LED Street lights must be rolled out

LED Street Light at Whittington Level Crossing
Sodium Lights on Station Road, Whittington
Inefficient and costly Sodium Lights on Station Road, Whittington

Last week Powys Council announced that they will be replacing their existing street lights with LED Street Lights. They will be spending £1.5 million to replace over 5,000 street lights. Staffordshire council is doing the same and Herefordshire completed their switch to LED last year. Yet sleepy Conservative-led Shropshire Council are… errmm… doing nothing!

Currently, Shropshire Council is trialling the use of LED street lights. (There is one of these LED Lights on Station Road in Whittington.) However, they are making a costly mistake by not rolling out the more economically efficient LED lights. At present, Shropshire Council considers that the capital cost of swapping their lights is too high and are hoping that the cost of the lights comes down.

“…a significant number of columns are presently posing an unacceptable risk and are in urgent need of replacement” Shropshire Council, Challenge Fund Bid 2015

In my view, this is a very poor decision. When you consider that 88% of the lights are made of decaying concrete or that 44% are over 25 years old and 14% are over 50!! Shropshire Council said in 2015 that data to May 2014 showed that a significant proportion of the 4,060 light tested presented an “unacceptable risk and are in urgent need of replacement.” They identified that 252 needed immediate replacement and an additional that 2,347 needed replacement by 2017/18.  So 65% of those tested needed replacing presenting an “unacceptable risk and are in urgent need of replacement.”

They could use some of their £175 million cash reserves or they could borrow the capital cost from the Government’s Green Investment Bank, given that interest rates are still at historically low levels. Either way, replacement is increasingly inevitable anyway.  It is economic madness to do nothing when the long-term on-going savings are huge and the obvious benefits to public safety are widely accepted.

LED Street Light at Whittington Level Crossing
Energy efficient, safer and less light polluting LED Street Light at Whittington Level Crossing

In 2014 The Government invited all Highways Authorities in England, including Shropshire Council, to submit bids for a slice of the £275 million Challenge Fund. 28 authorities were successful in meeting the fund’s criteria and putting forward the strongest bids. Shropshire’s bid in 2015 was unsuccessful. Arguably because their bid lacked ambition. They only wanted to replace lights over 35 years old. Other similar bids were bidding to modernise the whole network. This failure left Shropshire with its old and inefficient street lighting. Fast forward 2 years and many many authorities are putting Shropshire to shame, investing to save considerable money on their energy bills.

Safer, Brighter, Cleaner and Cheaper

Just like domestic LED lights used in your home, there is an initial capital cost to replace the lights. However, the ongoing savings thanks to their longer life expectancy and replacement costs, and the direct savings in terms of power consumption. This means that the year on year savings quickly outway the initial capital cost. Using LED Streetlights also has the upside of improved lighting, reducing crime and improving safety for both pedestrians and road users alike. Due to the more directional lighting, they also reduce light pollution in the night sky and aren’t as much a nuisance to residential property. They also contribute to reduced Carbon Dioxide emissions, don’t use dangerous heavy metals or emit UV radiation.

Street lights in Shropshire use enough power to light every house in Whittington Parish

According to Shropshire Council, it takes 7.7 million kilowatt-hours of power to run their 18,500 street lights, illuminated signs and traffic signals every year – enough to power 2,600, or every home in Whittington Parish, for a year! Annually they spend £800,000 on repairing and renewing Street Lighting. The electricity consumed by an ‘average’ light costs between £25 and £65 a year.  Both the capital replacement and maintenance cost and the energy costs could be radically cut by switching.

According to a  market report by the UK Green Investment Bank in February 2014:

  • Councils spend 30% of their total annual energy bill on Street Lighting;
  • Savings of 50%-80% can be achieved by switching to LED lights;
  • LED lights have a life expectancy of 24 years and last for 100,000 hours;
  • Standard Sodium lights last for 15,000 hours;
  • Fluorescent lights last for 25,000 hours;
  • LED Lights are directional making sure the light only goes where it is needed.
  • Old lights disperse light everywhere, with as much as 30% going upwards;
  • Old lights offer poor lighting leaving many dark areas;
  • Old lights are a nuisance near residential windows.

