Open letter to Owen Paterson MP for North Shropshire, requesting a response to the Prime Minister’s press conference this evening.
Dear Mr Paterson,
This evening I have watched the Downing Street press conference. As you can imagine I am angered and frankly frightened about the damage the Prime Minister has inflicted on the country in such a short time.
He has effectively endorsed breaking the law, avoided legitimate questions about his own knowledge of Mr Cummings’ trips, and lied outright, not least by asserting that Mr Cummings was in need of childcare when it is known that this was not the case.
It is deeply insulting to those of us who have endured the lockdown for the greater good. Loved ones have died and been buried alone. Fathers have been unable to attend the births of their babies. Elderly relatives have been isolated from their adult children and their grandchildren.
More worryingly, it shows that Mr Johnson does not value the rule of law. He has lied to the nation in a live public broadcast, without conscience. Trust in the government will be undermined after this shameful display, and meaningful enforcement of public health measures could be very difficult. It is my belief that continued support from our MP is untenable.
I would be grateful if you could address the most concerning elements:
Number 10 Downing Street issued a statement which accused Durham Police of lying about speaking to Mr Cummings’ family. However Durham Police have confirmed that they indeed spoke to Mr Cummings’ family. At a time when public trust in the Government guidance is critical to save lives, are you comfortable with the Prime Minister’s office issuing statements that are apparently false?
In Saturday’s evening press conference, the Transport Secretary suggested that the guidance had always been open to personal interpretation. However, experience shows the vast majority of the British public, and evidently Durham Police, felt that the guidance, ‘if you or someone you live with has symptoms of coronavirus, do not leave your home for any reason’ was unequivocal. Are you comfortable with the guidance being retrospectively twisted to save the career of an unelected bureaucrat, unaccountable to the British people?
In light of the immense community efforts taking place across the country, it is simply not credible that Mr Cummings’ family could not find the support that they needed in London. In the unlikely event that they are friendless, have no family in the area, and were unable to find paid support, there are community groups who would have helped them with their food shopping during the period.
In backing Mr Cummings, Mr Johnson has undermined public trust to an extraordinary degree, and now threatens the public health initiative. The country desperately needs this to be effective, so that life can return to normal as soon as possible.
Democracy ends with ‘one rule for the people and another for the elite’ and the public will rightly not accept it. I am extremely concerned that social distancing, already fraying, will now become unenforceable, risking a very damaging second wave of the virus. There is a risk that thousands of people will lose their lives, and many thousands more will lose their jobs and businesses. This issue could not be more serious.
Mr Johnson has shown breath-taking arrogance and contempt for the public sacrifice made over recent weeks. You have made no public comment regarding the matter. Your constituents deserve to know whether you will be continuing to support him in light of the weekend’s dramatic developments.
I look forward to the publication of your response.
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for North Shropshire
CC: North Shropshire Liberal Democrats, Shropshire Star, Oswestry and Border Counties Advertiser, Whitchurch Herald, BBC Shropshire, ITV Central News, Oswestry Chronicle
Today Helen Morgan reacted angrily to the news that Owen Paterson voted in parliament to undermine hard-working farmers in North Shropshire. Yesterday, local MP Owen Paterson voted against an amendment to the Agriculture Bill that would have prevented trade deals which undermine current UK food and farming standards.
Helen (Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for North Shropshire) said: “I’m so angry that our MP ignores the needs of the local economy. In voting against the amendment he has effectively told farmers ‘we’ll sell you out to get our US trade deal, complete with hormone-fed beef and chlorinated chicken’. It’s outrageous.
“This amendment would have protected our farmers by preventing trade deals which allow the import of goods with lower production, animal welfare, environmental and labour standards.
“Along with the looming ‘no deal’ Brexit at the end of the year, our farmers are looking at tariffs on their exports and critical imports (such as machinery and fertiliser) and no protection from substandard food imports in any future trade deals.
“Agriculture and the food industries are our major employer here in North Shropshire, but our MP is more interested in an ideologically pure Brexit than protecting our jobs. North Shropshire deserves better”.
Neil Parish, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, had called on MPs to back his amendment providing protection of our current production standards in law, saying:
“There is no point having world-leading standards in the UK if we do not expect trade partners to reciprocate. Allowing preferential access to food imports produced to lower standards will put many of our farmers at a competitive disadvantage and out of business.
