16/12/2012 Sunday Politics West


Andrew Neil and David Garmston with the latest political news, interviews and debate including transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

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In the west: It may be Christmas, but scrooge is alive and well.


Local councils want to close your public toilets to save a few


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2150 seconds


pennies. But what other services Thank you Andrew. Welcome to our


final Sunday Politics of 2012 in the West. There is not a comfort


break for us because today toilets are on our agenda. Councils want to


pull the plug on public toilets to save a few pennies. Should these


public services really be sacrificed in the name of


austerity? Joining us with their knees firmly


together are took West Country MPs who share the same executive


bathrooms. They are dom foster the Liberal Democrat and the


Conservative Neil Carmichael. Welcome. You might be colleagues,


but the latest spat between the Lib Dems and Conservatives, this time


over drug policy, the Prime Minister says thing should stay as


they are and Nick Clegg is open to change. He is right? I think the


Prime Minister is absolutely right to make sure that we give careful


consideration to drugs. It needs to be on the agenda, certainly, but we


have to think in a different way. I am a great believer in


rehabilitation. So you think it should be different? I don't think


it is necessary at this stage because there is a clear policy on


drugs. Don Foster? He posed the question as if you are surprised


that two different political parties in a coalition differ on


certain areas of policy. Liberal Democrats have argued for a very


long time that our current drugs policy doesn't work. We have argued


that they should be a royal commission to look at a new way


forward and taking experiences that have been successful in other


countries. Nick Clegg is reflecting what the Liberal Democrats have


always said. The two parties will argue and eventually come with a


united solution. Your view them should be to decriminalise some


drugs? There is hardly any point to say you want a Royal Commission and


then predetermine the outcome. I do have a view and I have expressed it


on your programme before. I actually think that when they


raised the classification of cannabis and then took it down and


then back up again, it was crazy. It was not based on research


evidence that said that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol.


should find out this week how tough the next year will be for the West


councils. The government is due to announce funding. What is certain


is there will be used more cuts to come. Red tape has been slashed so


now a prisoner of services which councils are not obliged to provide.


One major casualty of public toilets.


For decades they have been providing relief, but things are


now getting much less convenient for the public. Bath and North East


Somerset Council wants to wash its hands of the dozen after consulting


local communities. Public facilities like these have been


around for years and it is a shame to see them go. It is very useful


for the young and old alike to have conveniences. I think it is unfair


and unnecessary to get rid of it. can't remember the last time I used


a public toilet. But the others are doing likewise. Somerset is


shutting for him wince at -- in winter. North Somerset has already


closed seven. Nationally it is estimated that 50% have closed in


the last 10 years. This is one of the public toilets


that Bath North East Somerset want to stop funding. They want to do so


because there is no legal obligation on councils to provide


them. They are asking town and parish councils if they want to


take them over, but that is a financial burden not many want to


bed. This toilet closed earlier this year after the parish council


took the bill for taking it over. Handing it over to the local town


or parish council does not save public money. If the district


council isn't paying money, we are. It all comes out of our pockets.


The council decided that we couldn't afford it. Locals are


campaigning to get it reopened. people in the village have signed


the petition. They say it has harmed business on the high street


that is already facing decline. are losing business by the fact the


toilets are not open. It is a facility we need. They are cutting


costs for the sake of cutting costs. Unfortunately we are a small


village and we can't afford to keep it open. They will present their


petition to the district council, but the man grappling with next


year's budget may not be swayed. His coppers have already been


dented by the recent floods. We are being squeezed budget twice, there


are no two ways about it. It is a time of brutal choices. It is a


discretionary activity. I am asking residents which they would prefer


and I think they would come back to us and say to keep the sandbags and


close the toilets. The big money decision about what governments


will give councils originates in Downing Street. In your street, the


buck and the box may well stop here. We think it is on Wednesday that


councils will be told how much money they will receive so the


trouble could hit the fan this week. Joining the debate is the Mayor of


Bristol. And a Labour councillor in Gloucester. Let's talk about


toilets first. Kate, why can't councils do something as simple and


basic as providing a public toilet? It comes down to money and the


problem is that local councils have had the earliest and deepest cuts


of any part of the public sector. Therefore, services they do not


have to provide, however much local residents may want to provide them,


they bear the brunt. But it is basic, isn't it? Isn't that what


councils are therefore? It is and I'm sure residents and councillors


want to provide those services, but when so many cuts are coming down


from government, we really can't afford to do it. It is not an issue,


I guess at the top of your agenda, but it is important, isn't it?


