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Local elections 2019 : Newcastle Liberal Democrats launch manifesto

April 13, 2019 3:16 PM

NEWCASTLE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS LOCAL ELECTION MANIFESTO 2019

'Forward to a better future with the Liberal Democrats'

OUR PARTY'S PRINCIPLES AND VALUES AND AMBITION


I. Introduction
Newcastle Liberal Democrats hold firm to the values of the wider Liberal Democrat party. Our national vision is set out in the preamble to our party's federal constitution:
The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.
In Newcastle, we aim to stay true to our national vision.
In all that we say and do, we will strive to be open, tolerant and united and to demand better for the residents of our city.
We add one more proviso to our vision locally in our desire to be close to the communities in which we serve, to listen to local people, to work with community organisations, and to act on their behalf where it is possible to do so, in line with our Liberal Democrat principles.
We believe passionately that our focus as a local party and actions should be rooted in communities.


II. Our Six Local Principles and Values
In this local election, Newcastle Liberal Democrats have set out our guiding principles, which have been derived from our local values and can be measures on which residents can best understand who we are and what they can expect if they elect a Liberal Democrat in the election on the 2 May 2019.
The six principles and values are:
1. Open and transparent.
2. Local and decentralised - rooted in communities.
3. Caring, fair, respectful and tackling inequalities.
4. Protecting the environment and fostering sustainable communities.
5. Working across sectors and building partnerships to regenerate the city.
6. Focused on delivering value for money.
We believe that it is important to be open in our communication with you, and work on your behalf. We believe that the Council needs to be more amenable to scrutiny, particularly around budgets and performance issues.
A Liberal Democrat administration would overhaul the budget process with a systemic 'line-by-line' review of the budget in order to make it more transparent and provide a framework for future delivery of services.
Liberal Democrats in the city are really frustrated at how cuts to budgets have led to centralisation of decision-making and service provision. Being rooted in communities means we want to see this reversed.
The one-size fits all approach isn't good in governance terms as it has frozen out ward councillors, community groups and residents from local decision-making. We would review the governance structures, and over time restore cuts to ward budgets and reintroduce neighbourhood services, like those under the previous Liberal Democrat administration of the Council, to tackle litter, graffiti, improve local green spaces, and direct resources for roads and pavement repairs.
Liberal Democrats want to be at the centre of tackling inequalities. We need to encourage agencies to work evermore closely together - by pooling budgets - to tackle deprivation, disadvantage and discrimination. We need to move beyond the ideological attack on government, which pays lip-service to those for whom support is needed.
We particularly see a role for the voluntary sector in helping to tackle deprivation and disability, which is why Liberal Democrats outlined plans to add an extra £1 million into the Newcastle Fund in our budget amendments this year.
Liberal Democrats believe the Council should be more focused on protecting our local environment. We have concerns about the new Parks Trust, which we fear over time will lead to commercialisation of green space; there is currently no adequate budget provision for green spaces not in the Trust and this leaves a worrying legacy.
On waste collection, we are pleased that the Council is finally seeking to implement a new strategy, but recycling rates are not currently improving much, and many of the targets set seem aspirational at best.
We want to see sustainable communities, with a wide range of plans including to build into the planning framework a requirement for developers to create mixed tenure communities to help encourage social integration. We would look to recover Newcastle's position as the UK's most sustainable city, with some ambitious alternative transport plans to the Council's, aimed at improving public transport, access for walking and cycling and to lower carbon admissions.
A Liberal Democrat administration would seek to build partnerships with other organisations. In Adult Social Care, we would look to accelerate the progress in pooling budgets between the health services and the Council, so to reduce the burgeoning costs and ensure seamless services to our residents. We would want to exercise more of the role of the Council as champion of parents and children to offer both challenge and support to our schools in ensuring that our children get the best start in life.
In the business sector, we'd look to see more collaboration to direct private finance into the city, particularly to support our commitment to 'community wealth building', to provide jobs and training opportunities and to help pump-prime small businesses and creative industries. We would seek to work with the new Mayor of North of Tyne about opportunities to invest in skills and training provision for people of all ages.
All that we do as Liberal Democrats is focused on delivering value for money for residents. We believe that Newcastle Council is perceived as a 'can't do' authority, using all the excuses possible to explain why service reductions are always someone else's fault. Undoubtedly, government cuts have been severe, but the Council continually conflates reductions in government funding and cost pressures and says very little about grants that come in to support particular projects. It doesn't seem to realise that local government has changed and it needs to innovate and work with partners, rather than turn back the clock.
Other authorities have been able to manage their budgets better to avoid cuts to environmental services, to libraries, museums, play and youth services and parks.
The Liberal Democrats ran a very efficient and effective administration from 2004 until 2011, and so we have experience of making things work. We would seek to work in a less piecemeal, and more universal, way with other statutory services, other councils, the private sector, and the community and voluntary sector to develop new ways of working and fix our broken services.


