Monday, 31 August 2009

The government is slow to help during the recession

I met a recent graduate over the weekend who has reluctantly "signed-on" with Jobcentre Plus after trying without success to get work. They have so far not received a single penny in help from the government due to "a backlog". Surely the government could have seen this coming and made arrangements to speed up payments to those in need of help- often only for a short period of time- during the recession. This Labour government failed to prepare our economy for the downturn and subsequent recession, and now they are failing to help those in most need.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Repeat burglary

One of my friends who lives in Halton was burgled this week. I don't know who was responsible but from my recent meetings with Cheshire Police it is clear they have a good idea who is the source of most of their burglaries.

From these discussions with local police officers it is clear that identifying these repeat offenders is not the problem; getting the CPS to pursue them or the courts to take action is frustratingly where their hard work gets undone. They told me of one recent case of a local man man, who upon leaving court had re-offended and was in custody within an hour. The public has a right to expect the CPS and courts to back up the police in getting these people off the streets and out of our houses. Whether in Halton or elsewhere they have to do better; the current approach is failing us all.

Mental health challenges

I met two paramedics this week who talked me through their daily workload. They told me that around 1 in 5 of their 999 call-outs were to assist people who were having mental health issues. They were doing a fantastic job in the circumstances but complained of not having enough local mental health specialists, crisis teams, or support and training in this area. This conversation confirmed my long-held concern that mental health services continue to be the poor relation of the NHS; under-funded and under-resourced.

With 1 in 4 our of fellow countrymen having mental health issues it is vital that we give our health professions the backing to tackle this huge challenge.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Bold Heath Quarry- update

Since meeting with the Bold Heath Action Group in March(, I have been following the progress of the appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. We are now entering a key phase of the appeal with this week's public inquiry in St Helens and are awaiting the verdict from the Inspector. As I wrote in March (on this blog and to the Inspector directly), I hope he makes the right decision and protects the heath and safety of local residents who stand to suffer if the quarry is permitted to be turned into a landfill site.

Regardless of the decision, the process that has brought us here raises serious questions about the power of the Planning Inspectorate (a Government Body) and it's ability to overrule the will of elected representatives and local residents.

Monday, 24 August 2009

PM gone to ground

Once again the Prime Minister has done one of his disappearing acts. It’s curious that he can find his way to the camera to lecture the world on economics, or appear on YouTube, or comment on the latest celebrity news, but not to speak on an issue of national importance such as the release of the Lockerbie bomber. The British people have the right to know what their Prime Minister thinks about the release of Mr al-Megrahi. It may be seen by him as a matter for the Scottish Government but it affects the reputation of our whole country.

Mr Brown has proved once again that when the going gets tough, he gets going.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Home Information Packs (HIPs)

If, like me, you have just moved house you will welcome the plan from Shadow Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, to scrap HIPs after the next general election.

As he writes this weekend; “Next week marks the second anniversary of when Home Information Packs became mandatory. Just to recap, what this discredited HIP law does is to ensure that anyone wanting to sell their house has to first reckon on shelling out several hundred pounds to comply with this much ridiculed red-tape. It is now illegal to place a For Sale sign in front of your own home without first having this expensive paperwork in place. Weary sellers have little choice but to sigh at yet another piece of burdensome bureaucracy, suffer the delay and stump up the cash. During the past couple of years I've faced four different Housing Ministers across the Despatch Box and have presented each with compelling evidence demonstrating not only that HIPs aren't working, but that they are actively causing harm to an already embattled housing market.”

HIPs have made moving house even more expensive and difficult. Grant is right to say that the HIPs debacle has become shorthand for a government that has run out of ideas and should now be run out of office.

Action needed to reverse Labour’s binge-drinking culture

I sent the following press release to local newspapers this weekend:

Ben Jones, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Halton, this week added his voice to calls for action to rein back in Labour’s licensing laws and take tough action against the uncontrolled spread in binge-drinking.

