Drugs – legalise or not? Case not proven either way despite Lib Dems claiming otherwise.

This week the Lib Dems have made a big fuss about legalising drug use or in other words decriminalising drug use. They seem to have hijacked a reasonable report to support their own “Liberal” desire for legal drug use.

Much has been said about a new report from the Home Office. This report seems well written, based on research and a relatively easy read. Here is a link to it. Well worth a read.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/368489/DrugsInternationalComparators.pdf

Having read it all I am left confused. The report seems to suggest that all societies are different and that no single approach to drug taking can be derived from the evidence.

Where facilities are provided for drug users to use illicit drugs it seems that drug users come from far and wide to use it. Well that might be ok for the drug users but what about the local population? In Copenhagen, 50% of users came from far and wide and even from Sweden. This Center was set up deal with the problem of drug takers gathering in open spaces. An issue we don’t have in the ?UK it seems.

It points to Portugal as the success story of decriminalising drug taking. But it then qualifies it by saying it might be the focus on medical help that is achieving the results.

It does not make the case for decriminalising drug use. In fact the opposite could be true. It does clearly state that drug use is decreasing under the current policies.

So how come Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert seems to be jumping up and down claiming that decriminalising drug use is the way forward? Hmmmmm.

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Air Passenger Duty needs scrapping

The Air Passenger Duty in the UK (or more appropriately called, “the holiday tax”) is roughly £284 per family for long-haul flights?

That’s more than double what the Germans pay for the same privilege, and they’re the second highest taxed on this in Europe.

We’re being fleeced. And we’re not just being fleeced out of our cash for this “green” policy – we’re being fleeced out of jobs and inward investment into the UK.

It might be a “holiday tax” to a lot of us, but to businesses, Air Passenger Duty is a deterrent from setting up shop in Britain.

It’s a great shame, and as new, independent figures by PriceWaterhouseCoopers reveal, a reduction or scrapping of the 20-year-old tax could indeed be revenue neutral.

A tax that does not bring in additional revenue and hurts hardworking people trying to enjoy a holiday and harms business needs scrapping.

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Time for a Unitary authority? Article reposted from a year ago

Currently, most public services, with the exception of the fire, police and NHS, are provided by councils. Three types of councils exist.

Parish and town councils have the smallest budget often only a few thousand pounds and look after cemeteries, bus shelters and very local public spaces.

District councils and Cambridge City council have larger budgets. They cover larger geographic areas than parish councils but less than the county. We have East Cambs DC, Hunts DC, South Cambs DC, Fenland DC and Cambridge City council. They have a range of responsibilities of which planning and waste collection are the two most obvious.

The County council is by far the largest council with a non schools budget of around £450m. If you add the schools money to this then it rises to over a billion pounds. They provide children’s services, adult social care, highways, waste disposal and so on.

Each type of council has its own councillors who in theory provide strategic direction, exercise some element of command and control and provide political accountability. They also provide a way for local peoples views to be heard and considered. Councillors do not always agree with each other, within each council, and sometimes councils of different types don’t agree. Often this is to do with differences of personality or political persuasion.

A unitary authority merges the functions of the county council and the district or city councils. We would end up with just one “council” as well as all the parish and town councils. In theory this should save money as only one chief exec is required rather than the current six. In addition only one planning department would be required rather than six, only one IT dept, one legal dept, one HR dept, one comms dept, one democratic services dept and so on. It also means that those who use the services only have one council to contact rather than the current six.

So, if it is that great an idea why had it not happened yet? Well, it needs the good will of all the district and county councillors to agree that it should happen. This is always difficult to achieve as many of the councillors would lose their seats as the number of councillors required would greatly reduce from 250ish down to 70ish. More savings but turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

The decision to change to a unitary authority is disruptive and painful as Peterborough City council found out a few years ago. But having gone through the process Peterborough is now much better able to manage its services except that is not really a big enough unitary authority. It lacks critical mass. Any unitary authority, centered around Cambridge, would need to be much bigger than just Cambridge to survive.

Until recently I have defended the status quo on the basis that moving to a unitary authority would be too disruptive at a time when the county was attempting to be dynamic and really make a difference to the economy.

The impending change at the county council, moving to the committee system, will at a stroke turn the county council from a dynamic, fast thinking and progressive council based on the strong leader model into a committee bound, slow moving, risk adverse monstrosity.

A move to a unitary authority now, would save lots of money, provide a better service to the public and is no longer a risk to a dynamic council because that had been trashed anyway with the move to a committee system. I believe It’s time to move to a unitary authority.

What would it look like. Well, a unitary authority needs to have all the services of the county council with planning and waste collection bolted on. It needs to be geographically, economically and politically of sufficient size to be effective. We know that Peterborough City council is not big enough. Ideally one unitary for the whole of the county, including Peterborough would make sense. This is unlikely to happen given the complex political issues in Peterborough.