III. Liberal Democrats electoral ambitions
Our ambitions for Newcastle are set out in our strategic vision for the city.
We believe passionately that the City of Newcastle upon Tyne will flourish with leadership underpinned by Liberal Democrat values. The goal of any political party should be to further their aims and to achieve representation, on behalf of voters. Newcastle City Council was led by a Liberal Democrat administration in the past, and we want to see that become a reality once again.
Liberal Democrats demand better for Newcastle and with your help we can get better with a Liberal Democrat administration of the Council.
We are one of the largest Liberal Democrat groups in the country, with 19 councillors across the city. Our vision affirms our commitment to working towards the next Liberal Democrat administration and we have a good group of councillors of diverse experience and age and we will be contesting all the wards in the 2019 election.
We are the only opposition party to Labour on the Council and the only party able therefore to provide alternative leadership. If you like our vision and values and policies, we believe that you should vote for us in your community. The election will not change the government but could change the future of your local area and the city.
For more information on our policies please look at our further sections in this manifesto document which is split into six area of policy priority for us, which you will see links with the ambition and values set out.


OUR POLICY PRIORITIES FOR NEWCASTLE


The manifesto is split into a number of key areas:
i. 'Supporting safer and inclusive communities'.
ii. 'Supporting well-being, health and social care'.
iii. 'Regenerating our local economy'.
iv. 'Accessing education, skills and training'.
v. 'A sustainable environment and transport system'.
vi. 'Supporting local culture, heritage, sport and leisure'.


I. Supporting safer and inclusive communities.


Liberal Democrats would seek to offer leadership in the area of community safety. We would lobby for additional funding from the new North of Tyne Mayor and central government to build on the successes of multi-agency initiatives aimed at tackling anti-social behaviour in the city centre and our local communities.
We would ensure that projects, served by the Newcastle Fund and ward funding would continue, and we would look at what future commissioning of services could be done more locally. This could be a means, for example, to fund community youth work, which has been severely reduced, or has disappeared altogether, in some of the wards of the city.
In terms of housing proposals, it is important to reiterate our concern that local policy is leading to social housing being built in areas of social deprivation, leaving new owner-occupied estates without affordable or social provision, exacerbating social division.
In offering a Liberal Democrat vision for housing we are committed to the following proposals:
• Lobbying for mixed tenure housing developments;
• 'Lifetime homes' and support for specialist properties for special needs;
• Lobbying for replacement of 'right to buy' council houses on a 2 for 1 basis;
• Support for tighter regulation of the private rented sector, by extending the selective licensing policy;
• Imposing increased levies on Council tax for empty homes;
• Superfast broadband roll-out across the city;
• We would allow ward councillors to input into significant planning applications and Section 106 agreements to ensure that more local priorities can feed into the decision-making process.

More information on housing can be found in our separate Housing Manifesto, which is available on request.


II. Supporting well-being, health and social care.


Social care - both for children and adults - is a clear area that requires national intervention as Council budgets are finding it difficult to keep pace with rising demand; sustainable solutions are needed on a national basis, so the issue is shared. Liberal Democrats have offered to cooperate with the Labour administration on tackling the issues locally and lobbying central government, but these offers have not been taken up due to Labour's local political culture, which mitigates against cooperation.
It is worth reiterating here our concern about the need for faster integration of health and social care in Newcastle, in terms of Adult Services. We are also concerned about the future of intermediate care for adults, which could be squeezed in any service change.
A Liberal Democrat administration would seek special focus on tackling mental health, which again is in need of additional funds. The Liberal Democrats were at the forefront of progressive reform nationally in this area, and this is an area where we think the Council and health services can develop policy. In particular, we'd like to see how we can increase support to people who are on the streets - a growing local concern - by working with all agencies to address social and mental health issues.
The growing demand for support for children in the care system also needs to be seen in the context of regular overspend to budgets. Demand is often unpredictable, hence the need for national action, but the Council cannot simply blame the Government for everything. Locally-managed early intervention and prevention work is supposed to be helping reduce demand; the fact that it isn't needs careful scrutiny and we need to challenge performance issues.


