April 10th, 2015
UKIP will have us believe that they are the great slayers of the established parties, the new kids on the block poking the big political parties in the eyes. I’ve always been sceptical about this narrative given that they are a party led by a privately-educated, multi-millionaire, former commodities trader in Nigel Farage. Having taken a chunk of the Conservative vote, UKIP sought to broaden their appeal and present themselves as the ‘Working Man’s Party‘ A party to represent those in society who feel ignored by the modern Labour Party. This strategy achieved some measure of success as UKIP pushed Labour hard in the Heywood and Middleton parliamentary by-election last year.
But now, in Taunton Deane, we can see UKIP for what they are – Tories in disguise. There are 56 seats on Taunton Deane Borough Council, all of which are up for grabs on 7th May. How many of those 56 will UKIP contest? 2! Yes, UKIP has put up just 2 candidates to fight the 56 seats. Given that they managed to put up candidates in 10 of the 11 Taunton Deane Divisions in the County elections just two years ago, it will not be credible for UKIP to claim that they were only able to find two candidates. We are forced to ask ‘Have UKIP stepped aside to give Taunton Deane Conservatives a free run?’ Certainly looks like that to me. So let’s have an end to the idea that UKIP is some sort of insurgent party, looking to compete against all the established parties. They look more like Tory poodles today.
April 2nd, 2015
This morning, in the driving rain, I met Chairman of Friends of Quantock, Alan Hughes, to back their ‘Quantock Manifesto.’ You can read it Quantocks Manifesto. I fully support the aims of the manifesto and will help FOQ achieve them however I can. I also used the opportunity to launch my own campaign to call for a change in the law so that the County Council is not obliged only to produce a management plan for the Quantock Hills but also that it is required to implement that plan.
Don’t forget that just last year, Somerset Conservatives were talking about making a 90% cut in funding for the Quantock Hills AONB.
March 27th, 2015
STATEMENT FROM MIKE RIGBY, leader of the Independents Group, Somerset County Council.
After two years of failings, today’s OFSTED report highlighting continuing widespread and serious failures in Somerset’s Children’s Services give me major cause for concern. These are the services designed to protect the most vulnerable children in our communities and it doesn’t seem as though this administration is capable of bringing the service up to an acceptable level. The report does praise the hard work of social workers but criticises leadership of the service. We again have to question the decision to spend £1m on Peter Lewis and Kate Lovell, given that no real progress was made under their interim leadership. Since then we’ve had another interim director before last week’s appointment of a permanent director. While we have not yet seen what Mr Wooster is capable of, how much longer can we wait before the political leadership acts decisively to improve matters?
The slide in performance began under now Leader John Osman when he was Cabinet Member for Children’s Services. For the good of the most vulnerable children in Somerset, John now needs to consider his position. Frances Nicholson, the current Cabinet Member for Children’s Services must follow Councillor Huxtable’s example, do the honourable thing and resign immediately. It is clear that she is not capable of directing the required changes to ensure that children are properly protected from harm. END
March 2nd, 2015
Housing has become a huge issue in recent years and today we see the big political parties wheeling out their policies to address the problem. I’ll be setting out my views and policies here today. But first, a few facts and figures: –
- Homeownership has reduced from 71% to 63% over the last decade;
- The average age of the first time buyer is now 36 years old;
- 1.4m private landlords now own 5 million homes in the UK, almost a fifth of the total;
- In London, tenants are spending 50% of their income on rent, outside London 40%.
Although interest rates are at record lows, the new affordability criteria, record prices and hefty deposit requirements have combined to prevent many from buying their own home. We will hear much today from the parties about how we need to spend lots more taxpayers’ money on building more housing (Greens), how we need to cut developer contributions to local infrastructure (Conservatives) and stopping landbanking (Labour). But none of these plans deals with one of the major drivers of increased prices and that’s the buy-to-let market. Already, almost one-fifth of all UK homes are owned by private investors renting them out. Clearly, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with having a private-rented sector, indeed it’s an essential component of our housing market. But is has become far too dominant. Recently, I was astonished to discover that a new housing development in my County Division saw 35% of its homes going to buy-to-let landlords. No wonder homes are being priced out of reach of many in their 20s and 30s, with such rampant additional demand. Continue reading “HOUSING” »
February 16th, 2015
Thanks to the Somerset County Gazette for publishing my opinion piece in the current edition (12/2/15). Here is the full, unedited text:
THE WAY I SEE IT by Mike Rigby, Independent Parliamentary Candidate for Taunton Deane
Independent – Free to Speak, Free to Act
First off, remember, if you’re not on the electoral register, you will not be able to vote in the General Election. The rules have changed recently and many people have fallen off the register. To make sure that you’re on it, visit www.gov.uk/register-to-vote or write to Taunton Deane Borough Council.