I would suggest that Cambridge City council together with South Cambs DC, East Cambs and most of Hunts DC would be about right. The north of Hunts DC, Sawtry etc could go to Peterborough as could most of Fenland. This would make two equally sized unitary authorities.

It seems the time is right but don’t underestimate the political difficulties in moving forward on this. Add to that officers in all the depts from chief execs down are likely to go into protectionist mode for their jobs and you can see the problem.

Interestingly, given the scale of savings required, in all the councils, I don’t think their is a choice, it needs to be done, if not today then very soon.

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Immigration. My Radio interview on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

Immigration is in the news. The Mayor of Calais believes our benefits system is the reason so many asylum seekers are trying to hard to get to the UK.

It is true we have a very generous benefits system that has move from being a safety net to a way of life for some.

That is but part of the issue. Other big questions need to be asked and answered.

We are a small island that is rapidly getting full. This is not about race, creed, religion or culture. It is about maths. For a long time we have had around 50m citizens but we are now racing to 70m.

The country is feeling crowded. Services are under strain. Roads are congested. Housing is in short supply and people are increasingly unhappy.

Rightly people are asking why asylum seekers who arrive in Italy or France are then allowed to come to the UK. These countries are safe. These countries are significantly larger than our small island.

The purpose of asylum is to go to a place of safety not choosing the most economically attractive country.

The open door policy of recent years is failing. But, unless we leave the EU we will never regain control of our borders. Even the asylum seekers who are granted asylum in other UK countries and subsequently gain citizenship will then have the right to come to the UK.

Some, and I am one of them, celebrate the contribution made by migrants over the years to our economy but ………. enough is enough.

I debated this issue on the Paul Stainton show today about 20 mins in.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/

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UK net contributions to EU could make up shortfall in Local Authority funding

Much is talked about the EU. Many people don’t like the loss of sovereignty. Some object to laws being made elsewhere. Yet others find the EU being run by an unelected commission fundamentally wrong.

Many others are happy to trade with Europe but don’t want political Union.

What must be a common issue is the UK paying more into the EU than it gets out, year after year after year. This net contribution looks roughly like the amount of reduced funding to local authorities.

Libraries, youth service, old folks, social care, roads, parks, bins, waste disposal, school music services, children’s services, looked after children or EU vanity and political projects. No brainier to me.

IMG_0568.JPG

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Is the government cutting local authority spending too far?

I am increasingly worried that the government doesn’t understand what local authorities do. As a result the government continues to cut funding without understanding the consequences for people.

I fully understand the need to drive through efficiencies to help get the biggest bang for each pound but we are way past that. Now services will have yo be cut or dispensed with. These are services that people need and expect.

Most of the services provided by local authorities are vital for vulnerable people and need to be protected. Cutting them further to help pay for the deficit is starting to not make sense.

For example. Cutting funding for older people is likely to mean that they stay in hospital longer when they are ill. That will cost more overall.

Reducing mental health services might mean more people end up having more extreme episodes resulting in increased crime or longer unproductive spells in hospital.

Cutting our libraries ( which I protected in 2011 ) means that the unemployed and the poor will have little access to the Internet to find a job or research issues in the way the rest of us can.

Further cutting the youth service is likely to lead to increased crime adding costs to the police budget. Worse, it has bad outcomes for our people.

Cutting waste recycling sites or dumps as I prefer, will result in fly tipping which costs a fortune to clean up and makes our environment unattractive.

It is time the government applauds itself for the efficiencies gained so far and now protects the funding from any further cuts.

It is time the same efficiencies were applied to the NHS which is still hopelessly inefficient. The government has let the NHS remain largely unreformed and for reasons I don’t understand made it some sort of sacred cow to be protected at all costs.

What is important is our people and they deserve protection when they need .

If for no other reason than getting reflected the government should not make enemies of its citizens .

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Cambridge United – much more than just a football club

We are so lucky to have Cambridge United. They are back in the football league and holding their own. In fact they are doing better than that. They have been consistently in the top third of the division.

But that is only part of it. For a small club in a small city the support of the fans is second to none. Numbers are up, as is the noise they make. Good to see them be rewarded with great results on the pitch.

The club is also involved with hundreds of young people across the county. It is part of the community and plays an active part in making a real difference to the lives of young people. I believe that this excellent work can be shared with other organisations in a number of different ways. More thinking required in this area but I could see Cambridge United linking in with some of the social work with troubled families.

But of course Cambridge United is also a business providing employment, spending money with suppliers and contributing to the local economy. Like all businesses it needs supporting, encouraging as well as investing in.

Like many businesses it is fragile and must never be taken for granted that it will always be around.

Key to the continued success of Cambridge United is its ground. In order to generate more non football revenue, which is essential these days, the facilities need to be top notch. They are not at the moment.

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Nick Clarke

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