“Not only will this export jobs in farming and food production, it will export the impact of this production, turning a blind eye to poor animal welfare standards abroad and encouraging environmental degradation there. We will be exporting control, not taking it back.”
Helen said: “Mr Paterson has notoriously travelled to the US to listen to the concerns of lobbyists there. But to safeguard jobs in North Shropshire he should be supporting British farmers and food producers. Liberal Democrats will continue to fight for our local industry and local jobs in North Shropshire”.
Yesterday MPs voted on a series of amendments to the Agricultural Bill
All MPs were sent a letter urging them to back British Farming
The letter said:
“As representatives of farming, consumer, environmental and animal welfare
organisations across the UK, we are urging you to take this last proper
opportunity to ensure that the Bill secures vital safeguards for the high
standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection that
the public value so highly. At this time of crisis, you have the opportunity to
ensure that British farmers can produce the sustainable, healthy food we
need knowing that they will not be undercut by low standards imports as a
result of future trade policy, while meeting the public’s strong expectation
that food standards will be maintained. ”
The letter was co-signed by:
Minette Batters – President, National Farmers Union
Beccy Speight – Chief Executive, RSPB
Chris Sherwood – Chief Executive, RSPCA
Miriam Turner and Hugh Knowles – Co-Chief Executives, Friends of the Earth
Mark Bridgeman – President, CLA
Hilary McGrady – Director-General, National Trust
Helen Browning – Chief Executive, Soil Association
Sue Davies – Head of Consumer Protection and Food Policy, Which?
Patrick Holden – Chief Executive, Sustainable Food Trust
Shaun Spiers – Chair, Greener UK & Executive Director, Green Alliance
Craig Bennett – Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trusts
Richard Benwell – Chief Executive, Wildlife and Countryside Link
Kath Dalmeny – Chief Executive, Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming
John Davies – President, NFU Cymru
Caroline Drummond – Chief Executive, LEAF
George Dunn – Chief Executive, Tenant Farmers Association
Ivor Ferguson – President, Ulster Farmers Union
Jyoti Fernandes MBE – Chair, Landworkers Alliance
Martin Lines – UK Chair, Nature-Friendly Farming Network
Andrew McCornick – President, NFU Scotland
Darren Moorcroft – Chief Executive, Woodland Trust
Kate Norgrove – Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, WWF-UK
Doug Parr – Chief Scientist, Greenpeace
James Thornton – Chief Executive, ClientEarth
James Robinson – Conservation Director, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
Sarah-Jane Laing – Chief Executive, Scottish Land & Estates.
Owen Paterson voted against British farmers
Owen Patterson MP for North Shropshire voted against the amendments that the NFU and the other signatories were calling for. Clause 2 proposed by Neil Parish, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee would have safeguarded British Farms from inferior quality cheap imports and protected the animal welfare and food standards the public expects.
Oppose any deals allowing imports of food that would fail to meet our current world-leading standards of hygiene and animal welfare.
Add concrete legal protections into the Agriculture Bill to keep current protections for food standards, hygiene and animal welfare, in time for the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020.
Reaction to the votes on the Agricultural Bill yesterday
“Despite frequent warm words, it is disappointing the government did not take the opportunity to legislate that they will not allow the imports of food that would be illegal to produce here.” NFU Brexit director Nick von Westenholz‘s response to the Agriculture Bill report stage.
Soil Association reaction: Liz Bowles, Assoc. Director of Food and Farming at the Soil Association said: “As a farmer, and a member of society, I was disappointed in yesterday’s outcome.”
Liz manages one of the largest pedigree flocks of Shropshire sheep in the UK and combines this with being a Council Member of the Breed Society.
My Press Release in Full: Public Accounts Committee inquiry into council commercial spending
07 May 2020
Commenting on the news that The Public Accounts Committee will look at Shropshire Council’s £52m shopping centre purchase as part of their inquiry into local authority commercial investment, David Walker said: “The purchase of these shopping centres represents a huge risk to Shropshire Council’s finances. Senior administration members seem to have forgotten it isn’t monopoly money they are playing with. Or indeed their own money. They are risking public money!”