Elsewhere…

It doesn’t take much searching on Google to see how everywhere else is getting on with upgrading:

Cheshire East Council are upgrading 24,000 street lights to LED

Kent County Council decided to replace all 118,000 of their lights with LED lights and project an annual saving of £5.2 million a year on their electricity consumption.

Bracknell Forest are replacing 13,000 street lights and expect to save £12 million over the life of the lights

Herefordshire Council has already replaced most of their 12,000 lights. They expect to see a return after 5 years and savings of over £16 million on their energy and maintenance costs over the next 20 years.

Darlington Borough Council converting 11,884 street lights to energy efficient LED lights.

UK Green Investment Bank plc (GIB) has agreed a £6.8m Green Loan with the Barking and Dagenham London Borough Council that could save the council up to £21m.

Doing nothing is not acceptable

According to Shropshire’s challenge Fund bid, the annual energy saving would be about £300,000 a year. That is £300,000 that can be reinvested in services, reinvested in the Street Light network or to reduce council tax levels. Over the lifetime of the new lights (24 years) that saving would be about £7.2 million of energy savings. With rising energy prices that saving figure has to be considered a conservative estimate. Given that many of the new light would last beyond that lifetime, the savings could be considerably more. At a time when money is tight, these are precious savings that need to be made

Given the environmental benefits, the “unacceptable risk” of column failure and the significant ongoing savings, doing nothing is not acceptable.

Shropshire school budgets cut by £13.4m according to NUT

Last week the National Union of Teachers announced the estimated cuts to every School Budget by 2020. Based on current Government policies, the total estimated reduction across all schools in Shropshire in real terms is:

-£13,431,854

This is a vast sum which amounts to a Shropshire average of £394 cut Per pupil or 360 Teachers axed. As a former County Councillor and Cabinet member with an Education portfolio, I find these numbers quite depressing and very short-sighted.

A good education is a critical factor in not only an individual’s personal life chances but also essential in terms of the nation’s ability to create wealth. By starving schools of the resources they need, standards will go down and ultimately we are all poorer. Especially in a post-Brexit world, we need to invest heavily in Education and supporting all of our industries to adjust to the new demands facing the economy. Get this wrong and the long-term problems for the economy will mount up. After Brexit, we need to be as competitive as we can as we will be competing on our own against the rest of the world. On many measures of education, skills, and productivity we already lag far behind many leading economies.

Individual school cuts for schools serving Whittington and West Felton

The Corbet School Technology College: -£306,734, -£463 Per pupil or -7 Teachers
West Felton CofE: -£29,416, -£246 Per pupil or -1 Teaching assistant
The Marches School: -£522,032, -£428 Per pupil or -15 Teachers
Whittington CofE-£66,382, -£323 Per pupil or -1 Teachers

According to the NUT: “Unless the Government allocates more money, schools will lose £3 billion a year in real terms by 2020.

“98% of schools’ costs are rising faster than their income.

“60% of secondary schools are running deficit budgets.”

More: http://www.schoolcuts.org.uk/

NHS Crisis – Governement in denial

David walker outside RJ&AH Hospital under threat of cuts to services including the Maternity Unit

Just about everybody knows the NHS is in crisis, apart from the Government it seems. For years the problems have been mounting and successive Governments have been content to pass the buck, tinker around the edges and allow the demands on the NHS and A&E to escalate. The current Conservative Government has taken this to new levels, propelling a crisis into a ‘Humanitarian Crisis,’ a term more usually associated with war-torn countries,  and a term dismissed as “irresponsible and overblown” by Theresa May.

