02/02/2014 Sunday Politics South West


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Morning, folks. Welcome to the Sunday Politics. The unions helped


him beat his brother to the top. Now Ed Miliband wants to change Labour's


relationship with them. Who will come out on top? We will be asking


one union baron what he thinks. Cracks in the coalition after


Education Secretary Michael Gove sacks the chairwoman of Ofsted. His


Lib Dem deputy is said to be hopping mad. We will be talking to the new


deputy leader of the Lib Dems, Malcolm Bruce.


Caught a bout of the EU blues? David Cameron has been drowning his


sorrows with the President of France. Who better? We will be


asking if the EU referendum bill is dead in the water.


And bad weather getting you down? Getting from A to B a bit of a


nightmare? Fear not! The leader of the Greens will be here with her


traffic and travel report. Dutch And coming up here: Our council is


about to be told to tear up their budgets the next year?


Will it provide the kind of reassurance people want?


Yes, all that and more in today s action-packed Sunday Politics. And


blowing more hot air than I have had hot dinners, Helen Lewis, Nick Watt


and Iain Martin. After the row about candidate


selection in Falkirk, Ed Miliband said he wanted to reshape the


relationship between Labour and the unions. The biggest changes involve


union membership of the party, which in turn will affect future Labour


leadership elections. Some claim this is Ed's Clause 4 moment. But


the unions will continue to be powerful at conference and on the


party's ruling committees, and they will still be able to bankroll the


election campaign. Here is Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman,


speaking earlier. What he is proposing for the March the 1st


conference is a huge change in financing, in the election of the


leader, in what goes on at local level. In due course, it might have


implications for the NEC elections and conference. But this is already


a big issue to take forward. Joining me now is Paul Kenny,


general secretary of the GMB union and chair of the Trade Union and


Labour Party Liaison Organisation. Is this Ed Miliband's Clause 4


moment? I don't know about that It is certainly a bold move,


particularly to have an electoral college, which as you said was the


system which elected him in the first place. Everybody admits that


has needed reforming for some time. Moving to a one member, one vote


situation seems to me to be sensible. I know some people are


upset, mostly MPs, who will lose their golden share. But it is


nonsense that one MP should have the same vote as 1000 party members So


the MPs have lost out. Have the unions lost out? Well, the system is


currently that union members get a ballot paper, but they have to


declare that they are a Labour supporter and they have to sign to


that effect in order to participate. Then their vote is counted. At the


last election, about 200,000 trade union members gave that indication,


and they participated in that way. That will not change. The way it is


organised will be different. The big change in the electoral college is


that the logical weight given to MPs will disappear. I wonder if you have


really lost anything. At the moment, there are about 3 million people


automatically affiliated from the unions to the Labour Party. If only


10% of them opt in, that will still mean twice as many union individual


members, 300,000, versus about 180,000 Labour Party members. So


union members and maybe even the unions will have as big an influence


on the leadership elections as you do now, maybe bigger? Well, they are


individual votes. Different unions support different candidates. It is


lost in the media myth of barons and block votes, but there is an


individual vote. Different unions recommend different candidates, and


union members vote accordingly. Ed Miliband won more individual votes


by a country mile than David, but it got messed up in the process of this


electoral college. As I have understood the proposals so far


they are not a done deal. There is a lot of discussion. But it seems


there are three hurdles. Firstly, union members themselves will have


to agree whether they want to affiliate to the Labour Party. If


they don't, the rest of it falls. If they decide they do my they will ask


union members to support that an individual basis the next five


years, which will have financial implications. Then there will be a


third position, which is that people who may want to agree with the


union's position and affiliate with the Labour Party may want to go


further and become active supporters of the Labour Party, participating


in leadership elections. They will have to give their sanction to that


at a third stage. So the implications in terms of


constituency parties and so on are a lot less than the idea that the 3


million who are currently affiliated will change. At the moment, the


unions, because of the automatic affiliation, hand over a affiliation


fees of about ?8 million a year to Labour. You will now get to keep


that money, because the individuals will have to put up the money


themselves. You can keep that money and determine if you give it to


Labour to fight the election campaign, correct? Incorrect.


