| Join us on Friday 21 February in Stansted for fish & chips (contact for delicious veggie/vegan options!), plus tea/coffee & dessert. There will also be a quiz and a raffle (please donate prize(s) if poss). And we will collect donations (food or cash) for the Foodbank. All for £11 per person! For those that fancy a glass of wine or a beer, there will be a bar – please bring cash for donations. See Event below for full details (click on the link). We need cash payment in advance, thank you for your understanding. This promises to be a fun event! Bring family & friends. And welcome to new members, please attend – this friendly event is a good way to get to know others! Look forward to seeing you all there!|
Fish & Chips + Quiz 21 Feb
Where: Stansted Day Centre, Chapel Hill, Stansted, UK
When: Friday 21st February at 7:30pm
Yes, I’m coming
At a packed meeting in Stansted tonight local labour members nominated Keir Starmer for leader and Angela Rayner as deputy.
Tom van de Bilt has been selected as Labour’s candidate to stand for Saffron Walden Constituency in the next general election. Tom lives in Stansted with his wife, Sarah and their two young sons. Tom works for a Cambridge based software house and has had a diverse career in both the public and private sector, including working for three local authorities and for a market leading software provider to public libraries. He is a parish councillor in Stansted. Tom’s political priorities are to secure a referendum on any Brexit deal, tackle the climate crisis and reverse the crippling Tory cuts to public services.
Speaking after Friday’s meeting Tom said:
“I am delighted and honoured to be selected as the Labour candidate. I’m a committed socialist and a proud European in a pro-European socialist party. I’m looking forward to hitting the campaign and talking to lots of local residents about how labour can deliver for people across the constituency and build communities for the many, not the few.”
Labour launched its manifesto for the Uttlesford district council elections on Saturday with a call to deal with the local housing crisis and defend public services from cuts.
Recently published figures show that the council housing waiting list surged 37.6% in 2018 to 1,112 households as over 300 more households found themselves in housing need. The rate of growth was the tenth highest in England and the highest in Essex. In contrast, the overall number of households on council waiting lists fell 3.5% in England and declined 3.2% in Essex. Meanwhile, Uttlesford had the highest social rent costs in Essex and the thirteenth highest in England, outside London.
Daniel Brett, Labour candidate for Stansted South and Birchanger, said: “Hundreds more households are being driven into poverty and housing need due to soaring housing costs and failing housing policies. Labour’s district manifesto sets out our objective of achieving 2,500 new council homes by 2030 through the delivery of garden communities and the establishment of a council-owned housing development company as part of the council’s commercial investment strategy.”
Guest of honour at the launch Daphne Cornell, former Labour councillor for Saffron Walden Castle ward and twice mayor of Saffron Walden, said: “It’s very easy saying no to everything the Conservatives do and promising the world, but this manifesto is marvellous and is a real alternative. There is a housing crisis and we need social housing. When I say social housing, I want council housing.”
Simon Trimnell, candidate for Castle ward and chair of the local Housing Board, said: “I want a fairer community where everyone has a chance to raise a family, without being pushed out because of housing costs. I want people to have the opportunity I got to have a council home in their community when they cannot afford market housing. Labour is the party of Saffron Walden and Uttlesford. We want to look after the whole community.”
Yvonne Morton, former Labour district councillor for the former Plantation ward and now candidate for Shire ward, said: “When there was a Labour group at Uttlesford, we achieved a lot. We were able to chair committees and get access to policy documents, so we could advance Labour values even when the council was Conservative controlled.”
Gerard Darcy, candidate for Great Dunmow South and Barnston, said: “Labour councillors will help transform the district. Labour is already changing the debate. We’re not Nimbys, we have a full set of policies that will create a better district and we’re excited about the possibility of playing a part in shaping Uttlesford’s future.”
Labour’s Uttlesford manifesto, which contains 42 separate policy
proposals, can be downloaded here:
Stansted Labour Party warns that the fight to save the community’s local library is not over after Essex County Council agreed this week to pay £10,000 towards rent of the Stansted Exchange and foot the bill for the refit of the library.
