Category Archives: conservatives

MP opens new Rosebery Road recreation ground

Mark Reckless MP joins local councillors and residents to open new Rosebery Road recreation ground

Mark Reckless joins local councillors and residents to open new Rosebery Road recreation ground

Mark Reckless MP was delighted to open the newly installed children’s playground on the Rosebery Road recreation ground between Lansdowne Road and Beresford Avenue in Rochester South and Horsted ward.

Despite the current financial difficulties, local councillors Trevor Clarke, Sylvia Griffin and Rupert Turpin managed to obtain funding to allow the installation of a new playground in this area. The location will make it ideal for the use of children from the two Balfour schools.

Apparatus is aimed towards the younger children. However, improvements will also be made to the current football pitches to accommodate both a juinior pitch and a mini pitch.

Speaking after the opening, Mark Reckless said:

I know the local ward councillors fought hard to secure the funding for a new playground in this area. I was delighted to open these new play facilities which will benefit so many children locally.

My congratualtions to the ward councillors for their hard work in delivering these improved facilities.”

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Couples earning £100,000 to keep child benefit?*

We promised to restore recognition of marriage to the tax system. Instead, this budget tells millions of parents that they can only keep child benefit by both going out to work.

If Mum stays home to look after the kids then Dad can only earn half what they could take home as a couple before the family loses child benefit.

All the Chancellor has done in the budget is raise the threshold above which benefit is taken away by around £7,000 and replace his previous ‘cliff-edge’ withdrawal of benefit with a steep taper that leaves single earners with children facing implied marginal tax rates of well over 50% if they have one child, and nearer 80% if they have four or five.

George Osborne has done nothing about the main problem with this policy – a single earner household losing their benefit while a dual earner couple earning up to twice as much keep theirs.

A single earner household, say with Mum staying home to look after the kids, will lose child benefit if they earn between £50,000 and 60,000, but a couple where both parents go out to work can keep their child benefit even if they earn £100,000 between them.

What is Conservative about that? And why on earth is the Chancellor still trying to do it even though colleagues have tried to explain the problem to him time and time again.

*if they both go out to work

Cabinet ministers to get bigger pensions

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Pensions are complex and many find them boring. Consequently few people really understand them.

One person who does understand pensions, or at least should, is Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, who was previously Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, and whose responsibilities include ministerial pensions.

On 15th March he put a statement in the House of Commons library describing some changes to ministers’ pensions to come into effect on 1st April. Ministers’ contributions to their pension scheme are to increase by an average of 1.7% of salary, lower than the 1.85% rate applied to MPs, although ministers earn more, and significantly below the 2.4% applied to most public sector higher earners.

Extra pension contributions for ministers are tiered, so that that parliamentary under-secretaries, who are paid £23,698 in addition to their MP’s salary, pay 1% more. Ministers of state, who get £33,003 more than an MP, pay 1.6% more. Cabinet ministers, who receive an extra £68,828 and therefore £134,565 in total, pay 2.4% higher pension contributions.

On the face of it that seems fair, with higher earners paying higher increases as elsewhere in the public sector.

However, what Francis Maude does not spell out in his statement is that, under the rules of the ministerial scheme, cabinet ministers, unlike junior minister and other MPs, will receive bigger pensions in return for their higher contributions.

Because of the Maude changes cabinet ministers will now receive a full one-twentieth of an MP’s salary in pension for each year they serve in cabinet. That is because the ministerial pension scheme provides:

“For each year of service as a Minister, the contributions you paid are compared to the contributions that would have been paid by an MP as a member of the MPs’ Section to give a contribution factor … At retirement, all the contribution factors are added together and multiplied by the basic annual salary applying to an MP during the last 12 months of your service as a Minister, to calculate the pension payable.”

Under the Maude changes the ‘contribution factor’ for a cabinet minister rises from 0.956 to 0.995. Cabinet ministers will pay in just £229 more per year than they would under the 1.85% increase for MPs. Yet in return, because of the Maude changes and even if they just serve for one parliament, cabinet ministers get an extra £314 added to their pension every year throughout their retirement.

Highest paid benefit at expense of lower paid

For the country as a whole the Prime Minister and Chancellor are keen for those with the broadest shoulders to make bigger sacrifices so as to lighten the load for those who are paid less. However, there is a different approach nearer home.

Ministers on average will pay less as a proportion of their salary for pensions than do backbench MPs. Meanwhile, under the Maude changes, junior ministers’ pensions are cut to pay for higher cabinet pensions. Ministers of state lose £75 from their pensions, more if they are long-serving, while pensions for parliamentary under-secretaries are cut by £183. This follow cuts to their salaries in 2010 of 14% and 17% respectively, compared to only 9% for cabinet ministers.

Winsor will mean more cops on the beat

PolicePolice forces have hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of keen qualified applicants queuing to join up, many already working successfully as PCSOs or special constables.

The  Winsor reforms announced yesterday should be welcomed, first and foremost because they  will allow many of those brave men and women, who would otherwise be blocked, to step up and become full-time, fully-fledged police constables.

A lower starting salary of £19k, with existing PCSOs and Specials allowed to join at £21k, rising to £22k or £23k after 2-3 years, means the public will get more full officers on the beat. The current system where officers have to start on £23,259, rising to £27,471 within two years, means forces cannot let excellent PCSOs train as police officers, because they cannot afford to pay them, while other well qualified applicants are turned away or made to wait for years.