Firstly, the affiliation fees are paid from what is called the


political fund, which most unions have to set up in order to


participate. The union will continue to pay the ?3 a affiliation fee for


those members who want the union to be affiliated. But you get to keep a


lot more money. In reality, we will see a transitional period of a few


years. Less people will probably say yes, depending on how popular Labour


are, about whether they want the union to give money to the Labour


Party. The GMB has already done this. By the way, don't call me


kneel. It is Andrew or Mr Neil. The unions will have a bigger chunk of


money because the unions will not be handing over all of the money at one


time. But you could still play a major part in funding the Labour


election campaign. We'll how much you give the dependent on what the


Labour Party puts in its manifesto? Of course it will. It will have to


justify our support to Labour for the members who provide money to the


political fund. If we did not argue for the cert is social justice


campaigns and laws we want to see, we would be failing in our job. I


don't intend to hide that from anybody. The unions are there to


fight for their members. That is our job. So you will still be a major


part of the bankroll of the Labour campaign. You will still have 5 % of


the votes at a Labour conference, and you will still have a major part


in the Labour National executive committee and the policy committee.


It is right to say the unions are still at the heart of Labour, are


they not? Well, if you sick to break the affiliated link between trade


unions and the Labour Party, the whole thing collapses. That is what


anchors the Labour Party as far as we are concerned. Many of our


members think that when they want to look for ferrochrome and rights


social justice, housing and the health service, Labour are better it


quipped to deliver that for working people than the current parties


That is why we have traditionally supported them. But not at all of


our members support Labour, which is why we don't affiliate all of them


to Labour. There are over 30 million people in the British labour force


now. Union membership is only 6 5 million out of that 30. A 6.5% of


that do not vote Labour, they vote Tory or liberal or nationalist in


Scotland. So you are a relatively small pressure group. Why should


Labour be in thrall to you? We are the biggest voluntary organisation


in this country. Sorry about that, but that is the fact. People make


conscious choices. My own union the GMB, has been growing for eight


years. So this dying picture you are trying to paint... In terms of


accounting for the fact that some do not support Labour, that is why


unions do not affiliate all of their members to the Labour Party. We have


adjusted to that. If you don't like being called Neil, I don't like


being called a barren either. What about Mr Baron? I don't like that


either. We are representatives of working organisations. It may be


inconvenient for politicians to have to listen to working people, but we


will continue to press. Lord Baron, thank you very much.


So, is this a Clause 4 moment for Ed Miliband? Not really, but to his


credit, he is going ahead with this. There was a point at which it looked


as though Ed Miliband would back away from reform. To his credit he


is trying to create a mass membership party again. But when it


comes to the crucial business of funding a general election campaign,


these reforms will make Labour more reliant on large donations from


trade unions. They could have more power now, because they get to hold


back this money, whereas beforehand, they had to hand it over


automatically. As Mr Kenny just said, how much they handover will be


dependent on good behaviour. Yes, but these are pragmatic reforms The


fact that Ed Miliband has a lot of capital in not being seen as a


Blairite has helped him get these through . The response has been


muted, which suggests good party management on his behalf. That may


be because they will still have 50% of the votes at a party conference.


Mr Kenny was clear that that could be deal-breaker if they tried to


take that away. They have more places at the NEC than anyone else,


and party members, if only 10% of them signed up, they will outweigh


individual members in the constituencies. It was interesting,


how relaxed Paul Kenny was. He was taking thousands of pounds from the


Labour Party a few months ago because he was annoyed about these


reforms, and now he is relaxed because they still have 50% of the


vote at Labour Party conference and Labour Party Parliamentary


candidates are still selected in the same way. But there is a simple


point here. Yes, you can pick apart what Ed Miliband said and said the


unions have too much influence, but the only way he could have gone all


the way was to break the link with the trade unions, and he was not


going to do that. It was not the Labour Party that founded the


unions, it was the unions that founded the Labour Party. Even Tony


Blair did not break the link. In that context, Ed Miliband has gone


incredibly far. For the last 50 years, this opting into the union,


you have to turn to page 50 of your union terms and conditions to say,


do you want to opt out of the political levy 's that is going to


go, which will mean that when the next Labour leader is elected from


the union votes, they will get their ballot from the Labour Party and you


will append the fast where ballots went out from Unison macro and GMB


with a picture of Ed Miliband on the front of the ballot paper saying,


vote for aid. They were Stasi and Saddam Hussein ways of trade union


members electing the Labour leader, which will go. I am sorry his


Lordship is not still here to answer that question.