Essex County Council had agreed to rent the library space in the £1.2 million building at a rent of £13,000 per annum plus a contribution to running costs. However, just days before the lease was due to be signed, ECC launched a library strategy consultation that put the library in the Tier 4 category, scheduling it for closure. The new multi-purpose building, which includes parish offices, opens next month after years of work, during which ECC committed to supporting the project.
Stansted Labour spokesman Daniel Brett, who is a member of the parish’s library working group that prepared Stansted’s response to the consultation, said: “The parish council was forced to hike its precept by around 10 percent to cover a shortfall that was mostly related to the uncertainty over the lease. It would have been better for residents if ECC could have listened to parish protests months ago so that the parish did not have to resort to raise taxes.
“The offer of £10,000 falls short of the annual rent expected and seems like the ECC is trying to squirm its way out of potential legal difficulty. It also suggests that Essex only plans to rent the space for nine months, potentially withdrawing the service in January next year. We have been handed a small amount of extra time to respond to the consultation outcome due in June, should alternative plans have to be made for the library.
“Labour supports the parish council’s position that there is firm evidence Stansted library has been wrongly classified and, based on past usage, local deprivation and rural isolation, it should be re-categorised as Tier 2 and kept open and properly staffed. We believe no libraries in Essex should face a withdrawal of services and the county council should honour its statutory responsibility to maintain a comprehensive library service.
“If Stansted and Thaxted libraries are closed, Labour will urge Uttlesford district council to step in and pay for the rent – totalling £20,000 across both libraries – and the cost of librarian staff to cover the opening hours as well as creating user groups. This could cost up to £50,000 per annum and is well within the means of UDC’s Communities and Partnerships budget.”
Uttlesford District Council is plunging vast amounts of money into prestige projects in the Saffron Walden area at the expense of other parts of the district, said Stansted South and Birchanger Labour district candidate Daniel Brett following the authority’s annual budget.
The council rejected proposals by Stansted district councillor Geoffrey Sell to reallocate £500,000 of proposed spending on a running track at Carver Barracks to a new reserve for community infrastructure including sport provision.
At the full council meeting, Daniel Brett said: “Stansted football club is set to win the Essex Senior League, but to be promoted it needs to invest to meet the requirements for pitch and facilities, which it shares with the cricket club at Hargrave Park in Stansted. It was not promoted in 2010 because it failed to meet the requirements. It is unfair that vast resources are allocated to Saffron Walden while successful community sports groups in the south of the district need funding to grow and improve.”
After the meeting, he said: “I am disappointed that the Conservative administration rejected the motion and seems fixated on putting a lot of money into projects in the north of the district. Even some Saffron Walden councillors noted that community sports groups in their wards did not support the expensive running track, which still lacks clarity and certainty.
“Labour believes that community sports groups are fundamental to boosting participation in sport for people of all ages. We want to spread expenditure across a range of facilities, helping to improve facilities at community sports clubs in order to benefit the most amount of people. We believe it is only fair that successful community sports clubs get a share of funding.”
Saffron Walden Labour Party is calling for a complete rethink of the investment strategy, warning that Uttlesford is taking major risks by seeking to raise £100 million in debt without any comprehensive investment strategy.
Speaking at the full council meeting on Thursday, spokesman Daniel Brett said: “The investment programme lacks a coherent strategy, ignores emerging risks, has no professional asset manager oversight and is focused on one asset – the Chesterford Research Park – which is in one niche sector and in one ward in the far north of the district.”
Uttlesford agreed to go ahead with borrowing £100 million in addition to the £50 million already borrowed for the CRP investment, backed by the Tories and three R4U councillors. It will also set up an investment committee comprised of councillors to consider how to spend the money.
Speaking after the meeting, Daniel Brett said: “We have to acknowledge that the council is forced to borrow to invest due to massive cuts in local government spending by the Tory government. The council is staring down the barrel of a gun because it is trying to be an investment manager without professional expertise.