I am standing to be the next MP for Taunton Deane because we need a fresh voice, untainted by the failures of the three main parties and capable of delivering the change that we desperately need. To listen to their candidates, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were nothing to do with their own parties that have done so much damage, locally and nationally, over the last decade. In that time our County Town, Taunton, has diminished commercially. Huge areas of potential regeneration land have been left undeveloped, while our rivals in neighbouring towns and cities have forged ahead. Fibre broadband has largely passed Taunton town centre by.
Too often, we see our party-backed MPs meekly obeying orders from above rather than acting in the best interest of the people they are supposed to represent. Last year the LibDem/Tory government again decided to offer significantly less money per head for spending on public services in Somerset than most of the rest of the UK. MPs had the chance to vote this down but because of party instructions, NOT ONE SOMERSET MP voted against the plan that disadvantages us here in Taunton Deane. What is the point of having MPs like this? It’s why I’m independent. As an independent County Councillor, I have been free to speak and free to act. As leader of a small group, I have been able to provide effective opposition at County Hall at a time when the Liberal Democrats have been quiet. I have fought for the people I represent, forcing the Conservative administration to drop many plans that would have adversely affected my area, including the sale of the West Somerset Railway, the closure of both the library and children’s centre in Bishops Lydeard. I have also highlighted concerns about the multiple problems occurring in Children’s Services, which now appear to be spreading to Adult Social Care. I have successfully lobbied for fibre broadband in my County Division; much of it now covered by superfast speeds. I am now working to fix the lack of fibre broadband in Taunton town centre itself. Continue reading “The Way I See It” »
January 26th, 2015
Following last month’s famous victory giving pub tenants the right to a Market Rent Only (MRO) deal, parliamentary pub campaigners tonight had a go at providing further protections for pubs. Currently, there is nothing to stop pubs being converted into supermarkets. No planning permission, no local consultation; the pub owner can just do a private deal with the supermarket and that’s the end of it. Greg Mulholland and other MPs tabled a motion in the Commons seeking to remove the part of the planning rules that enables this fast-track road to pub loss. DCLG, the Government department that oversees planning rules, attempted to head off a potential rebellion with a sop to waverers. What they have proposed is to remove the right to convert pubs without permission in the case of those pubs that have been designated as Assets of Community Value (ACV). This is a right given to local people to request that their local pub be offered first to the local community in the event that it comes up for sale. It’s a useful tool and Bishops Lydeard & Cothelstone Parish Council, on my suggestion, has successfully applied to register both Bishops Lydeard pubs as ACVs providing some level of protection to our village pubs. The snag with DCLG’s sop is that ACV applies only to 600 of the country’s 48,000 pubs leaving all the rest of them vulnerable to the rapacious appetites of the supermarket giants. It’s no sort of compromise at all. And who knows when they’ll get round to changing the law.
However, even those pubs designated as ACVs are not safe. I’ve recently heard of local examples where supposedly protected pubs have been subjected to ‘improvements’ where the owners take the roof off or remove a major wall for so long that there is nothing left to offer the community under the ‘right to buy’ and the only option is demolition.
It would have been the easiest thing for Parliament to do to vote through the simple change proposed today. But it failed by 245 votes to 293. It’s shameful to see all those Conservative and LibDem MPs on the Government payroll dutifully obeying their parties rather than representing the interests of their constituents. I’ll let you know how Jeremy Browne voted once I hear. For the record, he voted against when given the chance to free tenants from paying inflated rents and beer costs.
Update: the PublicWhip website confirms that Jeremy Browne MP was one of the many LibDems and Conservatives who voted against this sensible provision. 1/2/15
January 26th, 2015
The NHS is now showing as the key election concern amongst the electorate and I’m not surprised. Equal access to healthcare has to be one of the crowning glories of our country. Not for us, the US-style system where no money often means premature death for those unlucky enough to fall seriously ill. But, the NHS needs our help. Creeping privatisation began under the last Labour Government and has advanced with the Coalition’s Health & Social Care Act. Five years of constrained budgets and enforced ‘efficiency savings’ have brought the system to breaking point with severe strain now showing, particularly in A&E. How do we fix this? Well, it will cost more but, even if funded properly, it will remain one of the most cost-effective (and fair) health systems in the world. Over the last year, I have discussed policy with the National Health Action Party and have agreed to adopt the NHA health policy as my own in this election. I believe that these actions are necessary to secure the future of the NHS. The policy is reproduced below.
