Minutes of MVCLP Members’ Meeting Thursday 9th December 2021
To begin the meeting, Dan gave an update on the Government’s social care policy. On the 22nd November, Parliament passed an amendment to England’s social care plans by a majority of 26. There were 19 Conservative rebels and 70 abstentions. The amendment means that council contributions to care fees will not count towards the cap on what people would pay for their care. Poorer people who get means-tested help will end up paying the same amount as richer people if they needed care for a significant amount of time. It will save the government £900m a year by 2027, but poorer homeowners may need to sell their homes to fund care. Keir Starmer called it a “working class dementia tax”. Our MP Flick Drummond voted for the amendment.
A social care ‘white paper’ was released by the government on 1st December, further outlining their plans. Most money from the new Social Care Levy will fund the shortfall of revenue from the cap (£1.7bn left out of £5.4bn raised). The spending plan includes: £300m to integrate housing into health and social care strategies, £150m to drive up the digitisation of the sector, £500m for the social care workforce, and £70m to help local authorities improve the delivery of local care. It has been criticised for not having a long-term strategy for the sector. Also, it doesn’t constitute a substantial investment, with even Jeremy Hunt saying, “providing an additional £1.7bn in funding over three years falls far short of the annual £7bn sum that our evidence found would be necessary to fix social care”.
These plans appear to be the complete ‘new plan for Social Care’ that the government have promised for so long in the face of the social care crisis, and it is entirely underwhelming and inadequate. A better offer is needed for the country.
At the outset one member commented on the mounting stack of scandals that the government are generating, and there followed a discussion about its influence on voters, Boris Johnson’s ability or inability to overcome them, and Labour’s position in relation to the Conservatives’ waning popularity. At the time of the meeting Labour were 6 points ahead (further increased at the time of writing this), and there seems to have been a positive response to the shadow cabinet reshuffle.
One concern is that it is not these scandals that really matter. It is policies that the Government are putting through parliament such as the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, the Nationality and Borders Bill, and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. These things are what must be focused on in order to build a strong, long-term opposition to the Government.
The main topic of this meeting was local issues for the Meon Valley. At first we discussed our constituency’s MP, one member commenting “I have written to Flick Drummond on several occasions and always received a reply. However these have often been a generic response that is a cut and paste job and repeats central office’s press statements.” This was echoed by other members. The point was raised that, going into the next election, Flick Drummond may not be defending the Meon Valley seat, in light of current boundary proposals that dissolve the constituency entirely and split it between neighbouring constituencies.
Dan gave an outline of Flick Drummond’s voting record as presented by theyworkforyou.com (https://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/25392/flick_drummond/meon_valley). In the voting record she:
Generally voted against more EU integration (5 for, 22 against)
Consistently voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits (23-0)
Generally voted against a more proportional system for electing MPs (0-2)
Consistently voted for reducing central government funding of local government (2-0)
Consistently voted for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU (4-0)
Consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability (0-8)
Voted against allowing terminally ill people to be given assistance to end their life (1 vote in 2015)
Consistently voted against laws to promote equality and human rights (0-4)
Consistently voted against transferring more powers to the Senedd/Welsh Parliament (0-9)
Consistently voted against higher taxes on banks (0-3)
Consistently voted for raising the threshold at which people start to pay income tax (7-0)
Consistently voted for more restrictive regulation of trade union activity (9-0)
Consistently voted for reducing capital gains tax (7-0)
Generally voted against measures to reduce tax avoidance (2-6)
Voted for new high speed rail infrastructure (1 vote in 2016)
Consistently voted for reducing the rate of corporation tax (9-0)
Do you feel that this voting record represents your interests, the interests of the people you know, or the interests of the constituency as a whole? One member commented that people, particularly younger people who have a good job, a house and a family may identify as Conservative voters, without realising that Tory policy does not align with their interests. It is Labour’s role to get the information out there that people need to make informed judgements. Locally, concerns such as the sewage issue and green policies may be ones that reach people. The fact that our MP has voted for reducing central government funding for local government may be unpopular if it was made clear to people.
The Hampshire County Council budget is set to be cut by £80m by April 2023. Councillors are saying it’s on a ‘journey to bankruptcy’, and are seeking more sustainable funding by way of a ‘short-term spending floor’. The current plans are to cut £22.6m from children’s services, £3.3m from culture and communities, and £10.2m from transport and environment, among other reductions. Under the Conservatives’ arrangements, councils have to bid to central government for finances, rather than having their own spending pot. Upon hearing how many councillors there are on Hampshire County Council — seventy-eight — one member suggested that this is where a significant amount of money is being spent.
Approval has been given for the 6,000 homes of Welborne Garden Village, which is one of forty-nine ‘garden communities’ designated by the government, and falls directly next to our constituency boundary, between Wickham and Fareham. The plans also include a secondary school and three primary schools, local facilities and open spaces, and ‘Welborne Technology Park’.
Housebuilding is a tricky issue to navigate. On the one hand we have a shortage of housing supply in the country, and on the other new housing puts a strain on local services and infrastructure, as well as many other negative consequences for locals. A comprehensive plan needs to be put together for housing. The current system is completely dysfunctional. To begin with, the UK faces the challenge of its culture that homeownership is a goal for people. This is unlikely to change, but it puts pressure on the housing supply from the outset, particularly with council houses shifting to private ownership.
There are a number of ways that the housing supply can be increased in addition to building new developments. In some areas we could build higher, rather than the standard two-storey homes. Existing, empty properties could be redeveloped. There is not much profit in this currently so incentives may be needed. The purchase of second homes could be discouraged. The housebuilding system would need reviewing. There seems to be an imbalance of power between the big construction companies, landowners, councils, and local communities. Planning enforcement appears to be inconsistent. A move away from the profit motive may be beneficial, allowing the development of more council accommodation, fewer big expensive houses, possibly with more co-operative enterprises involved.
In a letter to the Hampshire Chronicle, the Conservative councillor for Meon Valley Hugh Lumby wrote, “the [Welborne] scheme raises concerns for residents in the Meon Valley. Increased traffic, including the A32, and pressure on our infrastructure, such as schools and doctors surgeries”. He also lamented that Winchester City Council is more focused on Winchester centre itself, not paying enough attention to the Southern Parishes, including on the issue of Welborne. Chairman of Wickham Parish Council Alistair Hayes also warned that “the construction traffic could potentially severely impact the local air quality and noise levels over a long period of time”.
The group went on to briefly discuss public transport. People are having to move from very rural areas to places where they can get better connections. Community buses are great in places, but more of these could be encouraged. Councils have budgets for these kinds of projects, and the Meon Valley would welcome more of it.
Thank you to everyone that contributed to the meeting, we hope to see you at the next one on the 13th January 2022 at 19:30 at Wickham Community Centre!
Daniel Reid, CLP Secretary