We all know people who have been caught up in delays and heard stories of bed blocking because of the failure of the social care system. A social care system also facing a similar crisis. It is widely accepted that there will be a funding gap of £30bn in the NHS by 2020, and a shortfall of around £6bn in social care, which will have serious consequences for patient care.

Last September the Liberal Democrats set a new independent commission to examine the future of the NHS and social care system. The pressure being so severe that now we need to consider how we fund the NHS and Social Care in the national interest. The new Beverage Commission made up of industry experts was asked to explore how to fund the NHS and Social care, and if a new tax was part of the mix.

The Liberal Democrats think that a new ring-fenced income tax top up of 1p in the pound to directly fund the NHS and Social Care is now needed. We also think that the NHS and Social Care should be merged into a new National Care and Health Service. Research by YouGov shows the public are open to the idea of raising money through tax or National Insurance in the face of this crisis.

Under-funding of the NHS of the scale we are seeing is a scandal of massive proportions. Patients waiting on trolleys in A&E corridors, because A&E departments are full. Two people dying on A&E trolleys in Worcester – one after waiting for 35 hours for a bed is wrong on every level and IS an outrage to humanity. Ambulances are delayed at A&E waiting to hand over patients. A&E departments shut their doors to patients more than 140 times in December in England – a 63% rise on the same period in 2015. 42 such diversions happened over Christmas Week.

Last August, 237 hours of ambulance time were lost at the Royal Shrewsbury and a further 127 lost at the Princess Royal. 364 hours in total. Every minute an Ambulance is delayed at A&E or on a diversion it has potentially life-threatening consequences if those Ambulances are not out in the field.

Whilst unnecessary A&E visits and Health Tourism are adding to the problem, the main culprit is Social care underfunding.

  • 11,980 people received social care from Shropshire in 2009
  • 5,245 people received social care from Shropshire in 2014
    or a 56% reduction.
  • 7,685 people from Shropshire asked for social care last year
  • 4,175 did not get any Social Care from Shropshire in 2015/16
    or 54% of requests were denied social care

More and more isolated elderly people are failing to get social care support and ending up in A&E with problems quality social care could have prevented. Each day 7 times more patients are admitted than are discharged. That is only going to have one outcome, and fast.

The Government has tried to paper over the cracks by moving money around from other areas to support A&E but this then means problems elsewhere in the NHS. Nationally there are Maternity Units that have been shut to provide extra A&E beds. Nationally and locally we see Maternity Units under threat and services under pressure. As the A&E crisis grows we will only see more knock-on delays and problems in the rest of the NHS and the system cracks under the pressure.

Just look at the Consultant Waiting Times at The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital: RJAH Consultant Waiting Times. If the NHS buckles under the burden of A&E and money is moved away from these services towards A&E then these times will only go up.

Last weekend Mike Adamson, British Red Cross chief executive, said:

“The British Red Cross is on the front line, responding to the humanitarian crisis in our hospital and ambulance services across the country.

By Wednesday and PMQs the story was gathering ever more momentum, so the Government tried to play it down and deflect blame with Theresa May branding the term “irresponsible and overblown.” Skillfully ignoring the fact that 400,000 elderly people are now without any social care support in their local communities, forced into A&E when they need support.  Instead simply trying to pin it all down to demographics and an ageing population. Theresa May claimed to be putting in an extra £10bn yet Sarah Wollaston, former GP and chair of the health select committee, said the real figure was closer to £4.5bn.

On Wednesday, chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, told the Public Accounts Committee that:

  • NHS spending per person was 30% less than that spent in Germany
  • £4bn of the NHS’s capital budgets – for building projects – had been raided to prop up day-to-day spending.
  • Spending in 2018-19 per person in England was going to go down

“Over the next three years spending is going to be highly constrained and in 2018-19 NHS spending per person in England is going to go down…”

‘We are not robbing Peter to pay Paul. We are robbing Paul to pay Paul,” he said.