III. Regenerating our local economy.

Our local economy has not really recovered since the last recession under the Labour government. We need to invest in the city to create the jobs and services of the future. Therefore, we are anxious to continue to work in collaboration with local initiatives, such as Northern Powerhouse, and the Local Enterprise Partnership. We would seek to channel jobs through Tynexe and use Council resources to pump-prime private sector investment, such as has happened in the Stephenson Quarter.
We would encourage new and small businesses to set up in the city centre and elsewhere by looking at ways to harness empty properties for short- or longer-term location. We would open up a dialogue with NE1 to seek their support and input into these possibilities.
We recently proposed a motion to Council on 'community wealth-building', as a means to support local purchasing of labour, goods and services. We would open dialogue with our partners in all sectors to help to put this policy into reality.
In terms of High Streets and the City Centre, we would look to use the regulatory and planning frameworks to encourage more diversity of services, building on advice and understanding of current and future trends. We would look at how best to sustain, and revitalise, neighbourhood retail areas, and we note, in particular, the pressure that some of our High Streets are under at present, due to the lack of investment and the need for change.
We would work with NE1 and local businesses to secure the right resources to ensure the vibrancy of the night-time economy. This includes future consideration of the administration of the night-time levy. We need to talk to restaurateurs, bars and other premises selling food and drink about their future plans and investment in the city.
We have more information on these proposals set out in our Business Manifesto, which is available upon request.

IV. Accessing education, skills and training.


Liberal Democrats are keeping watch on the Council's plans to secure an additional 3,700 school places by 2031. It is a difficult task as new school buildings often needs planning approval and the Council has to find a free school or academy to provide the education. We are generally supportive of the Council's preference for expanding schools, rather than building new schools, in some parts of the city, in order to facilitate the arrangement for new school provision, but only where we think it is in the interests of children and parents.
Pressure on school places means that parents' choices for their children are being squeezed. Liberal Democrats would like to facilitate the availability of provision of a range of different curriculum opportunities and training and apprenticeships and good opportunities locally. Unlike Labour, we would seek to build partnerships with all types of schools, including the private sector, in order to achieve these ends.
Liberal Democrats would lobby for an end to enforced academisation of our schools and the effective ban on local authorities creating their own schools.
We would seek to champion the 'Promise Board' as a means to keep local schools working together, particularly around managing hard to place pupils, SEND, and to help to share experience and skill in terms of teaching and support.
Local authorities are no longer responsible for the management of schools and for school improvement services, but the legislation does encourage local authorities to offer support and challenge which Liberal Democrats would embrace, particularly to address issues of 'narrowing the gap' between how our pupils achieve in our schools and to challenge any under-performance. When in government, the Liberal Democrats introduced the Pupil Premium to help disadvantaged pupils and to help narrow the gap. This has become an increasingly important part of the schools' budget, and Liberal Democrats believe that the Council should use its influence to ensure that money from the Pupil Premium is spent well.
We are lobbying for more information about the new North of Tyne Education Challenge; we have some concerns that it might dilute the commitment of Newcastle to addressing performance in our schools, particularly at Keystages 3 and 4; and to looking after the interests of SEND children, particularly given the poor recent inspection.
Adult and vocational education will fall increasingly under the remit of the new Mayor of North of Tyne. We have been a little disturbed to hear that plans for adult education are, as yet, ill-defined. In theory, we welcome the potential pooling of resources of all authorities in the North of Tyne to create a better and more focused service for adult education, but without the political oversight it is difficult to envisage what this might look like. We look forward to working with the new North of Tyne Mayor, who will, we hope, show political leadership over the issues.