The latest Home Office crime figures have revealed that across Halton there were 2,351 violent attacks last year. Based on Government surveys of crime victims, this suggests that 1,105 of these attacks could have been alcohol-related.

There is growing concern about the overlapping problems of late night drinking, fast food outlets selling alcohol at night, under-age drinking, the easy availability of high-strength alcohol, and retailers like supermarkets selling alcohol below cost-price. Labour’s licensing laws, which came into effect in 2005, have created a presumption in favour of alcohol licences being given out, and imposed tight restrictions on who can object to any licensing application.

The Police Federation has warned that the need to police town centres around the clock is making it harder to answer emergency calls elsewhere.

Conservative leader, David Cameron, has explained how the Conservative Party will tackle the problems of binge-drinking Britain:
· Stronger powers and more discretion for elected local councils, and a greater say for local residents on licensing applications.
· Tougher penalties for premises which sell alcohol to under-age drinkers.
· Reviewing the rules which allow fast food outlets like kebab shops to sell alcohol into the early hours.
· Changing the law to stop the ‘loss-leading’ sale of alcohol by retailers.
· Rebalancing the duty on alcohol: reducing rates on low-alcohol beers and ciders, and increasing it on very high-strength products (the likes of Tennent’s Super) and on alcopops.

Ben Jones said: “Labour’s licensing laws are too lax. We don’t want a return to the old days where every pub shut at 11pm. But local councils like Halton need greater powers to tackle the binge-drinking and violence that plague our town centres. The reckless sale of high-strength, bargain-basement alcohol is damaging health and fuelling violence.

“Conservatives believe that socially responsible adults should be able to have a night out in Widnes and Runcorn without fear of violence. Parents should be reassured that their children are not going to come to harm. Halton’s community pubs should not be tarred with the same brush as irresponsible ‘vertical drinking’ bars or fast food outlets peddling booze into the early hours. We need to make our town centres feel safe at night once again.”

Please read the following related story from earlier in the month by clicking here:

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Weekly News- Derek Twigg MP; yes man?

Below is the text of a letter published by the Weekly News (alongside others):

I read with interest the letters in last week’s Weekly News about Derek Twigg MP.
It is clear that in the wake of the Westminster expenses scandal and the overall conduct of politicians, Britain’s voters are looking for more from their elected representatives than simply being “yes” men and party stooges.
Since my selection as the Tory candidate in Halton last November, people in Widnes and Runcorn keep telling me that they want their MP to stand up for them and be their voice in Westminster, not Westminster’s or their party’s voice in Halton.

That is my commitment if elected; to speak up for Halton and not hide behind party lines.

Yours sincerely,
Ben Jones

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Compassionate grounds

Following the release of Ronnie Biggs on “compassionate grounds” we are faced with another shocking case; this time the convicted Lockerbie bomber. Mr al-Megrahi was convicted under Scottish law for the murder of 270 people. Incidentally, thus far he has served the equivalent of a fortnight in prison for each victim.

It now appears he is on the verge of release on “compassionate grounds”. This stinks. I believe that, as a rule, when someone is guilty of multiple murders they should not be allowed out of prison early. This crime was so heinous that Mr al-Megrahi should die in prison.

It is true that you can judge a society by how it treats its prisoners and how it doles out justice. As a result I have long been opposed (and remain opposed) to the death penalty. But to retain public confidence in the judicial system I believe convicted criminals should serve their time. In this case and that of Mr Biggs, no amount of ill-health should make any difference.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Ronnie Biggs

I am appalled by Jack Straw's decision to release Ronnie Biggs on compassionate grounds. Given he has never showed any remorse for his crime; added to his original offence by escaping from prison (also a crime); and then spent most of the last 46 years sticking two fingers up not just to the police, courts and Ministers, but to the rest of us, it is a deeply flawed decision.

The damaging message this decision sends out is that if you are sentenced to 30 years in prison, you can decide to serve only 10 years, and the 10 years which are most convenient for you. This was not a good day for justice in our country.