HMS Coalition is not a happy ship. The lovey-dovey days in the rose


garden are long gone. It is not a loveless marriage, perhaps even an


open one. The latest split is over the decision by Education Secretary


Michael Gove to replace Labour peer Sally Morgan as head of the schools


inspectorate, Ofsted. Mr Gove's deputy, Lib Dem David Laws, is said


to be spitting blood about her removal, although only through


surrogates. He has not said a word on the record. Here was the


Education Secretary a little earlier. If there is another


opportunity for Sally to serve in a different role at a different time,


then I would be delighted to support her in the role which she thinks it


is appropriate to do. There is nothing wrong with Sally but there


is a principle across government that there should be no automatic


reappointment, and that after three or four years, it is appropriate to


bring in a fresh pair of eyes. That is good corporate practice in order


to ensure that you refresh boards, bring a new perspective, and have


tough questions asked. We're joined now by the newly elected deputy


leader of the Liberal Democrats Malcolm Bruce. He's in Aberdeen


Welcome to the Sunday Politics. David Laws is said to be furious


with Michael Gove, is he? I think he is because Sally Morgan has been


doing a good job and that has been generally agreed across the whole


spectrum. I think Ofsted is an impartial body that inspects all


schools and it shouldn't be subject to some kind of political direction.


That is the concern, that she is being removed when she was doing a


good job and most people thought she should be reappointed. It is


strongly rumoured her successor will be a high-ranking Tory backer. Why


hasn't David Laws said this himself, have you spoken to him? I have, and


I know he is not very pleased about it but he will want to speak to


Michael Gove himself when he gets to see him on Monday. The question you


have to take on board is that David Laws is the schools minister,


effectively the one who has engagement with Ofsted, and he is


seeing it being undermined by the Secretary of State. There is a


question that if Michael Gove is so pleased with Sally Morgan why is he


replacing her, and who will he be replacing her with, and on what


basis? Maybe parliament should have a confirmation hearing so that we


can be assured that whoever is put in charge is there because they are


good at it. Why has he licensed his surrogates to save this rather than


saying it himself? He didn't, he knew I was on the programme this


morning so I am giving you the answers as best I can. David is


perfectly capable of speaking for himself. He hasn't so far. You asked


me to come on this programme and David was anxious for me to know he


wasn't happy about it, and I can certainly tell you that. I can also


give you my own opinion which is that Ofsted is not the Department


for Education, it is an independent body. The question you have to ask


is will Michael Gove but someone in charge of Ofsted who will have a


political agenda? If so, that is not what Ofsted should be used for.


Let's move on to your own position. You are 69, white male,


middle-class, what is your answer to the party with diversity problems? I


don't think that is what they voted on. They felt I had a wealth of


experience that would be vulnerable to the party from the period now


until the election, not least because the central issues that will


concern voters are the economy, and I have a track record of promoting


the party's economic policy over many years. But you are not even


standing at the next election. No, but we need to get to the next


election and my colleagues have confidence that I can do a useful


job for the party in that situation. We have developed and delivered


policies that I have helped to shape and I want to persuade people to


understand the Liberal Democrats have made a fundamental difference


to the economic recovery. But you know what has been happening with


the Liberal Democrats and their problems with women. Wasn't this a


chance to select a woman in a major part? You only have seven female MPs


out of 57, not a single Lib Dem woman in the Parliament. Again, why


you rather than making a break and bringing someone in onto major


positions? My colleagues have concluded that the role I am best


qualified to do it, that is why they voted for me. We do only have seven


women and that is an issue we need to address. Two of those women are


ministers, one is a government whip. We seem to have lost our line to


Aberdeen, just as Malcolm Bruce was in full flight defending his


position. I'm not sure if we can get the line back, just bear with me for


a few seconds to see if we can get it. It looks as if we have lost


Malcolm Bruce, I do apologise to Malcolm Bruce and the viewers that


we were not able to continue that interview.


Fierce winds, torrential rain and a tidal surge have brought more misery


to thousands. Official records show that southern England has seen the


wettest January since records began in 1767. I remember it well. The


Somerset Levels have been hit by weeks of flooding, with little


respite from relentless rain. And, the residents of one village on the


Levels, Muchelney, has been cut off for almost a month. We sent our Adam


out with his wellies and a properly filled out risk assessment form The


very wet road to Muchelney. This village of about 100 residents has


been cut off for about four weeks, and like the weather vane, it feels


a little bit spooky. It came up to here and your front door was there.


Anita is just relieved the water stopped here, practically on her


doorstep. Now it is the practicalities that are the problem.