Meanwhile, The Independent reported that: “Overcrowding in NHS hospitals has become so severe that last week more than 20 trusts issued ‘black alerts’, meaning they are unable to guarantee life-saving emergency care.”

Crisis? What Crisis says, Theresa and Jeremy. Well, it is about time they both woke up and saw what we all see…. a crisis of epic proportions. This crisis is unsustainable. At PMQs, Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem Health Spokesman called on the Prime Minister to seek an urgent cross-party solution to the health and care crisis. To this end, he has also set up a government petition here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/177055

 

Lib Dems Gain two seats and one council

Another Thursday and another set of fabulous council by-election results for the Liberal Democrats – a weekly occurrence for the Liberal Democrats in 2016 after making 28 net gains. That trend is already off to a barn-storming start to 2017.

Tonight the Liberal Democrats have taken two seats (both of tonight’s by-elections) one from the Conservatives in Three Rivers and one from Labour in Sunderland. Both with big swings to the Lib Dems.

In the week of Jeremy Corbyn’s big, disastrous, relaunch, labour lost in Sunderland with a 36% swing. It looked on paper to be a LAB/UKIP contest with the Lib Dems in 4th with 4.5% only last May. In the referendum a month later 61% voted LEAVE on June 23rd.

In Three Rivers the Lib Dems gained the seat with a swing of 23% from Conservatives to the Lib Dems. 51% voted LEAVE here during the referendum. Yet the Lib Dems stormed to victory GAINED the seat and took overall control of Three Rivers Council in the process.

Another altogether excellent day for the Liberal Democrats.

Oswestry Maternity Unit forced to close overnight

Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Hospital

Last week I read with some dismay on the Save Oswestry Maternity Unit Facebook page and subsequently on the Save Bridgnorth Maternity Unit page that the units were going to close because of Staff shortages in Telford. The obvious concern being that this is a cynical strategy to undermine the midwife-led units and soften up protests to the idea of them becoming Birthing Centres. You may recall that Birthing Centres aren’t staffed overnight, where women in Labour must call the units to arrange for them to be opened or place an emergency call for an ambulance to take them A&E, which we all know are facing massive pressures already. Crazy.

The Bridgnorth Group have a meeting set up with Philip Dunn MP who might offer assistance as a Government Health Minister. I hope I am wrong but I expect platitudes and little or no action. Shropshire’s MPs have failed miserably to defend Shropshire’s Corner and ensure Shropshire got it’s fair share under the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) allocation. If Shropshire had received the same STP Allocation as Cornwall then Shropshire’s NHS services would have been better off to the tune of an extra £200m! Cornwall has a similar population to Shropshire but was allocated 24% more money. Shropshire’s Leaders asleep at the wheel it seems.

Shropshire Star article on the closures from last Friday:

Read the Oswestry Advertiser take on the closures below:

 

If you haven’t signed the petitions of the Government website yet here are the links to both petitions:

Save Oswestry Maternity Unit

Save Bridgnorth and Ludlow Maternity Units

Both petitions are currently running at just under 1,500 signatures at the time of writing this.

Bollards! Confused Leadership or Confused thinking?

Reading this article in the Advertiser I was staggered on two levels.
First, that Shropshire Council is thinking of spending £50k on an automated bollard when that money may be better spent elsewhere to improve the appearance and overall shopping experience in Oswestry or to improve parking, traffic circulation and shopper footfall.

Secondly, and more worryingly that the Deputy Leader and the man in charge of Business and the Economy is at odds with the Council Officers he is err supposed to be leading. He seems to be in favour of opening up Cross Street to traffic – currently closed between 10 am and 4 pm Monday to Saturday. Opening up the road won’t ease congestion or improve pedestrian safety.

Opening up the road won’t ease congestion or improve pedestrian safety. Opening up the road won’t improve trade for retailers on Cross Steet. Opening up the street to traffic may allow ‘drive-by’ shopping but that isn’t really the answer. Increasing footfall will do that. To get more footfall you have to improve a host of things, not least making it a more desirable place to shop and a destination in its own right or when walking through from A  to B if it isn’t.

