary dream is at an end but he doesn't rule out trying again at some stage in the future. He says he's disappointed.

Norfolk County Council, who took the court action, feels vindicated.

There is now a question mark over whether 13 by-elections will have to be held in the summer (because the councillors who should have stood down in May were give special leave to stay on providing unitary status was going ahead) and the Department for Communities which has just been forced to make cuts of £780m to its budget has been left with a large bill for costs.

As Mr Fuller predicted, it's all ended in an expensive shambles.

A14 work on hold after 16-year wait

Deborah McGurran | 00:56 UK time, Monday, 21 June 2010


And talking of cuts. Aren't we always?

Danny Alexander (the Lib Dem who replaced David Laws as Chief Secretary to the Treasury) has revealed that development for the A14, so very, very, very long in the planning, is now on hold saving the government £1.1 billion.

Back in 1994, Lord MacGregor, the former MP for South Norfolk and the then Secretary of Transport, hailed plans to sort out this road from the Midlands to the east's ports.

Yes 1994.

Now we hear it's off. Well, to be exact, the project hasn't been cancelled but its fate now rests with the spending review.

The plan was to upgrade 22 miles between Cambridge and Ellington and transform the congested stretch into a six-lane super highway.

Transport, the whipping boy of many a government, takes another hit.

Having just stepped from tram to high speed train in Europe, the irony is not lost on me.

Astonishingly, Luton's guided busway survives, with its perilous £80 million price tag intact - for now.

Time to tighten the EU's belt?

Deborah McGurran | 00:32 UK time, Monday, 21 June 2010


Vicky FordWe're in Europe looking at how expensive it is to run.

The EU wants a budget increase of up to 6%, while its nation states are currently making £160 billion worth of spending cuts.

Vicky Ford, the Conservative Spokesman on Economic and Monetary Affairs and eastern region MEP, has tabled an amendment to the EU budget, asking it to be sensitive to the fiscal situation.

"EU institutions like this one must not be immune to their citizens' pain," she told the parliament.

But she was disappointed that her call for budgetary restraint was chucked out.

David Campbell Bannerman, an eastern region MEP for the UK Independence Party said: "This place is really behaving as if there is no recession and it is so detached from the democratic wishes of the peoples of Europe, it's not really surprising."

All these MEPs trudged back from Strasbourg to Brussels the following day.
At our expense.

Sitting tight in Strasbourg

Deborah McGurran | 12:42 UK time, Friday, 18 June 2010


The East Politics Show team

We've been to Europe.

The laptop didn't enjoy it and refused to work, hence the lack of communiques, but despite a heavy schedule and a lot of fixing on the hoof in foreign languages, we did.

Well, the weather was kind and we escaped the storms that caused havoc further south.

Strasbourg's historic centre looked even more charming from the water as we recorded from a boat; much to the amusement of tourists.

And what a pleasure it was being whisked around the Alsatian capital on their delightful trams.

You know, after a ride across France in a silent and speedy train to be delivered to a city-wide tram system you realise we're in the 21st Century, something that seems to have escaped the notice of successive governments here.

We've come to the plenary session in Strasbourg to see how Europe's facing up to the fiscal challenge.

We meet up with the East's Labour MEP Richard Howitt. He's travelled down from Brussels on the Tuesday to return to Belgium for Thursday's summit.

Yes, 12 times a year they go through the rigmarole of travelling across France to vote while most of the EU's committees' work is done in Brussels.

"And Strasbourg's not easy to get to," remarks Mr Howitt.

He is worried about the future of EEDA - the East of England Development Agency - which appears to be the kind of "low hanging fruit" the Chancellor is seeking; ripe for the plucking to save some dosh.

Cuts. It's all we hear. It's why we're here.

We return to grid-locked Blighty, to the same old roadworks. A high-speed railway here?Still a generation away.

New order

Deborah McGurran | 19:35 UK time, Friday, 11 June 2010



It's an odd experience going to Prime Minister's Questions these days.

I've even had to move seats in the press gallery to catch sight of the ranks of our Conservative members and, of course, the four Lib Dem members from the east.