“A fat round number has been plucked from the air with some vague aspirations determined by amateurs in the council with no idea of what return they are seeking or how they will achieve it. Uttlesford Tories are determined to allocate most of the investment to the CRP regardless of risk – Brexit in the short-term, over-supply of research park property in the medium-term and the long-term economic cycle.
“Labour believes an investment strategy, drawn up by professional asset managers, is crucial. We believe in spreading risk across a range of asset classes with varying risk exposure, including fixed income, funds managed by external asset managers and venture capital. There are far more investment targets that are worthy of consideration in Uttlesford, particularly as we have an international multi-modal transport hub in Stansted that the council fails to capitalise on.
“Ultimately, we believe Uttlesford should approach other councils in Essex to build a £1 billion sovereign wealth fund which would have more financial muscle and can afford the asset management expertise to deliver higher returns with risks properly hedged.”
Saffron Walden town spokesperson Simon Trimnell said: “The Labour Party will always be open to working with others to defend our hard-won public services from attack. Opposition parties in Uttlesford are united in opposing these Tory cuts. The Labour party will continue to fight ideologically motivated austerity at all levels of government. It is a sad day when politicians working together a cross party lines for the common good is viewed as a source of suspicion.
“We support keeping all libraries open as a community resource for the young, the old, the poor and needy from the lonely pensioner seeking some relief to the parents with children who want to open their children’s’ minds through reading.”
Research based on freedom of information requests by the local Labour Party shows that libraries that have sustained cuts in opening hours and book stock have seen large decreases in usage and loans.
Until 2011, loans and active membership remained stable. In 2011/12, there was a 14% cut in opening hours across the county’s library service, which led to a 19% drop in book loans over the following two years. In 2014-16, the number of books held by Essex libraries was cut by 11% and this led to a similar decline in library loans and membership.
Libraries that did not see cuts in hours and book stock saw no decline and, in some cases, witnessed growth in use in recent years. In Great Dunmow, which saw the opening of a new library building in the centre of town, the number of active users rose 48% to 4,319 between 2008/09 and 2017/18. Over the same period, opening hours increased from 29 hours per week to 50 hours per week and the book stock increased by 4%. Yet, despite its success, Dunmow’s library is seeing its hours cut as it is downgraded to a Tier 2 library.
At Saffron Walden library, hours were cut by 21% from 61 to 48 hours per week with the popular Sunday opening times ended and earlier closing times during the week. Loans fell by the same amount over the following two years.
Saffron Walden Labour Party believes that further cuts to Saffron Walden town library’s opening hours will lead to a downward spiral of cuts with potential closure in 2024, when Essex County Council says that most of the libraries not closed this year will be moved to shared accommodation. The Corn Exchange could be sold off by the council and turned into yet another chain restaurant.
Click here to complete Essex County Council’s library survey.
Saffron Walden Labour Party has questioned the wisdom of Uttlesford district council’s finance chiefs in committing £47 million of debt towards an investment in the Chesterford Research Park (CRP), via the council-owned subsidiary Aspire (CRP). They are neither spreading risk nor considering the effects of Brexit on the biotech and pharma sectors.
Labour warns that if the CRP starts losing tenants due to economic problems in these sectors, it will put in jeopardy the council’s long-term finances as well as the plans for the North Uttlesford Garden Village, which forms a crucial part of the proposed local development plan.
The annual directors’ report filed at Companies House in early September stated that “once the country has got past March 2019, the likelihood of new tenants coming to the park, with some requiring new buildings, will significantly increase.”
Following a fact-finding meeting between Saffron Walden Labour Party representatives and UDC cabinet member for finance Cllr Simon Howell and UDC finance officer Adrian Webb, who also serves as executive director of Aspire, party spokesman Daniel Brett said: “Uttlesford is wrong to have all its investment risk linked to one asset in one sector and we are extremely worried that their future plans seem to be more of the same initially, rather than spreading risk.