Whether you agree with opening up Cross Street or not what should be a priority, especially when finances are tight, is spending on things that increase leverage and revenue rather than one-off items of spending. I would argue an injection of £50k would be better spent elsewhere. If you spend it on something that makes shopping a better experience it will produce a more lasting dividend for years to come.

Back in 2002, during my time as a Town, District and County Councillor for Bridgnorth, I helped with officers and other members, to bring the £300k Bridgnorth Better Welcome Project (Inc £110k of EU money) to fruition in 2003. This investment revitalised low town, the benefits of which, are still seen today.

Getting the economy moving in the right direction and supporting business growth has to have a much higher priority than it currently has. With Business rates coming back to Shirehall this will be a hugely important stream of funding to Shropshire Council. Shropshire Council has failed to promote investment, failed o attract jobs to the area, failed to foster an entrepreneurial environment for the area and the county.  This short-sighted view means Shropshire will suffer due to his failure for years to come… More on that another time.

So the question that is the subject of this post… is this another example of confused Leadership or confused thinking? You decided, but it looks like both to me.

2016 – a year of contrasts

2016 has been an interesting year, full of contrasts and 2017 looks like being the same.

On a personal level, I have found happiness again with a relationship that has shifted my thinking considerably, caused me to turn my eyes away from my hometown of Bridgnorth towards North Shropshire again and West Felton in particular. Of these shifts is my decision to hitch my Wagon to Sandra and West Felton at the beginning of the year has resulted in another decision to stand for Shropshire Council for Whittington Ward in next May’s Elections. It is now over a decade since I was a County Councillor and my life has changed beyond recognition. Losing my seat by 38 votes & going through the wringer, several times over, in my personal life certainly changes your priorities and your perspective. Losing your wife 1 month before your 1st Wedding Aniversary and being made redundant does teach you life lessons most of us could do without learning but eventually have to. However, what doesn’t break you makes you stronger and I am a much stronger person than I have ever been before.

On a political front, we have had Brexit tear up all of the accepted political norms of left and right. The spectrum of Libertarian, freedom and openness versus Authoritarian, centralised and closed has now taken a much bigger profile in the public mood. The political establishment, both the Conservatives and Labour, are deeply divided. The polarisation through the Brexit prism will certainly make the next set of elections very interesting. To top it all off the new World Leader is a nut cluster who will only make the world a less safe place.

For the Liberal Democrats, the year has seen their star rise once more, winning a host of council by-elections in 2016, a parliamentary by-election in Richmond park and two cracking results for the Lib Dems in both Whitney and Sleaford.  So the Lib Dems have 28 Net Gains in Council by-elections with swings of over 20%. In Westmister terms, their average vote share has gone up by nearly 20% to over 30%.

Above all else lets hope 2017 is a great year and that we all can find hope and happiness again.

Foundation Stone Ceremony

Trustees and photographer, Eddie Brown

Today I attended the foundation stone ceremony for Spinners Court, as a Trustee of Bridgnorth Housing Trust. It has been a tremendous effort of the Clerk, the Chairman & all of the Trustees, particularly those including myself on the development committee and on the finance committee.

Spinners Court is the biggest project in the charities 400+ year history. The name Spinners Court was suggested by me to reflect the history of Low Town it, the ‘Spinners’ who worked at the town’s carpet factories and lived in the area and the roots of our charity. Whilst it hasn’t been easy, once the development is finished we will all be able to look back on this site with tremendous satisfaction and pride.

Spinners Court Foundation Stone

The future is bright, the future is… Liberal

Interesting couple of articles that illustrate the challenge ahead in today’s politics following the 2015 General Election. A Threat for Labour that conversely has presented an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats.

1 The Practical Guide to Centre Left schisms

2 The strange death of Labour Britain has a worrying precedent

Both articles explain how a party can fall far from grace in a short time. The Liberals in the Former and potentially Labour in the latter.