Driving around for food is quite a hassle. You are foraging. It's not


as bad as that but we do have a few bits in the vegetable garden still,


and we had some nice apples until the rats ate them but we are not


doing too badly on that score. It sounds like the medieval! That's


what it feels like. Talking of retro, who knew Somerset still had a


Coleman, this is Brian's first delivery since Christmas. Everything


has gone old-fashioned. We are now talking to neighbours we might never


have seen before or spoken to so we are getting to know more people in


the village. She's right, there has been an outbreak of Dunkirk spirit,


quite literally. The council and the Fire Brigade have put on this boat


service to get people to work and school. The church has become an


unofficial flood HQ. This is where people pick up their mail, and this


is where the people who run the boat stopped for their tea breaks. It all


seems quite jolly, if a bit boring, but it is no fun for the homes and


businesses that have been inundated, or for the farmers whose land is


underwater, an area the size of Bristol, or for the villages which


are less isolated but where the flooding is worse. People like the


parish chairman are starting to get angry with how the Government has


responded. It was all a bit late. We knew what was going to happen with


the amount of rain on the fields and the Government was so slow to


react. The county council got the boat going quickly but it was


another four weeks nearly before the button was pressed for the major


incident. Right on cue, the cavalry arrived in the shape of emergency


crews from other parts of the UK. The rumour is that they will bring


in a hovercraft but the bad news is that the weather is becoming more


grim this weekend. There has been a surge in bookings at the campsite


where people have seen the Somerset Levels on holiday and would like to


come on holiday, if it ever stops raining. I'm delighted to say we


have got the line back to Aberdeen, somebody has put a shilling in the


meter. We can go back to Malcolm Bruce. We were talking about the Lib


Dem women and your election, I suppose the point some people are


making is that your party has as many knights in Parliament as it has


women and you are one of them. The good news is that for the five MPs


who are standing down, who have had candidates elected in their


constituencies so far, all five candidates that have been selected


are women. We need to fight hard to get behind those women and get them


elected so that we have a much better balanced parliament in the


future, but given that we have few women, you really have to pick


people appropriate for the job and we have appointed the women as I


have said but we need our image to be balanced. How many women


candidates will there be come the next election? At the moment, 1 ,


five more than we have now, and we haven't finished selection. Where


there are men sitting and standing again, that is not likely to change,


but where they are standing down we are overwhelmingly choosing women,


and in my view good and very able women. What I would want to say to


people is that if you want to see the Lib Dems have more women, go to


those seats and help us hold them. We are told that only 20% of the 57


seats have female candidates and in the unlikely event that you were


able to hold onto them all, it still wouldn't be a sea change to have


20%. The point is you have to build them up. We are supporting female


candidates. These are really good candidates who will make first-class


MPs and I certainly believe you will gradually see the Liberal Democrats


taking them on. We don't have 3 0 seats that we currently hold like


other parties, but what I can tell you is that increasing --


increasingly we will have female candidates. One newspaper has said


that you will deal with the Chris Rennard fallout quickly and


privately, what does that mean? It means I will not be telling you


because these things are not helped by comments on the airwaves. I hope


it will be possible to have a resolution without people going to


court but I don't think it helps anybody for me to comment on any


aspect of how this will be done and I'm not prepared to do so. If you


are not in full possession of the facts, why did you say you will deal


with this privately? I have come into this halfway through, I don't


have full possession of the facts, I doubt you do, and we have a process


that needs to be followed through. Any comments in public do not help.


Isn't it hypocrisy of a high order to hear from a party that is


constantly calling for transparency in other institutions but when it


comes to your own, you say, I am not going to talk about it. There are


all sorts of disputes that happen in the world and often people don't


talk about them because talking about them aggravates the


situation. I believe you have to deal with them privately and I don't


think trial by media in this context is helpful and I don't believe that


those who choose to make those comments are making it easier to


solve them. There are problems in other walks of life and the Liberal


Democrats are not the only ones with these problems. We are trying to


change that culture and I think we will do it effectively in our own


way. We have a pastoral care officer now and I think that is the right


way to do it. Thank you for that. Let's now go back to the story of


the flooding in Somerset. We are joined by the leader of the Green


party, Natalie Bennett in Millbank. Natalie Bennett, don't the Green


party bears some responsibility for these floods? You have sided with


the Environment Agency in the decision not to dredge rivers and


that is one of the reason why these places have been flooded. Firstly I


want to give my sympathy to everyone dealing with these floods. The


homeowners, the farmers seeing sodden fields for weeks and weeks.