is very important and I have had to consider everything. We are having


to cut 25% of our net budget. That is huge and we have to look at


everything that isn't statutory. I'm desperately trying to save


public toilets, but I was then the next year thinking of clever ways


of doing things. In south Bristol we have a map of cafes and bars


that are prepared to allow the public to use their toilets. That


gives a better service in many ways. I would like to see whether some


public toilets can be used as little businesses, may be having a


flower shop in conjunction and the person who takes it takes


responsibility for it. I think we have to get clever about it rather


than assume that councils supply everything. Don Foster, you are a


Lib Dem where they want to close at least 12 toilets. They are also


working with pubs and restaurants and others to see if they can allow


the public to use those. George is absolutely right, we are going to


have to find smarter ways of doing things. In some cases, public lose


heart I'll run by volunteers. We also know we have many councils


beginning to think about working collaboratively. Why is every


council separately collecting in their rates many? Why do they have


a joint collection? There are lots of really interesting innovative


ways of doing things to reduce costs and often to improve the


quality of service. Your department will announce how much money the


councils get next year from central government. That is a crucial


figure, isn't it? What are you expecting To here? I am partly


going to be saying, and I certainly won't tell you on this programme


because it will be announced when the figures are available. You


can't have an exclusive. Councils spend collectively �114 billion per


year, one quarter of total expenditure. It is a time where we


are having to make cuts so it is right some proper that local


councils take a share. You can give us a sting. Councils themselves


already know, roughly speaking, what they will be getting. What


they heard in the Autumn Statement was good news. They heard that


every other department is having A1 per Saint cut, but we are not


applying it to local councils. We also heard that in the following


year, there is a 2% cut across all government departments and that


will include a local government. How strict do you want the


announcement to be? I think it is important we understand that the


deficit has to be reduced. It is important that we get control of


public expenditure and local government is part of that. One


uttered every �4 is spent on local government. The other driver here


is localism has. We need to start respecting that. What choice do


they have if they is Kurt? Gloucestershire we are successful


at maintaining libraries and are not closing in the toilets and that


is because we have a reserve. bring someone in a at the sharp end.


Your council has made 3.9 million in savings. There isn't room for


much more. We have a community toilette scheme in Gloucester and


there is hardly any public toilet provision. Otherwise the services


that people rely on, we are seeing increasing demand. We spent more on


homelessness in the last six months than in the previous year. There is


no recognition of that in the grants we get from government.


George, again, you have a �36 million black hole? A �36 million


hole in the Budget. Had he made any decisions yet? I have made


decisions, some of which will be announced on the 20th, in terms of


provisional decisions because they go out to consultation in January.


There isn't a lot of room for movement. I have to live within our


means. We are taking the brunt of government cuts that local


authorities are taking the brunt. Could you give us any idea of what


you might be saying? George has already said he will put council


tax up. I have said that and the maximum I can put it up, which is


still a virtual freeze because it is under 2%. In terms of cut --


cuts, where will you hit? They will be across the border. There are


certain essential services that I cannot cut and I want to make sure


we protect the most vulnerable. And you will see that I will protect


the most vulnerable. It is also important to keep council tax low


because that is something vulnerable people are affected by.


I want to see that we to protect the mayors from rubble. We have to


move on because this is the season of goodwill to all men and despite


the doom and gloom, there are some real stories of community spirit


saving local services that have lost government funding. There


isforce group in our Christmas story now.


Are you sitting comfortably? Then let us begin. Deck the halls with


bowls of Harley. Our first Christmas tale is of our libraries.


In Christmases past they enjoyed Council funding, but many have


faced serious cuts. That did not spell the end, many have been saved.


Here in Brockworth, the community stepped in. Father Christmas's sack


stuffed with help from volunteers and local donations. We can do it


differently. We have a very good business model in terms of


volunteer support. You can't do it on fresh air, we still have to pay


the gas and electric bill. We can do it cost-effectively, but not for


free, that is the message to politicians.


