Friday, 6 September 2013

In the wrong lobby

David Cameron’s judgment has been suspect on a number of issues and you would of presumed that he – and his partner-in-arms, Nick Clegg – would have paused for thought before they pressed ahead with another measure which will make things worse and not better.

This time, it’s a Bill about lobbying. Nearly everyone, including the vast majority of the public, believes that we need to take action to regulate lobbying and make it transparent. Back in 2010, David Cameron described lobbying as “the next big scandal waiting to happen.” In the three years since, whilst his Ministers and the Conservative Party have become mired in a series of lobbying scandals, there was silence.

Then, from nowhere, Cameron and Clegg have managed to produce a Bill that is so bad that it has achieved the unique feat of uniting transparency campaigners and the lobbying industry against it. Only they could produce a Bill which wouldn’t stop lobbyist Lynton Crosby – whose company has been paid a fortune by the tobacco companies to lobby on their behalf - from advising them about tobacco policy, but could stop an organization like Cancer UK from campaigning about it.

Local charities and organisations could have their voices gagged. So, student bodies might be prevented from campaigning about the Liberal Democrat broken promise on tuition fees; parent groups could be restricted from campaigning about the local costs of childcare; or community groups could be hindered in their campaigns about a local library or Surestart centre.

Charities, community groups and other organisations play a huge part in our national and local democracy. It doesn’t matter if we agree or disagree with what they say – that’s all part of a healthy democracy.

This Bill is an attempt to gag charities and other campaigners. The National Association of Voluntary Organisations is coordinating opposition from a wide range of national charities. Local charities and community groups might want to add their voice before it is too late.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The last post?

The Royal Mail and the Post Office aren’t just part of our heritage, they’re a crucial
part of the lives of  families and businesses. This is especially true in rural areas, where the local post office acts as a focal point for communities.

43% of older people in rural areas use their local Post Office to access cash. Thousands of small rural businesses rely on postal services for ensuring customers get their goods and services on time, efficiently, reliably and at a reasonable price. Crucially, by law, the Royal Mail has to deliver mail to people six days a week, regardless of where they live. This is not the case in many countries.

Given that background, one has to ask why Messrs Cameron and Clegg are so determined to press ahead with the dangerous privatisation of Royal Mail, a proposal which they have failed to justify and which clearly doesn’t provide good value for the taxpayer.

Having refused last year, it is only after considerable pressure that the Government has now caved in and worked out the arrangements for a 10 year Inter-Business Agreement (IBA) between the Royal Mail and the Post Office. This is a vital link for the sustainability of our Post Office network.

However, there is no guarantee that a privatised Royal Mail will continue to support and use the Post Office network. In fact, it is more likely that it would want to break the historic link between the two.

Rural postal services will be under threat if Royal Mail is privatised because these
are the most costly to operate. To put it simply, profits on delivering urban post are subsidising rural post deliveries. Already in the UK, private parcel delivery firms, who operate in the interests of shareholders and not the public service, routinely charge a
significant premium for delivering to remote and rural areas. In some cases, they just refuse to deliver goods to these locations altogether.

Collections are also at risk. Did you know that more than 6500 post office collections had been scrapped in the last year? And new rules, implemented from June, inevitably mean that there will be fewer post boxes in future.

For some rural communities, the last post? Quite likely.