V. A sustainable environment and transport system.


Liberal Democrats have concerns about the level of ambition and achievability of the waste strategy being developed by the Council. We do welcome a new strategy, but we are concerned about the education awareness-raising initiative, costing £0.8 million pounds; it is not understood what the impact will be.
We think that the Council should be developing some more significant and achievable targets, so aiming for Zero Waste. The Council needs to be setting clearer targets on recycling, given the sluggish improvement in recycling rates.
Liberal Democrats believe that more funding is needed for road and pavement maintenance across the city, after years of neglect. The Council is bringing in a new protocol for dealing with requests for work, which should mean more intelligent management of repairs, but it doesn't alter the fact that resources are insufficient.
In our budget proposals this year, Liberal Democrats recommended allocating some of the £8.5 million 'profit' on parking income and fines to pay for the road and pavement repairs.
We would develop our own Air Quality strategy with our priorities being as following:

• Redirection of planned expenditure on road charging infrastructure, and any revenue generated to bring about improvements, to public transport, park and ride, and cycling and walking infrastructure;
• Partnership working with operators to facilitate transition to low-emission buses, extended park and ride provision, and improved bus infrastructure;
• Extension of the Council's air quality monitoring network, including making public safety announcements on days when air quality levels are exceeding safe levels. We would encourage schools, businesses and public sector organisations to display 'traffic light' information on air quality levels;
• We would seek to create bus priority routes for low-emission buses to reduce diesel emissions on major bus corridors;
• We would seek to ensure greater uptake of bus ridership through new subsidised fare offers for people who leave their cars at home one day a week and/or one week a month.
• We would champion 'freight consolidation', and the switch away from diesel vehicles;
• We would establish 'school clean air zones' which would prioritise safer sustainable travel routes to schools and discourage the 'school run'.
Liberal Democrats would ensure greater transparency in Council reporting on transport project delivery and use of transport budgets which has been a major problem in recent years.
We would review and improve the council's approach to cycling and walking: little progress has been made on enhancing the city's network of segregated strategic cycle routes and implementing school sustainable travel plans.
You can read more about our transport policies in our Transport Manifesto, which is available on request.


VI. Supporting local culture, heritage, sport and leisure


Liberal Democrats believe that the Council has a very short-slighted approach to culture and heritage in the city.

For some time, the city has had no physical tourist information points at key locations. This policy makes Newcastle unattractive to visitors. Liberal Democrats have proposed re-establishing a service, and we will continue to argue the case.
This same short-sightedness can be seen in the reductions of library and museum hours in the recent budget.
The City Library and museums in the city centre are vital in relation to making services available at a time when retail functions of the city centre are declining. We need to entice residents and visitors as part of our plans to revitalise the area. To us, being told that footfall is less on bank holidays and Sundays, so justifying reductions in open times, shows lack of ambition and evidence that the Council has the wrong business model.
Liberal Democrats proposed restoring the cuts to library provision, museums and the archives service in our budget amendments.
Liberal Democrats welcome the role of the Council in attracting high profile events, such as the Rugby World Cup, the recent National Circuit Series event, and high-profile concerts and cultural events. We are pleased that Newcastle continues to be a host for the Great North Run and that this event is known nationally and internationally.
Such events help to raise the profile of the city and encourage investment. We would like to see Newcastle ambitious in attracting even more diversity of events moving forward. A Liberal Democrat administration would seek to work with partners to achieve this. However, we are concerned to make on-going funding from the Council more transparent and we would develop better protocols. We believe that where the Council offers to fund aspects of these events - such as practical arrangements for traffic, access, stewarding etc. - the process for doing so could do with greater oversight by the political process and be more open to scrutiny.
Liberal Democrats remain concerned about the future of our local parks.
Over-commercialisation of the parks within the new Trust, we are concerned will come as a result of the need to develop a new revenue stream, and could reduce access to parks for residents in the city. Parks, play areas, and recreation grounds not part of the Trust face an uncertain future, as they have no regular budget and rely on one-off pots of money, such as developer funding through the planning process. The Council blames the government cuts for changes to policy, but the overall impression of the Council's thinking is that it lacks clarity, and this is worrying moving forward.
Liberal Democrats believe that more urgency is needed for establishing the budget for the non-Parks Trust parks and recreation areas.
We would use our influence on the Parks Trust to ensure that parks and allotments remain available for the community and commercial decisions do not harm access.


For more details:
Cllr Nick Cott
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group
Chairperson of the Policy Sub-Committee, Newcastle Liberal Democrats
Tel. 07740 851241
E-mail. nick.cott@newcastle-libdems.org.uk
Printed, published and promoted by Cllr Nick Cott on behalf of Newcastle Liberal Democrats, all at 35, Hedley Terrace, Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE3 1DP