Don’t Let Children Go Hungry in Hertfordshire

Stephen Giles Medhurst

At last Tuesday’s (October 20th) Herts County Council Meeting, the Conservative- run Council rejected a LibDem motion, which was supported by Labour, to call on the government to support Marcus Rashford’s call for free school meals during school holidays.

Later in the week the government similarly rejected that move for England. Shocking given Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are!

Following this is it was great to see so many businesses and voluntary groups stepping up and offering meals and support so that children do not go hungry. A number of education authorities such as Essex County Council have stepped up to the mark and agreed to provide and support such meals.

With 19,820 children entitled to free school meals in Hertfordshire it is only the county council, as the education authority, that can ensure every child and family in need can be reached.

We called on the Conservative administration to step in and so far they have refused. To force them to listen and act the Liberal Democrat opposition have called an Extraordinary County Council Meeting (we wait for Tory Chair to agree a date which is required to by next week) to consider the following motion.

“In light of the government’s decision not to provide support for continued free school meals for those in receipt of these during the school holidays this Council commits to such provision through its facilities with or without the support of community groups up to and including the Easter holidays in 2021.”

The Labour group on the county council backs our move.

There is also now no a non-political petition calling for that on the county petition site: its here https://democracy.hertfordshire.gov.uk/mgEPetitionListDisplay.aspx?bcr=1

No child, whatever their situation should be forced to go hungry over the school holidays, let alone during a global pandemic. Let us not forget that 32% of families have lost income during this pandemic. Other education authorities have stepped in to help and we need Hertfordshire to do likewise. The Conservative Deputy Leader is as saying they provided additional support to more than 3,500 children and young people and some grants to families in need. That is not good enough.

I urge your readers to sign the non-political petition asap and to lobby Conservative county Councillors and to support opposition ones. We need to make our views known loud and clear that no child shall go hungry, if the government refuses to act then we must and indeed can

A post by Stephen Giles Medhurst Liberal Democrat Leader of the opposition on Hertfordshire County Council

Sir Charles Walker MP on the Corona Virus Pandemic

Speaking on Radio 4 recently Sir Charles Walker, MP for Broxbourne, said that the threat of the virus had been overplayed. According to Sir Charles “The Government can’t  stop elderly dying” because the fact is people in their 80’s and 90’s die”, instead, “our focus should be on protecting them, not limiting the life chances of young people and people of middle age who are responsible for running and owning businesses”.
The government’s scientific advisors are not so complacent, they describe the virus as a “very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences”. The last time that the virus ran out of control in March,  the strategy of isolating the vulnerable failed with tragic consequences. Despite the efforts of dedicated staff, an estimated 22,000 care home residents died across the country. Even elderly and vulnerable people living alone need regular contact for care and services.
The Government needs to learn lessons from South Korea and Taiwan where effective Track and Trace Systems, combined with  short sharp national lockdowns, have succeeded in driving the virus out and preventing young and old from catching it.
A policy of trying to open up the economy whilst isolating the old and vulnerable is inhumane and doomed to failure.
A post by David Payne, Lib Dem campaigner

Our reaction to BLM protestors being racially abused in Hoddesdon

We are outraged and saddened by the racist abuse targeted at Black Lives Matter protesters in Hoddesdon in recent days, and shared on social media. These racist views do not represent the wider Broxbourne community, which we know to be stronger for its diversity. Racism should have no place in our society.

The murder of George Floyd is a disgraceful injustice and a tragedy. Now rightly we are reflecting on the scale of racism within our own society as well. With inequality in housing, health, opportunities and incomes, there are numerous hardships which disproportionately affect black communities, and which the UK Government should be working at a pace to address. Not least, in the last week, evidence has shown how BAME communities have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. The health and economic inequalities that have led to this need to urgently be addressed to protect lives going forward.

At this time it’s particularly important to be responsible if protesting and follow social-distancing. We are heartened to see that Black Lives Matter protesters in Hoddesdon were following this guidance, and hope any further protests can continue peacefully and safely.

Broxbourne is not a place for hatred.  We express our heartfelt solidarity with the Black Lives Matters protestors who had to experience this racism first hand. We should do everything we can to educate ourselves, our children and our communities, and to consign such views as a part of history.