We get that, we all have huge sympathy, particularly because so


little seems to be done to help them. What is the answer to my


question? I think there is strong evidence that dredging is not the


answer. If you think about the flow of the river, where the pinch points


are is things like bridges, weirs and towns. If you dredge the river


in between those barriers, you just make the water faster to those


points. The experts are saying that dredging is not the answer, it may


be in particular cases, but you have to look at each river system on its


own merits and very often the best way of dealing with this is working


out ways to slow the watered down and make sure that people don't


suffer unduly while you are doing that. The west of England


agricultural Society, which I would venture knows more about the


Somerset Levels than either of us, has said that without dredging, this


was a disaster waiting to happen. The local drainage boards have been


calling for years for dredging to be resumed. The National Farmers' Union


has called for it, and the chairman of the West Sussex flood defences


has called for more drainage, and he is a drainage engineer by


profession. So I don't know where your experts are, but the experts on


the ground am not the urban ones in London, seem to think this has not


been caused, but made worse by the failure of the Environment Agency to


continue to dredge. If you look at the example of the planning and


climate change coalition, which is led by the town and country planning


Association, who you would not describe as a group of radical


greens, these people have said we have to look at how we deal with


flooding in the future. But not in Somerset. These are the people


currently being flooded, not somebody sitting in a quango office


in London. They have asked for this to happen and it hasn't, and they


are now flooded in definitely. We have to look at what is happening on


a case-by-case basis. If you look at Germany, there are many cases there


were, to deal with flooding, many farmers are paid to hold water on


their land. Maybe we need to introduce those systems, because we


have to protect farmland, but we also have to protect urban areas for


safety. We saw a horrible flood in Wales were lines were endangered --


where lives were endangered. That is the priority, to protect lives,


property and farmland. Lives are endangered at the moment,


particularly as this stagnant water turns toxic. And yet we are in a


situation, again encouraged by the Greens and the lobbying Environment


Agency, it says it does not want to dredge because dredging is


expensive, yet it spends millions on a bird sanctuary. That is getting


everything totally wrong. The government is getting everything one


by cutting on flood defences. It has not cut on a bird sanctuaries. I


don't know the details of that. But looking at the broader issue, we


have to prepare for climate change. The government has slashed funding


to the Environment Agency and has cut back on the number of staff


available to deal with it and has removed the requirement on local


councils to plan for climate change. These are all gambling the future of


our lives and property and the future of our environment. Hasn t


the high watermark of greenery now gone well past? You don't come out


of the Somerset Levels with any great reputation. The UK government


is now going to start fracking as quickly as it can. Brussels is


loosening the CO2 obligations for 2030. The President of America is


about to give the go-ahead to the keystone pipeline, a totemic issue


for American greens, and your party is in a state of civil war in


Brighton. It is over, isn't it? Absolutely not. We are seeing large


amounts of extreme weather around the world. Any one event is whether,


but we are seeing a lot of it and people are recognising that climate


change is happening. If we are going to quote international experts, I


can quote to you Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General, not known as a


radical green, and he said after the IPCC report came out that the heat


is on and we must act. If you go to Christine Lagarde, head of the


International Monetary Fund, again not a radical green, she was asked


what kept her awake at night, and she said, we are not doing enough


about climate change. So actually, people around the world are looking


at what is happening around them are both people on the ground and people


in high positions are saying we have to act on climate change. And in the


case of Britain, that should absolutely not mean fracking. Sorry


to interrupt, but I have evidence that you are planning a little


career change. Don't go away. This is what happens when you let Nigel


Farage present the weather. One thing leads to another and low and


behold, the Sunday Politics now has a new traffic and travel reporter.


Let's go back to Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett. Thanks, Andrew It


is easy out that, so let's start with our airports. I am pleased to


say that Heathrow's third runway, Boris Island and all short-haul


flights are, just like our arguments, well grounded. We suggest


making or alternative arrangements, like a re-nationalised rail


network, although it would be a glaring omission if we did not admit


that that plan is currently being delayed by Labour Party foot


dragging. Speaking of trains, we are hearing that high-speed two may well


be derailing, or at least getting bogged down in political fog. One


viewer, Ed Balls, has texted in to say he is completely lost. Thanks


for the update, Ed. You are not alone among political commuters


Meanwhile, dumped UKIP manifestoes are causing major tailbacks across


the South, apparently stretching all the way to Brussels. This does make


driving road tricky, but UKIP's MEPs can, of course, just hop on their


gravy train. The tree had a roundabout is blocked after reports


of a political earthquake. It seems that a green unwound his beard to


block a dodgy gas extractor. A motorist who turned out to be the


environment minister object into the delay and was told to frack off as


furious badgers demanded that he stopped moving the goalposts.