The inquiry will be looking to see if the Government Department has effective oversight of the risks to the financial sustainability of local authorities investing in commercial property. The Public Accounts Committee will look at these purchases on the 11th of May.
David Walker is a Civil Engineering Surveyor who has worked in the property and construction industry for over 30 years…
The purchase of these shopping centres represents a huge risk to Shropshire Council’s finances. Senior administration members seem to have forgotten it isn’t monopoly money they are playing with. Or indeed their own money. They are risking public money! The risks in the investment clearly outweighed the potential gain. More so when you consider the perilous state of their finances. More so given that more prudent investment strategies would give a better return.
15 years ago I was campaigning to get Broadband into Bridgnorth. I was concerned then about slow speeds were putting us at an economic disadvantage compared to other areas locally and globally. Fast forward 15 years and we still find Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane! This is despite all of the bluster from Shropshire Council about increasing investment. With the Coronavirus lockdown, more people than ever need good access and fast reliable speeds.
People at home using the internet for work, entertainment or to stay in touch with friends and family is increasing demand on the internet. YouTube, Microsoft, NetFlix and a pile of online content providers throttled their services to help lighten the load. Coronavirus is going to bring about a huge shift in people’s habits. Many of which will become permanent in quite a big paradigm shift. After this is done many people will still want to work at home and enjoy their newfound work/life balance. Many more people will be ordering online. Will they all revert to shopping in town centres? Many more people are downloading films. Will they all revert to going to the cinema? Some will but many won’t. Many businesses were already shifting to online service provision and delivery. They are hardly likely to shift back to a more expensive and less effective model of service delivery. All of these shifts are bad news for the digital divide and those with poor or now access.
Until Shropshire Council pull their finger out, invest our money wisely and apply real pressure on providers and BT then Shropshire is destined to fall further behind the rest of the UK….
Over recent weeks and months, the pothole plague has been spreading with a vengeance. More people than ever are complaining about the state of the roads. More people are making insurance claims for vehicle damage… and more claims are being dismissed by Shropshire Council out of hand. Shropshire Council pays out for just 1% of pothole claims. It relies on a defence that it has taken the “reasonable care” required under the Highways Act. In essence, if a council didn’t know about a pothole then can avoid a claim. Reports regularly boast of their success in rebuffing claims, but this is nothing to boast about.
It is important for everybody to report potholes. If Shropshire Council are aware of a pothole they can’t avoid a pothole claim for damage compensation. To report a pothole you can use Shropshire Council’s website. However, a better approach is to use the fixmystreet app. Shropshire Council accepts fixmystreet reports. Fixmystreet allows you to attach photos and a gps grid location using your smartphone with ease. Everybody else who uses Fixmystreet can also see what is reported and avoid duplicate reports. They send reminders about updates and you can mark it as resolved when it has been repaired. None of which is possible on Shropshire Council’s website.
When reporting take photos, where safe to do so, using a prop for scale. It is important to measure the size (width, length and depth). Using a spirit level can help to accurately gauge the size and is the accepted method to measure a pothole’s depth. If no action is taken and or the codition gets worse or is unsafe, report it again.
This isn’t how it should be and we all expect better. Other counties are also having big problems with potholes but everybody can see that Shropshire’s are far worse. That comes down to the strategic decisions of the Conservative-run Shropshire Council. Yes, we have a huge road network. Yes, Shropshire gets a poor deal from the Government. Yes, Shropshire is the largest inland county in England. But at every level of government, the Conservatives control the levers of power and have for ages, so at some point, the Conservatives have to shoulder the blame for the appalling condition of our roads.
As a Civil Engineering Surveyor of 30+ years who has worked on many major and minor road projects, I always find Conservative-run Shropshire Council’s approach to roads deeply frustrating and bewildering. Favouring short-term fudge over long-term maintenance is the road to ruin…
Shropshire Council are now belatedly upgrading their street lights to LED. They could have upgraded a long time ago but chose not to. They could have been building up savings or re-investing the savings for years. Arguably £3m wasted savings.