Our second tale today is of a good old heart warming meal and time to


meet friends. Even in this time of austerity, much of the adult care


budget has been saved from cuts, but sunk -- funding for some lunch


clubs has been axed, like this one in Bristol. It lost its grand, but


with the help of Janet, Christmas present is still a happy one. David


Cameron's big society in action. are having it here as a church


project. Without people giving us Our final tale is of our young


people and Christmases of the future. The budgets for youth


centres have been slashed by as much as three-quarters in some


areas, but most youth clubs have been saved by volunteers. Hand-made


Christmas cards and messages to loved ones will be kept for years


to come. Until 18 months ago it was funded by the county council. They


ceased all funding so it was a matter of either shutting up all


carrying on as best we could. has been a happy Christmas all


round. Thank you Santa and his community helpers. My ary Christmas


Everyone! Neil Carmichael is chatting away. He never stopped.


Let's talk about Santa and the big society. Is it working or is it a


question of David Cameron foisting of other people's jobs on to the


voluntary sector. In my constituency we have some great


successes. I am dominating it for an award because it is doing so


well as a community because of the big society. Tomorrow I am going to


the opening of the Berkeley Library which is another successful element


of big society. We don't have any libraries closed in Gloucestershire.


Kate, I can't think of a major library or youth club that has


close despite the cuts. Volunteers have come in and saved them. Have


you been crying wolf over the effects of cuts? Not at all. There


was a successful campaign against the county council. The scheme


where the closure of some libraries was challenged successfully. The


library in my ward was to close unless volunteers could run it.


they stepped up? That decision has been changed and the library is


still open. It has an uncertain future, but the problem is,


volunteer libraries may have a place, but you have to have the


capacity hummed community to do it. You need the support and a lot of


that is down to funding. George, this is an area you are interested


in, getting volunteers him. There is a difference between volunteers


and the voluntary sector. The voluntary sector has a lot of paid


people in it and I think has the answer to a lot of these issues.


The voluntary sector is often better geared than local government


in providing services. I come for freeing up the tendering services -


- processes to allow the voluntary sector to step him more often.


is just what we are doing, George. The changes we have made enable us


the opportunity for people in the community, including voluntary


organisations, to come forward and say we can run the service better.


You have to pay us, but we will give a better service. The stuff we


have done on local budgets were local communities come together and


look at how money is spent in their area and see if they come workout


efficient ways of using it. They are finding they can and they can


save money. For free? No, this is the community. The people who are


benefiting from services coming together and saying they want a


bigger say in how money is spent. People who used to do those jobs


are going into debt. A lot of services are contracted out, but we


always contract them to the same big organisations. George is


talking about opening this up and letting other people come with


innovative ways. Not necessarily win the volunteers, but to run


their services in innovative ways. Are the government on to something?


Not necessarily, but we have always had a big voluntary sector in


Gloucestershire. I think they is an important role for that, but when


it comes down to it, you need certainty that services will be


provided and that is where local government has a role to play.


Those services are being provided. Vital services have to be provided


by professionals. Absolutely, but huge areas are going very well.


Education is a key factor. That has nearly all been centralise by the


Academy programme. Yes, but the money is coming. But it is not


local government, it is centralised. We can't get into that we have run


out of time, unfortunately. Thank you both for coming in. He says it


will be exciting times ahead, I wonder what he knows that we don't.


Let's take our final look at the highlights of the week in our 62nd


run down. No new year check throw these rail


passengers. Rail fare increases in 2013. Unions handed out Christmas


cards bearing a message that ticket prices are rising three times


faster than wages. First Great Western said that travelling by


train is still cheaper than driving. An emergency fund has been set up


in world share to help dozens facing Christmas without savings.


60 people invested money in the Christmas club at their local pub,


but he and the money went missing. This is the stuff you read about in


the paper, you don't expect it in a small community. The things MPs do


to their constituents - Charlotte Lesley faced her fear of confined


spaces to see a cave campaigners want protected. No one told me how


small it was and I am pleased they didn't because I might have


chickened out. It was unbelievable that a mayor.


That Was the Week That Was. I want to talk about the Christmas Club


story that has a lot of reaction. Why do people pay into these clubs?


It is a way of saving a little bit every week. He used to have all


sorts of organisations that it that more formally. The message is


simple, only go to a reputable organisation. Their pack went bust


and people lost their money there. I know you don't want more


regulation about everything, but is there an argument for more consumer


protection? You could not have consumer protection for a situation


like this, it is to it informal. Not everybody acts in a dishonest


way, that is one thing to remember. Best wishes for Christmas and the


new year. Thank you very much indeed. That is all we have time


for this week. Thanks again to our guests for joining us on our last


programme of 2012. Don't go away because Sunday Politics continues


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