Unregulated traffic in the city of London continues unchecked.


Pedestrians should try to block bankers with sacks of loot rushing


for the payments. But do beware the Lib Dem Exodus that is clogging up


the motorways. Although they are in a jam, or is it a fudge, we are


happy to make way for them, as, like all refugees, we say they are


welcome here in muesli green. That is the travel. Back to you, Andrew.


Natalie, I think you make my point. You are now preparing a new career


in traffic and travel. Well, I do believe in lifelong education and


that was an example of it. We know you have had a tough time today to


get to our studio. Thank you for the effort.


You are watching the Sunday Politics. Coming up in just over 20


minutes, we will have Hello, I'm Martyn Oates. Coming up


on the Sunday Politics in the South West: The Tory MP who says he's been


told the Government's clamp down on solar farms isn't worth the paper


it's written on. And for the next 20 minutes, I'm


joined by Conservative MP Sheryll Murray and the Labour peer and


former DEFRA minister Lord Whitty. The week began with the Somerset


floods being declared a major incident. And by end of the week,


the Government had sent the Army in. But local residents and MPs want a


long`term solution, which many of them think means dredging the area's


major rivers. Last week that seemed almost as


remote a possibility as it has been for the last two decades. Thereon


many places around the country where they think dredging is the right


answer and we do it in places and we've done some work at various


places. There can be benefits but it's trying to work out what the


wider benefit is and then you can justify a greater spend. But it


always has to be to do with economic so, however that you calculate it.


Then on Monday, a rather embattled Environment Secretary suggested it


was creeping a little bit closer. Are you going to do anything fast?


Higher vast all interested parties to give me a concrete plan in six


weeks which will provide satisfaction. `` I have asked. That


may involve dredging the rivers but will involve long`term plans to hold


the water back. By Wednesday, though, the Prime Minister coolly


announced that dredging would happen almost immediately ` almost as if


that were obvious. I can confirm that dredging will start as soon as


it is practical, as soon as the waters have started to come down.


As the shadow environment secretary said, this was a slapped down from


the prime minister to his own environment secretary. I don't think


it was. What we have to look at is... He left the environment


minister, the floods agency on the hook for weeks. And then he stood up


at PMQ is and said, " dredging? Of course" ! The Prime Minister didn't


actually say we would start dredging tomorrow. As as soon as possible.


That's probably after the six week report has come out. But don't


forget, MPs of all parties have been consistently calling for this. One


of the things you have to look at ` and Larry may be able to make more


comment and expand on this with his Environment Agency hat on ` is that


it's not just a one`off thing. You have to continue to dredge because


the silt comes back. There seems to be a broad consensus on that now.


Labour has generally been critical of the amount of money the


government is putting into flood defences but this is a long`standing


problem that Rhodri your government didn't want to dredge the rivers in


question. Their eyes `` there is a serious problem in Somerset at the


moment. People will say it is because of 20 years of neglect.


People are overreacting to a campaign in the Daily Mail. Reality


is that dredging may be part of the solution but is not the totality of


the solution. This is a catastrophic event on already sodden fields,


where no water could go anywhere. We had the highest rainfall ever in


January since records began. In the face of that, plus the fact you have


a tidal river pushing back up words, `` upwards, you've got a


situation where no amount of dredging on its own would have


helped. Partly, the men and women of the Environment Agency are out there


many hours a day trying to help. But the government needs to provide the


money for this. I think it's partly a knee jerk reaction by the Prime


Minister to avoid the facts that the government are cutting money for


flood defence, and trying to pretend they weren't. They had to issue a


correction. There is a real problem of diverging attention. The reality


is... This was a knee jerk reaction, or due to the Daily Mail.


I don't believe that and I think we are seeing these cuts occur more


consistently. `` these floods occur. We, as politicians, have to do our


best within the financial restraints that we've got... The money has been


found for Somerset now. Owen Paterson was right in part of what


he said. You have to look at the total catchment area, from the top


of the hill right down. Moving on now.


Council tax is public enemy number one, according to Local Government


Secretary Eric Pickles. He's keeping councils of all sizes waiting to


know how much they can hike their share of the bill from April,


without triggering a referendum. Some parish councils, currently free


from any restrictions, are proposing massive increases ` and Mr Pickles


isn't happy about it. Tamsin Melville reports.


Public toilets have become a big political issue in Cornwall. And


here in Falmouth, there's real anger brewing that a bid to keep their


loos open is at risk because of a Government threat to cap the amount


of council tax town halls can charge. This is an absolute


nightmare. It's a nonsense. It is centralism gone mad, not localism.