“UDC is basing its investment policy on a blind faith that everything will be alright in the end. It is incredible that UDC have, in the Companies House filings, reached completely the opposite conclusion to the conclusions of a report published in May by parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee on Brexit risks to the pharmaceutical industry. The committee concluded that the UK may become a less attractive place to launch new medicines, particularly with regulatory divergence, and found that ‘any small gains would be hugely outweighed by additional costs or the loss of access to existing successful markets.’
“There is a very real risk that businesses will quit the CRP, potentially leaving the council with a large hole in its finances and sending its plans for the North Uttlesford Garden Village into chaos. We were told that the average remaining length of tenancy is eight years, but we are concerned that some of the larger tenants approaching the end of their tenancies may plan to quit for Europe or other research clusters.
“There are also specific risks to CRP. It is likely to lose business to nearby Hinxton, where companies are likely to cluster around an expanded Wellcome Genome Campus. Unlike Hinxton, the park remains outside the proposed Oxford-Cambridge technology arc with Uttlesford excluded from potential infrastructural benefits.
“Astonishingly, the council is not only wedded to investing everything in CRP, it is considering buying Aviva’s 50 percent share and expanding the park in the future. This will involve more council debt committed to an increasingly risky investment. If Aspire starts to struggle with interest payments, the council will have to deplete its reserves and cut local services.
“Even if the risks were totally mitigated, Uttlesford has placed all its eggs in one basket and opted for a low return asset. The council could have achieved higher returns in other sectors. It continues to ignore the tremendous commercial opportunities offered by Stansted Airport.”
UDC decided three years ago to set up a subsidiary, Aspire (CRP), and loan it money to acquire a 50 percent stake in the CRP. The funds were raised by council borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) and other lenders at a low interest. Aspire would then repay the interest on the loan to UDC at a rate of 4% over the 40-year period of the loan, plus any dividends. The differential between the interest rate paid by the council and by Aspire is being used to plug the £2.5 million funding gap caused by the end of central government core funding and cuts in the council’s New Homes Bonus.
The local party is demanding a complete reversal of Tory cuts in police staffing numbers over the past seven years and an increase in police pay to tackle the crime wave that is hitting Uttlesford.
Saffron Walden Labour’s statistical survey, based on freedom of information requests and public sources, finds that since 2010 crime in Uttlesford has doubled. Crimes per 1,000 people have risen from 35% of the rate in Harlow district to 70% since 2010. Unless the tide is turned, within five years Uttlesford’s crime rate will be the same as Harlow. Between 2010 and 2017, Essex Police has cut one in six police officers – 567 officers – to 3,000.
The police inform us that across the whole of Uttlesford and Braintree there is a specific allocation of just nine officers: five to local policing teams and four to community policing teams. We have been told there would be an allocation of an additional nine staff for Braintree/Uttlesford, “managed in accordance with operational need.” Based on shift rotation, this means an average of six police officers allocated to an area the size of London and a population the size of Swansea.
Saffron Walden Labour also highlights the real terms cuts in police pay that are adding to demoralisation of the police, who are not allowed to take industrial action, and undermining police staff retention rates. After accounting for inflation, the starting wage for police in Essex fell by £2,306 per annum between 2010 and 2017 – that’s a 10.2% cut. At the same time, housing costs have soared and there are not enough houses for key workers to accommodate them.
Unless the police have a significant pay increase, Essex Police cannot hope to retain them and boost the skills the police need to fight crime.
Labour’s Saffron Walden town spokesperson Simon Trimnell said: “Ram raids are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the effects of Tory cuts on policing in our area. The police are already over-stretched and will now be under pressure to catch these criminals, who are taking advantage of an under-policed affluent area. This will divert resources from other crimes, such as house burglaries.
“No-one is saying crimes would not happen under another government, but Kemi Badenoch should admit that Uttlesford’s lower level of policing due to Tory cuts has coincided with a rise in crime. She should also admit her ‘Report It’ campaign launched last year for a larger slice of resources has failed because cuts have reduced the amount available.
“We want to return to the numbers of police we had before the Tories came to power in 2010. We need to give them a pay rise and decent pensions that reward long service to help keep them in the force, build skills and reduce crime.”