We must restore the NHS as a safe, comprehensive, publicly funded, publicly delivered, and publicly accountable integrated healthcare system by reversing the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and supporting an “NHS re-instatement” Bill, to halt and reverse NHS privatisation. We will do this by focussing on thirteen actions.
- Restore the duties and responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Health to provide universal and comprehensive healthcare in England. Ensure less political interference in the day-to-day running of the NHS.
- Halt privatisation, end competition and scrap the market within the NHS with its associated huge and unnecessary costs and bureaucracy. Reinstate the NHS as the preferred provider of healthcare and remove the requirement to tender out contracts to the private sector.
- Increase NHS funding by a minimum of 4% per year and ensure that resources and staffing levels are consistent with maintaining patient safety and high quality care and that the value of staff pay is maintained.
- Listen to patients and staff to improve the NHS. Establish a Health Ombudsman at the head of local independent health commissioners acting on concerns expressed by patients and staff. Reduce the NHS and Department of Health dependence on management consultants and increase the influence of healthcare professionals, staff and patients.
- End financially driven A&E and hospital closures and re-configurations. There must be evidence-based, clinical reasons which have the support of the local population and the affected professional staff. Suitable and accessible alternatives must be in place before any closures take place.
- Oppose the EU/US Free Trade Agreement (TTIP) and similar agreements as they threaten not only the NHS but the health and well-being of the public.
- Stop further Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals and remove the PFI repayment burden from individual hospital trusts. The Government should renegotiate on the basis of “fair value.
- Use the purchasing power of the NHS to get the best deals for all NHS supplies, equipment, and pharmaceuticals for the benefit of patients.
- Abolish prescription charges, which are effectively an unfair tax on people of working age with chronic long term conditions.
- Ensure “parity of esteem” for mental health services, strengthen maternity services and address the crisis in General Practice with an urgent injection of funding.
- Introduce free personal social care for the elderly and disabled, and integrate NHS health provision and local authority social care.
- Prioritise and focus on public health and preventative medicine, including measures to reduce alcohol consumption and smoking.
- Make the social determinants of health an absolute priority in the design and development of all government policies.
January 26th, 2015
Listen to my interview last week on Tone FM
January 17th, 2015
Just hours after I agreed to sponsor Bishops Lydeard chap and Taunton Town player Graham Mercieca, he scores in TTFC’s 3-0 win over Didcot! Nice one, guys.
January 3rd, 2015
Snuck out, just before Christmas, was the news that Somerset County Council is to receive £1m LESS than the already massively slashed level of Government funding that had been anticipated. Ever since being elected I have called repeatedly on the Conservative administration at SCC to mount a vigorous public campaign for equivalent Government funding to that received by our urban counterparts (see here for an example). Each time they have refused. They claim to believe that “private pressure” is a more successful means of bringing about fair funding for Somerset. Well the final nail was banged into that particular coffin with the news that not only did we fail to gain any sort of rebalancing at all, we actually got an even bigger cut than planned. Either the “private pressure” they claim never really happened or they’re just not very good at that either.
Before these funding decisions were made, 119 Council leaders from across England and the political spectrum wrote calling for an end to the savage cuts imposed by Government on council budgets. Yes, 119! But not Somerset’s John Osman. He waited until after the announcement had been made to make any public call for fair funding for Somerset. While I’m naturally pleased that he’s come round to my position on this, it’s deeply disappointing that he made no effort to mount a concerted public campaign BEFORE next year’s funding was announced. This is typical of how Somerset Conservatives have sold us down the river in recent years. The current crisis in Children’s Services is not gong to be fixed with yet more budget cuts. How are we going to deal with looking after vulnerable elderly people with a further £1m cut when we are already heading for a yearly shortfall of £8.5m in adult social care? I remain of the view that the Conservative administration is wedded to the ideology of creating a tiny council doing as little as possible, regardless of the impact on people. Not one of Somerset’s Conservative MPs voted against the funding package that disadvantages the county. But don’t think that the LibDems are any better; none of them voted against it either. Why not? Because party orders whip them into line like obedient pets. This is why we need a fresh approach – an independent MP for Taunton Deane, free to stand up for our interests and not hamstrung by extreme ideology and party orders.