Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Boost badgers; cull the coalition!

Not satisfied with launching attacks on students, council services, ordinary working families and many more, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have now decided to wage war on badgers.

The government has issued a badger culling licence to a consortium of landowners in Gloucestershire and a second licence will be issued to farmers in Somerset within days.

You might think that this might be justified if bovine TB was to be eradicated, but when you learn that the objective is to reduce TB in cattle by just 16% over nine years in the immediate area, you soon realise that the scheme is complete madness.

There is a long-standing problem with bovine TB in the UK. But, there is a huge amount of contradictory evidence about whether badgers give TB to cattle or cattle give it to badgers. 

There is also no scientific evidence that culling badgers actually deals with the problem of TB in cattle; indeed a past trial shows it could actually make it worse. That was why the last Labour Government decided not to cull badgers, but to look for vaccination as a long term solution, as there is considerable scientific evidence that that policy would work. As a result, plans to begin culling in Wales were recently abandoned by the Welsh Assembly in favour of a vaccination policy.

Now, Lord Krebs, the government's most respected scientific adviser says that the coalition government’s scheme is crazy. Not believing that anyone with a hint of common sense, let alone a full understanding of the science, could possibly go ahead with these proposals, he went public with his views. "I would go down the vaccination and bio-security route rather than this crazy scheme that may deliver very small advantage, may deliver none.”

The cull is bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers, bad for wildlife and especially bad for badgers.

Time to clean up

In 1936, George Orwell walked in to Sheffield over Wincobank Hill – he was writing The Road to Wigan Pier. He noted of Sheffield “It seems to me, by daylight, one of the most appalling places I have ever seen.  In whichever direction you look, you see the same landscape of monstrous chimneys pouring forth smoke which is sometimes black and sometimes of a rosy tint said to be due to sulphur.  You can smell the sulphur in the air all the while.”

The Clean Air legislation and policies of the 1950s had a dramatic effect upon pollution levels across the city, but particularly in the east end. Mind you, until relatively recently, some of the remaining industrial activities in the Don Valley meant that building new homes in Attercliffe was not an option.

But, whilst air quality has generally improved, some parts of the city have increasingly suffered from air pollution mainly caused by traffic. The pollution levels breach national and European thresholds. It is estimated to account for up to 500 premature deaths per year in Sheffield, with health costs of around £160 million per year. It has short and long-term health impacts, particularly for respiratory and cardiovascular health, including increased admissions to hospital.

People in Tinsley have been particularly affected by pollution from the M1, where traffic levels have continued to rise. It is clear that no real improvements can be made without government action. However, it has recently announced that it intends to introduce traffic management arrangements on the M1, including use of the hard shoulder during peak times. There is a real danger that this could worsen the situation, unless traffic speeds are reduced.

With the support of local Councillors, I am again pressing Ministers to come clean (sic) about the action that the government intends to take to ensure that the EU targets are met. I’ll keep you advised of the response.

Monday, 17 September 2012

From the Poll Tax to the Pickles Tax

Millions of people around the country are facing rises in their council tax from April 2013 on the orders of Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Eric Pickles has lectured councillors that they have a moral duty not to increase council tax bills, whilst he has been planning a £450 million council tax bombshell of his own. But this is a bombshell that is to be paid totally by people on low incomes.
In a desperate bid to get councils blamed for this latest stealth tax, Mr Pickles has told councils that they can choose who gets the tax rise. But, it’s rather like offering the falsely condemned man the choice of being hanged or be-headed.

Councils are forced to choose between increasing  council taxes on the working poor – over 740,000 working families currently benefit because their income is low - or those of the disabled or of families with young children. As pensioners are protected, others face a 16-25% cut. In the most cruel twist, those living in the least wealthy communities will get the biggest cut.

And, just as happened with the poll tax, councils will be forced to spend a fortune chasing people on low incomes for relatively small amounts of money they simply don't have.
When taken together with cuts in housing benefit and working families’ tax credits and education maintenance allowances, it is inevitable that many low income working families, who so far have continually managed to keep their heads just above water, will now lose the struggle. They won’t be waving, but drowning.
The Budget killed off Nick Clegg's claim that we are all in this together. But, to see big tax cuts for millionaires and significant tax increases for those on low incomes planned to come in on the very same day next April tells us everything we need to know about whose side the coalition is on.