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I recently served for four years as a member of the Kent Police Authority. Because we planned properly, made savings and took difficult decisions others avoided, Kent Police are increasing neighbourhood policing by 520 officers and are still recruiting and training new constables.

Unfortunately many other forces have imposed long-term recruitment freezes and resorted to sacking all officers with over thirty years experience. These are the only two ways they have to manage police officer numbers under the current extraordinarily inflexible police regulations. These in effect guarantee officers a job for thirty years if they get through two years probation.

I was disappointed that Tom Winsor did not initially seem prepared to reform this, particularly as I had already taken much of the flak by introducing a bill in parliament. That led to an unflattering cartoon of me in Police Review, but it also got Chief Constables on the record to support reform of a police privilege the like of which is enjoyed by no other profession.

Winsor has now grasped the nettle and recommended severance, the equivalent of redundancy, to be available where necessary for police, albeit subject to generous compensation, and for this to be available as early as April 2013. This should stop the absurd current practice of police forces sacking experienced and specialist civilians so that unsackable police officers can be paid more to do their jobs, and I hope that minister will have the courage to push this through.

I believe that Tom Winsor is also right to insist that officers should only be paid for having the full range of warranted officer skills if they can actually be deployed.

However,  I know some officers who have been disabled by violent attacks in the line of duty, yet are still doing valuable police work, albeit that they cannot, because of the attack, perform the whole range of police work. They might, as Winsor recognises be as well or better off financially taking an injury award and ill-health pension, but  some will still not want to give up their police warrant. In such special and sensitive circumstances I believe we should allow Chief Constables discretion.

As a fit and spry 54-year old Mr Winsor might have been wise to see discretion as the better part of valour before entering into so stark a critique of male Met officers’ fitness or quite so detailed a prescription of the future fitness regime to which they should be subjected. However, as Winsor has written 80 pages about health and fitness in a report which runs to 630 pages with 150 pages of appendices, officers who do not read all of it can at least use the two weighty volumes (retailing at £91 and not to be sold separately) to help with their work-outs.

MP welcomes Marlowe Park surgery contract extension

Local residents and councillors standing up for local services in Strood South

Local residents and councillors standing up for local services in Strood South

Mark Reckless MP has welcomed the news that, following his intervention, the PCT has agreed to offer Dr Juneja a three month extension to keep the popular Marlowe Park Medical Centre in Strood South open beyond 31st March 2012.

Speaking after hearing the news, Mark said;

“I had a further conversation with Dr James Thallon, the PCT medical director, on Wednesday afternoon following a lengthy meeting with him in Tonbridge the previous Wednesday. I am delighted that the Kent and Medway PCT has agreed to offer Dr Juneja this initial three month extension to keep the popular Marlowe Park surgery in Strood open following my intervention. I believe that they are now negotiating in good faith with better mutual understanding.

The PCT and their committed and conscientious medical director James Thallon have really listened to my explanation of Dr Juneja’s exceptional past experience and commitment to his patients in Strood and beyond.

I hope that they will now successfully reach a long term agreement for the surgery. I am grateful to our responsive and relatively accountable PCT and particularly Dr Thallon for listening to me as the MP and to patients and then genuinely reconsidering their decision.”

Responding to the announcement, Dr Juneja from Marlowe Park Medical Centre said:

“I sincerely believe that without the help of Mark Reckless and Cllrs John Avey and Josie Iles that this contract extension, and the step towards discussions, would not have been possible.

I am deeply indebted to Mark, the Councillors, my patients who have not deserted the Practice, and my staff who have hung on. My heartfelt thanks and best wishes.

For his great contribution to the local population, I’ll be on the streets for Mark if he needs me in future to support a just cause. At the same time, I’d like to thank the Medway NHS Trust Commissioners for their show of goodwill and the LMC for it’s undaunting support all along the line.”

Ireland Has Three Choices

The Euro zone will only finance Ireland if its people vote ‘yes’ but, as the Prime Minister told me at Prime Minister’s Questions, Britain will act as a good friend of Ireland whatever they decide in their referendum on Fiscal Union, and require the EU to respect their decision.

I previously ensured, when Parliament considered the Loans to Ireland Act, that the Treasury term sheet provided for UK financial assistance to continue whether or not Ireland stayed in the Euro.

Enda Kerry describes Ireland’s referendum as being on whether to reaffirm Ireland’s membership of the Euro.

When I commissioned a Red C poll in December 2010 across the Republic of Ireland asking if Ireland should leave the Euro and re-establish a link with sterling over a third said ‘yes’, with the strongest support being amongst younger people.

Others would presumably support leaving the Euro to set up a separate Irish currency, even if that meant inflation and an inability to borrow abroad in the near-term, although it is interesting that even 43% of Sinn Fein supporters prefer adopting sterling to staying in the Euro.

In the House of Commons debate about the Fiscal Union treaty, I discuss the three options for Ireland:

  • stay in the Euro on Franco-German terms and pay back the ECB;
  • print money in a new Irish currency to replace overseas borrowing; or
  • negotiate arrangements to use sterling and the UK banking system

Prime Minister’s Questions 29th February 2012