Broxbourne Liberal Democrats

#BlackLivesMatter

Deaths in Herts Care Homes a Mounting Concern

Although there are 235 deaths listing COVID 19 registered in Hertfordshire between 10th April and 15th May according the Office of National Statistics, Herts Liberal Democrats have calculated that as many as 500 deaths are likely to have occurred according to figures that the County Council has collected from care homes. The Liberal Democrats have also raised concerns that a far higher number of deaths have occurred in care homes in Watford and Hertsmere than in other districts.

Adult Care Health Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, County Cllr Ron Tindall added.  “We are concerned that the policy choices by Government, which may well have contributed to deaths, through the discharge of COVID positive patients to care home settings which could not cope with the infection control. County council staff have also confirmed that due to the lack of testing they cannot be certain that asymptomatic patients were not admitted to care homes without proper isolation measures. ”

County Councillor Ron Tindall
Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Public Health and Prevention, and Adult Care & Health

“Hertfordshire Council officers have confirmed that the NHS discharged COVID positive patients to care home settings where ‘isolation’ is possible, but evidence that care homes were unable to adequately isolate discharged residents is building, suggesting that such discharges may have led to care home outbreaks and unnecessary and preventable deaths.” said Cllr Ron Tindall.

“I and my colleagues are concerned as we are across the country that the government acted too late and without taking on board the concerns of those in the care sector. This whole process needs a review and investigation once the COVID 19 crisis is under control. Lessons must be learned. It does on the face it seem that in the desperate rush to free up beds in hospitals,  patients who may have had COVID 19 were discharged to care homes with no testing and inadequate infection control. “

“The County Council itself purchased 250 care places to help with this at some considerable cost. It does seem that at the last minute the government panicked instead of fully planning. Hence we have the rush build of the Nightingale Hospital that was never really used. Instead, the elderly and vulnerable were shoved into a care home setting, where due to no fault of their own, they just could not manage. We have all heard of the shortages of PPE and vital equipment in our care homes.”

“Guidance from Government on care home visits and how to treat those who had been in contact with COVID positive patients was not modified until 13th March, leading to very significant risk of transmission in care home settings. Further changes have improved the situation but until the government has introduced a comprehensive testing regime, discharge outcomes cannot be certain.”

“From the information and reports we have seen lead us to believe hundreds of deaths may have occurred in care homes in our County which may have been preventable.   It was clearly wrong to accept any hospital discharges to care homes until we were certain they the patient was COVID free and had not been in contact with a COVID positive person for 7 days prior.  We have asked that the County Council officers to refuse to accept any further discharges to care home settings unless this assurance is given.  Whilst we are pleased that the death rate is now dropping in our view it is clear some mistakes were made here led by the national instruction to clear hospital beds. We also want to know why there is a difference in death rates in our districts which may well be linked to this or to locations being nearer to London.  Changes throughout the NHS and Care sector are needed now.”

“We raised concerns back in April about discharges into care home settings. We weren’t alone.  Without the assurances, that rightly families need, the risk is simply too great, it needs to stop now,” demanded Cllr Ron Tindall for the Liberal Democrats.

Making Space for Active Travel: County lacks a clear focus and ambition

County Councillor Stephen Giles-Medhurst Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Highways & Environment

“Must do better and be more pro-active” was the message from opposition Liberal Democrat councillors at County Hall to the four pilot schemes announced by the County Council that they brought in last weekend to encourage active travel and support for social distancing as more retail premises open.

Levels of walking and cycling have increased dramatically across the UK during the lock down.  The Government recently announced a package of £250m of support to councils for changes as more people begin travelling to work again and there is an easing of restrictions, while capacity on public transport is still significantly reduced due to the ongoing need for social distancing.

The health evidence indicates a significant link between Covid-19
recovery and physical fitness. The health benefits of choosing more active travel options are even more important than ever, as are the reduced carbon emissions and improved air quality.

The four new schemes in Watford High Street, Hertford Fore Street, Borehamwood Shenley Road and Bishop Stortford Town Centre were introduced from this Saturday aiming to reduce motorised traffic and allow for better social distancing whilst encouraging cyclists.

Liberal Democrat Group Leader and Highways Spokesperson, Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst said. “I welcome these initial moves and it’s great the county is doing something but they seem to lack ambition.  I know county officers have been working on up to 16 schemes. However none of these have been discussed with elected county councillors first, not even those for the areas these schemes cover.  At the last minute in my own area that covers Watford High Street I got hold of the plans and had to point
out errors and omissions so changes and additions had to be made as they had not used my local knowledge. Not consulting local councillors is unacceptable.”