It's not just the loos Falmouth needs extra cash for ` it's even


things like keeping on top of weeds. As Cornwall Council cuts its funding


for things it doesn't have to provide, the town council's under


pressure to step in to save services like CCTV and some bus routes. It


wants to put up its share of council tax by 20%. For the average


household, that's ?27.40 extra a year. These are issues that have


been very close to people's hearts. Even the local MP isn't saying she


understands why we're picking up these services and have to increase


the council tax. Clearly, Eric Pickles is living in some ivory


tower and doesn't understand what localism is all about. Falmouth's


certainly not the only Cornish town wanting to hike its share of council


tax. Over on the north coast, Newquay wants to double its precept.


And these increases aren't going unnoticed in Westminster. The


Government takes a dim view of council tax hikes ` and the big


councils already face having to hold a referendum if they increase by


more than 2%. Now there's a threat to apply the same thinking to towns


and parishes. Falmouth's Conservative MP Sarah Newton thinks


that's wrong and has been lobbying ministers ` prompting this


unsympathetic reply. So in Falmouth, what do the people


think of a 20% rise? I think that's a lot of extra money. Something like


another fiver would be enough. I'm not really in favour of it but I do


understand why the local council want to do it. I'm not happy but I


would pay it! And some argue the Government should give towns and


parishes the freedom to get on with their job. I think the town councils


are responding to local need. Their role is to maintain and improve the


quality of life, not only for the people who live there at who work


there or choose to visit there. The whole place relies on having a local


input. It's not just town councils playing the waiting game ` all


councils are waiting to hear if the increase that triggers a referendum


is lowered from 2% to 1.5%. Ministers say they hope to make an


announcement in the very near future.


We're joined now by the Cornwall councillor in charge of finance. If


the referendum limit is brought down, this will cause you real


problems, won't it? You set your budget nice and early, you say,


based on the 2% threshold. Indeed. We wanted to be prudent and plan


ahead as far as possible. By setting a budget in November, it gives us 18


months to have a proper conversation with the people of Cornwall about a


fundamental change to the way we struck to the council, and also


means we can make extra savings of about ?7 million. Brandon Lewis and


Eric Pickles faffing until the last minute, playing games, playing


politics, does us no favours. Have you got a contingency plan? What's


the likely result of the threshold coming down? We'll have to see what


they do. I don't want to play their game. I want to get on with doing


the best for the people of Cornwall. We've set a budget, which has been


agreed by the full council, and we want to get on and run the council


as the people of Cornwall instructed us. That's what we think we have the


power to do. No hints about what might because it or whether you


might go for a referendum? I don't want to go for referendum, mainly


because it can't be held until May, two months into the financial year,


two months of spending up higher level. To have a referendum is


democratic but it is far too late in the day. We need the government to


change the rules on finance, to make it simpler and allow councils, like


businesses would, to plan in advance so we can be certain. On this


increase, we were having a chat just under a year ago. You then said, "


let's freeze council tax because that's what people tell us they


want" . The people now telling you they want arise? Absolutely. We had


a discussion last year and the people said they wanted to see a


freeze. Extra pressure has come on... You could have a referendum.


We could but it introduces uncertainty. I don't want to be


uncertain. I want to plan on the basis of what we can do. If the


government had told us a year ago what the referendum threshold would


be and it was different to what it currently is, we would have planned


accordingly. It's this last`minute chopping and changing. Sheryll


Murray doubts the fact that people want an increase in their council


tax. Let's be clear that what Cornwall benefits from charging the


taxpayer 1.9% is actually 0.97% because by increasing by more than


1%, they've denied the reward grant that the government would give them.