Despite the drubbing in the 2015 election the Liberal Democrats are on fire and rejuvenated. How is this possible?? To understand this you need to understand the context of British Politics today.

Society has changed beyond recognition over the last twenty years and the pace of change is faster and more dynamic than the ability of political parties to change.

The fragmentation of politics has become very pronounced where once it was a simple left and right. The big two parties of the modern era are but shadows of their former selves, leaving the ground open for other parties and for single issue campaign groups.

This isn’t just being felt by Politics. The Internet and technological changes are allowing people to interact in unimaginable ways just 10 years ago. The media faces some of the biggest challenges, more often than not having to reinvent themselves or die.

Household institutions across the board are being similarly tested. Many who stay true to what they were and carry on like they always have, have withered and died in the face of upstart competition that has adapted to today’s consumers.

The most effective and successful party in the modern arena will be the one best able to adapt and work with the natural flow and not stick to old habits that mean they are working across the public grain.

A century ago, the Liberals fragmented when they couldn’t adapt quick enough to the changes in society. Changes in society initiated by the industrial revolution and the Victorian era, fanned by the flames of the Great War and trouble in Ireland, through to the labour movement and votes for Women, were all unprecedented. Yet the Liberals changed little, failed to adapt and ultimately perished as a party of government.

Many commentators lampooned the Lib Dems immediately after the election, claiming that the Liberal Democrats had suffered a similar fate to their Liberal predecessors, destined for obscurity for a generation of more.

However, this overly simplistic narrative forgets that politics is driven by the society of the day, the effects of which can not be immediately felt or seen.

So quite perversely, some might say, the Liberal Democrats may now be in the best place to make changes and adapt their party the quickest to today’s society.

Britain at its core is a Liberal Country

YouGov-Left-Right

Britain at its core is a Liberal Country that has enshrined fairness and freedom in its values for generations. A recent poll by YouGov shows just how much the middle ground of politics has opened up for the Lib Dems. British values are generally Liberal values. Yet the electorate have for decades been presented by a simplistic choice of left and right when really most people are in the centre, in the same space that they believe the Lib Dems to exist.

Today’s society believes in a less over bearing state, individual freedom and choice, fairness and compassion, tolerance etc. These are all Liberal values.

Liberals believe in individual freedom, a less interfering or oppressive state, fairness for all – empowering everybody to be the best they can be, whilst ensuring this is applied to everybody… not just the many and most definitely not just a lucky few.

Liberalism needs reuniting. Liberalism needs reiterating and explaining.

The Lib Dems through their enforced rebirth now have a golden opportunity to win over hearts and minds of the British Electorate. No small task but recent by-election wins and the rapid surge in membership and shown the field is open for the Lib  Dems to permanently break the mold of British Politics. Lib Dems across the country now have new hope. Hope that they must enshrine through the country.

Bridgnorth Lib Dems launch new website

Bridgnorth Liberal Democrats have launched a new website at http://bridgnorthlibdems.uk/

Despite a drubbing at the General Election last May, the Lib Dems have seen a massive surge in membership, both nationally and locally. Between the Election and the close of registration to vote for the new Lib Dem Leader, there was over a 34% rise in membership – the vast majority of which had never been a Lib Dem before or been politically active. Over 18,000 have now joined the Lib Dems. Click here if you would like to join the Lib Dems and the #libdemfightback

Last week the Lib Dems elected their new Leader – Tim Farron MP – watch Tim’s first speech following his victory:

The Lib Dems are going from strength to strength at the moment. Despite only having 8 MP’s, they have already galvanised opposition blocked Conservative Legislation in the Commons and will use their strength in the Lords to do more of the same. Labour so far have been divided and weak. Since May the Lib Dems have had several by-election wins – gaining seats from the Conservatives and Labour (3 last week alone).

With renewed energy and hope the Lib Dems will be rebuilding at quite a pace.