“The Liberal Democrats fully support more improvements and changes to support active travel by walking and cycling. We have raised this at every county budget in the last 10 years with the need to invest more in footway improvements, tackle neglected cycle routes and bring in lower speed limits on residential side roads”.

“The COVID crisis could lead to a social and health change but
only if we move quickly and act now.  At the start of the lock down I and my colleagues highlighted, yet again, that many designated cycle routes and overgrown footways that needed cutting back. In most cases the county has done nothing. It’s normally the excuse of no money or “it does not meet our criteria for action”. I’ve been told where there is a verge next to an overgrown path people should walk or cycle on that instead! This is unacceptable. All to often we have cycle lanes and routes incomplete or end at a road junction with nowhere to go. The result is
they cannot be used.”

“It’s time to ignore the county rule book and improve our footways and cycle routes that currently hinder people in keeping to social distancing rules!”

With fewer people using buses at present we need to look at what
temporary changes to routes and bus stops could be made to better allow for social distancing in town centres. We need to look at what would be cycle commuter routes into our key areas to encourage people not back to their cars but on a cycle. We need to make those routes happen over the Summer. We must look at places like Watford that now has a cycle hire scheme to get similar in place in other key centres like Stevenage, St Albans, Hemel.” said Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst.

The Liberal Democrats said they would have a five point plan to meet the governments and health and social distancing objectives.

1. Prioritise maintenance/repairs of existing cycle and pedestrian
routes including cutting back overgrown vegetation and trees, repairing crossing points that are damaged or flood and installing new dropped kerbs in high pedestrian footfall areas.
2. Investigate, install and complete existing cycle routes and introduce at least temporary ones that assist commuter cycling.
3. Give greater priority to pedestrians at traffic lights and crossing
points – to prevent bunching and assist slow walkers.
4. Move quickly to introduce a 20 mph zone and limits as the norm for residential roads in Herts towns.
5.Consult and involve local county councillors for their ideas for their communities.

“It’s time to think positively, to think green and promote a heathy
safer environment, let’s do it.” said Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst

Introducing Julia Bird, your Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Broxbourne

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After more than fifty years with a Conservative MP, now is the time for a change. The Liberal Democrats in Broxbourne are demanding better for our community.

Julia Bird is our Liberal Democrat candidate for Broxbourne when the next general election is called.

Committed to improving the lives of Broxbourne’s residents, Julia and the Liberal Democrat team will work hard to ensure the community’s needs are being addressed.

As an economist working in London, with a particular expertise in Urban and Transport Economics, Julia has helped develop Liberal Democrat policies, including our recently adopted

“Fairer Share for All” plan, which fights against the deepening inequalities in the UK, recognising that everyone deserves a decent income, decent services, with opportunities to make their lives better.

Julia and all the Liberal Democrat team here in Broxbourne are concerned about a number of local issues:

  • In Cheshunt, at the A10/College Road crossing, monitors have recorded the 8th worst air pollution level in the UK for any borough outside London. With a large secondary school and a nursery nearby, greater pressure is needed to reduce risks for all children and young people in this area.

 

  • We are so fortunate to be in the wonderful Lea Valley Park providing, as it does, a fabulous space for recreation. However, it is under pressure too. Julia will be vigilant in following up any changes to ensure the park is protected from further pollution.

 

  • Given the growing population of Broxbourne, we should be seriously considering either better transport to the nearest Health Centres and hospitals or perhaps invest in our own more local option – Cheshunt Community Hospital for example.

 

  • The incinerator planned for Rye Park has been rejected, but now there is a new plan to build a much larger gas fired power station on the site. Residents need to have a say in any decision. Our climate is facing critical risks and building more fossil fuel burning power stations will make that worse.

Julia says:

I am delighted to be standing for the Liberal Democrats in Broxbourne at the next General Election.

This is a real opportunity to demand better for everyone in this constituency. Thanks to the reckless behaviour of the Conservative Prime Minister, we are in a period of national crisis. We are all facedwith the real risks of No Deal Brexit - medicine shortages, higher food prices, a damaged economy and inevitable job losses. The Liberal Democrats are demanding better. We need better health care, better education for our children, and a better future. It is time to stop Brexit and focus on the real issues again. Housing in the Borough is in short supply, and often very expensive. The Borough Council, as the planning authority, has the opportunity to demand developers include “Affordable Housing” in any new housing estate. Too often they seem to be missing the chances this can offer.