So that's the first thing. The second thing is, Alex has just said


that if they had known about the threshold at triggered a referendum


being reduced before they made their decision, they may well have put the


council tax up by 1.49%. If they could but the council tax up by


1.49% after they were told, why not do it now? The third thing... You


are putting words into my mouth. We had elections in May, when there


were all sorts of promises made by a lot of councillors in their


manifesto. One was to repair potholes. A lot of people got


elected on that front. Now we are finding ` and I'm finding in my


postbag everyday ` people complaining about toilets closing,


charities not having their rubbish collected, potholes in the road. Get


a grip, Alex. Could you go for just under 1.5%? I'm not playing Eric


Pickles and Brandon Lewis's game. The relationship is pretty crucial,


isn't it? We're in a coalition government that Lycra don't forget


that. When we went to see Brandon Lewis a couple of weeks ago, we set


out the case for Cornwall about why going early made sense. He smiled


and nodded and said, "we'll do what we do anyway". We need a better


relationship between ministers and local councils. Whatever political


group the ministers are, we've got to have a good relationship for the


good of the people of, in our case, Cornwall. We've got to stop playing


games and I wish the ministers would get a grip. Larry, when you were in


government the capping regime still existed. Do you think that was


better than the referendum system? There's a long, sorry history of


central government of all kinds trying to micromanage local


expenditure. I think it is basically wrong, which ever government is


doing it. As Alex said, even in that long history, to have a decision as


late as we have now and then impose a referendum which won't be taking


place until we're in the next financial year is completely barmy.


What about parish councils? There is a problem mortgages that if you put


a squeeze on the and district level, towns and parishes feel they need to


take more. The pressure is actually from central government. You don't


disagree with that, do you? One of the things we need to see happen is,


when a primary authority hands over responsibility for things like


public conveniences, they also hand over things like car parks, so that


its cost neutral. That way, we wouldn't see local town councils


having to increase their precept and they would be able to go ahead and


look after the hard`working people... I know you have local


differences with Alex but the reality is you, like a lot of Tories


and Lib Dems, think the government grossly underfunded rural


authorities. Brandon Lewis said, " go away, this is nonsense". I'm


sorry but Larry's party started that. But you're in government now.


We need to season three balancing between the finances... Are you


going to vote for the government settlement? It depends... I will go


into the chamber and will certainly speak up for Cornwall. Nobody spoke


for Cornwall and the rural authorities more than I did and we


will present the position and see what is on the table. What is very


difficult for me to say now, with this 1.97% increase in council tax,


is that I can make the case. Behind all this is the fact that the local


government has taken the bulk of the public expenditure cuts, quite


disproportionately, and that is causing difficulty all over. We can


argue between different authorities but that is the problem and that was


the wrong priority by the government because most services people depend


on are delivered by local authorities. We can't be underfunded


compared to the average urban authority. I want Sheryll Murray and


the other MPs for Cornwall to go in and argue for the ?42 million. We've


been awarded ?420,000 extra this year, 1%. I want the other 99% if


not this year, next year. That is the fairness of the people of


Cornwall deserve. We want to be able to provide the best possible


services. We know we have to make cuts ` every council has to ` but we


need fairness. Let's not forget it as a reward grant. If you don't


comply with what the government is saying, you don't get the rewards.


We've got to leave it there. Alex, thank you for joining us.


Many rural MPs, like Sheryll, were doubtless delighted when the


Government announced it was tightening up the planning rules for


solar farms. But this week one of her Conservative colleagues told the


Planning Minister the guidelines were still absurd and heavily


weighted in favour of developers. Janine Jansen reports.


There's often strong local opposition to the visual impact of


solar farms. This one was no exception. It's a 32`acre site near


Avonwick in the South Hams. The developer claims its photovoltaic


panels will create enough electricity to power up to 850


homes. But the Campaign for Rural England thinks solar farms are


ruining the look of the countryside. Solar farm, solar harm. This


application north of Sidmouth, on an area of natural beauty, has just


been turned down due to its large scale and unnatural appearance.


Campaigners say beautiful parts of our countryside are being


increasingly targeted. The demand has been such that the network has


become saturated, presumably elsewhere, and the available spots


for choosing network connectivity are now moving towards protected


landscapes. If they haven't been already. This week at Westminster,


one MP said the planning rules around solar farms need to be


changed. But the Minister insisted that government guidelines are


strong enough to protect the countryside from unsuitable


developments. National planning policy framework is the framework of


national planning policy and every planning decision, by every planning


authority in the land, must abide by the policies in this framework. At


his conservative colleague wasn't satisfied. Unfortunately, money


talks and this has become big business. Many planning officers are


nervous, as our local councillors, that if they reject this, the cost


of appealing is such that there is a risk to local taxpayers that they


will have to foot the bill. In the South Hams, they've approved seven


solar farms and refused two. But out of those two refusals, one is


appealing. Councillors insist they're not afraid of appeals ` but


say some can be costly. It can take one day, it can take five days. So


generally speaking, it varies between maybe ?20,000 and ?50,000


for a public appeal. Ministers are promising to publish a new solar


strategy in the next few months. It may be too little, too late for


those who believe the South West is already nearing capacity.


Larry, this is like wind farms ` something that causes a lot of


strife within the coalition and the Conservative article stop what would


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