Our two Labour members are now invisible, tucked beneath us on the opposition benches.

As the coalition beds in, it's noticeable that the Lib Dems have moved themselves further along the government benches to put as much distance as they can between them and the Tories.

The chamber is packed and with ample figures like Conservative Brentwoood MP and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, parked on the front bench, there's no room for many senior members. It leaves Home Secretary,Theresa May and South Cambridgeshire MP and Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, squeezed next to the Speaker's chair.

There's no niceties like giving up your seat for a lady in here, although Norfolk MP, Keith Simpson and Conservative colleague, Essex's Simon Burns, (both seated) enjoy a joke with Nadine Dorries (Con, Mid Beds) who is forced to stand in the aisle.

Her white suit stands out against the endless rows of grey suited men - that's another thing that looks different - feels different - about the House now.

A floating Labour voice asks a question. It's Kelvin Hopkins, one of the representatives from the only town in this region with Labour members.

The MP for landlocked Luton North asks about European fish stocks. Next time I see him I must ask why.

In a Pickle II

Deborah McGurran | 12:01 UK time, Thursday, 10 June 2010


Eric Pickles

The government's suffered its first defeat and it's Norwich that's caused the upset.

The House of Lords slung out the bill that was to stop the reorganisation of Norfolk's local authorities.

It's an embarrassment for the government that the plans to prevent a unitary authority in Norwich has hit the buffers.

The House of Lords has called the plans into question because it a "hybrid bill" - a combination of a public and a private bill.

But it's only a week since the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, told us, as only he can: "It's over. Don't anyone waste any more money on this scheme for a unitary in Norwich."

But, as they say, it's only over when the fat lady sings and not, it seems, when the politician speaks.

Meanwhile the "examiners" have been called in.

Who they? Spirits, holed up in some remote Westminster turret, waiting to pounce on unseemly legislation?

Well, um, no-one seems to know, but we're assured it won't take them long to put matters right and the delay to the bill's progress will be minor.

Much to Mr Pickles' relief no doubt.

MPs unite for impact

Deborah McGurran | 18:33 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010


Suffolk MPs unitedIn bright sunshine, in between the showers, a bevvy of Suffolk MPs graced College Green outside the House of Commons for what is becoming commonplace... a county-wide collection of members lobbying together.

New Suffolk Central MP Dr Daniel Poulter (who is a real hospital doctor) tells me that they have come together to champion the causes of healthcare and rural broadband in the county.

The new boys and girl; Ben Gummer (Con Ipswich), Matt Hancock (Con, Suffok West) Peter Aldous (Con Waveney) and Therese Coffey (Con Suffolk Coastal), were joined by veteran MP Tim Yeo (Suffolk South).

What does he make of the young bloods?

Although not so delighted to be the senior citizen, he is thrilled the county has five people elected for the first time.

"I know them all personally and they're going to make a tremendous contribution both to parliament and to the Conservative Party and, above all, Suffolk will be represented by people who really care about the county and who have got its interests at heart," he beamed.

Suffolk's seven MPs are all now Conservatives.

Getting together is a good approach. There's more impact with six or seven signatures on a letter to a minister than you'll ever get with one -
Chloe Smith

Norfolk's MPs were also out in force at a "World Class Norfolk" breakfast, Norwich MP Chloe Smith tells me.

They are used to working in concert and are still a cross-party grouping having two Lib Dems in Norfolk's midst (if the coalition is still cross party. It seems it is when it wants to fight a by-election but not when it is already in power... but I digress).

"A number of us were gathered today with people from across the public and private sector. The fact is that we have a great county with so much going on and so much potential, so much we want to achieve for it."

She doesn't mind Suffolk copying the Norfolk way.

"I think it's a very constructive way to get things done. Getting together is a good approach. There's more impact with six or seven signatures on a letter to a minister than you'll ever get with one."

Although she didn't pass up the opportunity to claim Norfolk was better than Suffolk..

Phew! I was beginning to think this outbreak of collegiality was terminal.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.