Little Boots – Shake

I’m loving the new single from Little Boots. A perfectly formed and executed slice of electronic pop.

The missing element from Luton’s free school meals campaign

The latest edition of the council’s free newspaper, Lutonline, leads with a front page story about a new council campaign to get more people to claim for free school meals. The story claims that more than 5,000 children in Luton are missing out on the free school meals they are entitled to. So the Council wants to make sure that the number of parents claiming rises.

This is a good thing. Over recent years we have become more aware of the importance of proper nutrition in the development of children and we know that it is the poorest within society who most often find it difficult to provide a proper balanced diet. School meals can make a huge difference to this problem. So it is only right that all those who are eligible are encouraged to sign up to receive these meals for free

But why launch this campaign now?

Aside from the obvious direct benefit of getting more people to sign up for free school meals, there is another good reason why councils should be encouraging this. The number of children receiving free school meals is the basis for calculating the pupil premium. For every pupil that gets free school meals that a school has attending it receives a sum of money. In the first year it was £488.

The pupil premium is a way of directing school funding to the neediest pupils. Luton is exactly the kind of area that should be benefiting most from the pupil premium. As I have written here before in its first year it has meant £3,642,000 coming to the town’s schools. If there truly are 5,000 plus pupils who could claim free school meals but aren’t then the town is missing out on a lot of cash.

The introduction of the pupil premium is one of the flagship policies of the coalition government, and something that was insisted on by Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.

Funnily enough the article in Lutonline, published by Labour run Luton Borough Council, doesn’t mention the pupil premium at all. I wonder why?

Speaker Bercow backs Select Committee amendments proposal

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the polite parliamentary row between two Liberal Democrat MPs, Sir Alan Beith and David Heath, over proposals to give select committees the power to table amendments to legislation in their own name. This suggestion, which would strengthen the powers of backbenchers, was supported by Sir Alan but opposed, on behalf of the Government, by David Heath. At that time Government opposition was strong enough to stop the proposal moving forward.

Now it seems that the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow MP, has given his backing to the idea. Or at least deemed the idea “worth discussion”.

In a speech to the Hansard Society to mark the centenary of the 1911 Parliament Act, Speaker Bercow praised the strengthening of the independence of the select committee system that has occurred over recent years. But he argued that it was now time to strengthen the authority of select committees and had three proposals of how to do this. These were:

  • New powers to compel the attendance of witnesses
  • Greater influence over significant public appointments
  • Further ways to “link the output of select committees to the chamber itself”

It was as part of the last of these that he suggested that allowing select committee amendments should be considered. Something, I suspect, that will have caused various mutterings within government.

Boundary Commission to hold public hearings in Luton on Monday and Tuesday

I’ve blogged here about my reactions to the proposed new parliamentary boundaries for Luton that were published in September and written in detail about the proposed new seats of Luton South and Luton North and Dunstable.

Those interested in these changes should be aware that the Boundary Commission is planning to hold public hearings in Luton on Monday 7 and Tuesday 8 November at Luton Town Hall. This is your chance to have your say about what is proposed for the town, the rest of Bedfordshire, and the Commissions proposals more generally.

More details of the Luton hearing are here and more general information here.

What is the English Council for?

A couple of weeks ago I went along the annual conference of the East of England Liberal Democrats. Whilst there, after a sudden rush of blood to the head, I decided to put my name forward for the English Council of the party. This is probably the least known of the party bodies within the internal structures of the Liberal Democrats. So my motivation for doing this can best be described as ‘curiosity’.

As there were twelve candidates for eleven positions an election was to be run. So yesterday I duly knocked up the artwork for a manifesto and sent it off.

However, this morning I heard from the hyper-organised returning officer, Chris Williams, that there had been a withdrawal of one of the candidates and that consequently I had been elected. That’s the easiest (and most successful) election I’ve fought this year!

Not wanting to waste the effort however, here is what I would have said in my manifesto if it had been needed:

“I have been a member of the Liberal Democrats for over twenty years. In that time I have taken a keen interest in how the party is organised.

I’ve spoken in debates at conference about issues of party organisation. I have written about organisational matters on my blog and for Liberal Democrat Voice. I know the difference between an AO and SAO. I’ve read the Federal Constitution.

Yet even I still only have a vague idea of what the English Council does. So goodness knows what the average member knows about it, if they have even heard of it.

This is not healthy. How we organise ourselves, how we make decisions, matters. We can’t afford to have parts of the party that are obscure and that lack relevance to our campaigning. The pressure of coalition government alone makes it vital that our internal structures are effective. But how many of us can confidently say that this is the case?

I’d like to make a small contribution to putting that right. So my purpose in standing in this election is to find out what the English Council does and see where we can improve things.

So please give me your first preference and if elected I will:

  • Work for greater transparency and accountability, finding ways to report back to the wider membership.
  • Encourage greater focus on activities that support grassroots campaigning.”

Margaret Moran to stand trial in April

I’ve been a bit slow on following up on the latest on the Margaret Moran saga but we have now got a date for her trial.

I’d noted before that Moran was due to appear last Friday at Southwark Crown Court to face 21 charges of  fiddling her expenses to the tune of around £80,000. In the end she didn’t appear in person but a brief hearing set a provisional trial date for 18 April next year. A further pre trial hearing will be held in December.