They could have funded it with a cheap loan using the Green Investment Bank (now axed). They could have used their then large capital pot with a cheaper internal loan. They tried bidding for government money to upgrade only the oldest lights. Their bid failed through lack of vision and ambition – other councils secured funds to upgrade the whole network.
Liberal Democrats suggested the upgrade over 3 years ago at and tried to get a better a plan added to the budget in 2017 ( See my call for the upgrade in 2017). More and more councils were upgrading – siting significant savings. Yet the Conservatives repeated insisted that it was too expensive.
Last year it was admitted that it would take 36 years to upgrade at the rate they were progressing…
Shropshire Councillors are calling for the resignation of Cllr Steve Davenport who is the Cabinet Member responsible for a failing Highways Department unable to deal with the County’s growing pothole problem.
Councillors from the Opposition Liberal Democrat Group on Shropshire Council will submit a question to the next Cabinet meeting on Wednesday 12th February demanding that Councillor Steve Davenport resign.
“We’ve had enough,” said Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Cllr Roger Evans. “Councillors in my Group have raised issues at many meetings but the assurances they are given rarely result in any improvements. Someone has to take responsibility for this failure.”
“During the whole of 2019 Liberal Democrat Councillors were raising issues about the growing number of potholes and the general failure of Shropshire Highways and its contractors Kier and WSP to deal with the problem. Despite these assurances, many from Cllr Davenport himself, the Council felt the need to appoint a consultant to tell them what was going wrong. Clearly whatever action Cllr Davenport had taken over the past year was not working. He should resign.”
When asked at last year’s July Council Meeting for an update by Cllr Chris Mellings, Cllr Davenport said that “the performance of both Kier and WSP is actively managed by officers and that I take a personal interest in that process.” He said that there had been challenges but Cllr Davenport concluded that “meaningful progress is being made and our focus is on providing as good a service as is possible across the whole of Shropshire.”
In September 2019, Cllr David Vasmer put a motion to a full Council meeting demanding that Shropshire review its £21m contract with Kier – it does most of Shropshire Highways work on the ground.
In October a whistle-blower contacted Cllr David Vasmer accusing Shropshire of not authorising payments to Kier properly. At a meeting of Place Overview in November, Cllr Vasmer and Cllr Roger Evans asked a series of questions but received assurances that there was nothing to worry about.
At the December Council Meeting Cllr Davenport finally acknowledged that there had been problems with the Kier contract which he said were being tackled. He said “we do have concerns over the quality of some work undertaken by Kier and we are working with them to address this”
“Cllr Davenport at this stage was still unaware of the level of dissatisfaction with the Highways Department,” commented Councillor Vasmer. “It was only the Chief Executive’s intervention in the New Year that resulted in any real action being taken, despite repeated assurances
“In a recent email to all Councillors, this is what Cllr Davenport admitted ‘We/I had to make drastic changes to improve….this service, I totally support Clive’s ( the Chief Executive’s) intervention here as he (is) leading from the front, I have no power as a cabinet member to make changes that had to be made.’ By his own admission his interventions have failed, he is powerless and should resign.”
Thank you to everybody who voted for Helen Morgan on the 12th of December in the 2019 General Election.
Locally we outperformed the national result, the West Midlands regional result and the result in strongly Leave seats. Helen’s vote went up by 4.7% – the largest increase in vote share compared to 2017 for any party in North Shropshire. This was our biggest campaign in a long time. Whilst, the national picture wasn’t great for us – 3 weeks before polling day we were looking at a much better result and aiming to take second place – we held our own and made solid progress in target areas. Owen Paterson’s vote share rose modestly whilst Labour’s collapsed.
Nationally the party saw a disappointing result despite seeing a 4.2% increase in vote share and gaining an extra 1.3 million votes compared to 2017. The Conservatives gained 0.3 million votes and Labour lost 2.6 million votes. Yet in seat terms, the Liberal Democrats lost 1 seat, the Conservatives gained 47 seats and Labour lost 59 seats. Turnout was 67.3%, slightly lower than the last election in 2017. The shows clearly the distortion in seats that First Past the post produces. Under a fair voting system, the Liberal Democrats would have gained upwards of 70 seats. Just one of many reasons why the Liberal Democrats have consistently campaigned for electoral reform over the decades. https://www.libdems.org.uk/lder