This is especially important for the young people of the Borough who, of course would like to have their own place but find it increasingly hard to afford, if they want to remain in the area they grew up, close to family and friends.

I am looking forward to listening to your views and sharing the Liberal Democrat vision for Broxbourne with you over the coming weeks and months.

For more information, please contact Julia on juliabirdLD@gmail.com

Austerity and Knife Crime

According to the Hertfordshire Police, knife crimes have more than tripled across the county since 2014 . Despite knife amnesties and other local initiatives, the trend is remorselessly upwards and Hertfordshire towns are becoming as unsafe as Britain’s inner cities. Tragically, over 1,000 young people ( age 10-19) were admitted to UK hospitals with knife injuries last year and 10 teenagers have been killed in just the first two months of 2019.

Sadly, this increase should not surprise us. You can’t cut police numbers, essential services in schools, access to mental health services and youth work, and not expect there to be consequences. Beyond the tragic injuries and fatalities, there’s a climate of fear. The fear experienced by young victims and their loved ones every time they leave home. Nationally police budgets have been cut by £250m since 2010, leading to 21,000 fewer officers on increasingly dangerous streets. The police are becoming a reactive ‘blue light’ service with fewer Officers available to engage with local communities or to carry out ‘stop and search’ operations around knife crime ‘hot spots’.

Austerity driven cuts to Police Budgets are only a part of the problem. Since 2010 there has been a massive contraction in community services like youth clubs, resulting in many more young people spending time on the street, where risks are higher and the temptation to carry knives for ‘protection’ is greater.

Maintained Schools and Corporate Academies, focused on tests and targets are excluding 40 ‘disruptive’ or ‘under achieving’ children a day. Small wonder that bored young people, lacking positive role models, are targeted by criminal gangs who use Social Media to paint a beguiling picture of drug dealing and violence. 90% of young people serving sentences in youth offending Institutions have previously been excluded from School.

The epidemic of knife violence can only be countered when schools, police, health and youth workers work together, intervening early to support young people at risk of being sucked into knife crime. This approach has been used by the Scottish Government to reduce violent deaths in Glasgow, once “The Murder Capital of Europe”, from 41 in 2005 to 0 in 2016.

The continuing spate of stabbings involving young people amounts to a national crisis requiring a sense of urgency and strong leadership. This is not being provided by a government obsessed with the Brexit end game. Theresa May is in denial insisting that “there is no direct correlation between crime and police numbers”. Phillip Hammond thinks that the police should “become more efficient” but will not commit to extra funding. This country and our young people deserve better!

A piece by David Payne, a local campaigner and prospective candidate in the local elections in May

Suffragists and Suffragettes

December 2018 marked 100 years since women first voted in the 1918 General Election. Even then, only women aged over 30 could vote (40% of the electorate) as an electorate evenly divided between men and women was politically unacceptable! Women had to wait another 10 years before Electoral Equality was finally achieved in 1928.

Of course, Electoral Equality did not just happen. The women’s suffrage movement was born out of the frustrations of those tired of not having their voices heard. It required tireless effort by several generations of women who were not afraid to speak out.

In 1897, various local women’s suffrage societies came together to form the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (lead by Millicent Fawcett).” The law-abiding suffragists “of the NUWSS promoted their cause by debate, petitions and peaceful demonstrations. Possibly the most spectacular was the Great Pilgrimage of 1913 from Cambridge through Hertfordshire to a rally in Hyde Park. Not all went smoothly; The Pilgrims had to be rescued by the police from a hostile mob as they tried to march through Ware.

Frustrated at the glacial pace of progress a group of women (lead by Emmeline Pankhurst) broke away in 1903 to take a different path. The Women’s Social and Political Union or the “Suffragettes” used more disruptive tactics, including civil disobedience and arson. Emily Davison, from Sawbridgeworth, was one of the most daring and reckless of the militants, enduring repeated imprisonments and forced feeding. She became a martyr to the cause by throwing herself in front of the Kings Horse during the 1913 Derby.

100 years on, let’s celebrate what the women’s suffrage movement achieved. However, we should not kid ourselves that because women have the vote, they have equal citizenship. Women still earn 81p for every £1 earned by men, less than 30% of our MP’s are women and violence against women remains a stain upon society. We still need to speak up for equality because everybody benefits – even men.

A piece by a local Liberal Democrat campaigner, David Payne