Betts on Forgemasters

Clive Betts MP [Sheffield South East] said today

“The All-Party Business Select Committee has delivered a devastating rebuttal of the reasons given by Nick Clegg and Vince Cable for cancelling the Forgemasters’ loan.

Nick Clegg and Vince Cable said the former Labour government had pushed through the loan for electoral reasons.

The Select Committee said the loan application had followed all the normal procedures and had been signed off by the Permanent Secretary and the Treasury.

Nick Clegg and Vince Cable said the former Labour government has pushed through the loan when there was no money to finance it.

The Select Committee said that former Ministers signed off the loan in the full knowledge that it could be funded.

Nick Clegg and Vince Cable said cuts had to be made in the Business budget and, therefore, the Forgemasters’ loan was unaffordable.

The Select Committee said that Ministers had a choice about where the axe would fall, that they had given the go-ahead to other projects where there was no contractual commitment to do so, that no substantial comparative cost-benefit analysis was undertaken on those non-contractually committed projects and that the Sheffield Forgemasters loan was cancelled simply because it was identified as an easy cost saving.

Nick Clegg and Vince Cable said the loan was inappropriate because Forgemasters was unwilling to dilute equity.

The Select Committee said that Forgemasters’ board members were willing to dilute equity and that this formed part of the loan agreement.”

Clive Betts continued:
“The All-Party Select Committee has demolished every reason that Nick Clegg and Vince Cable gave for cancelling the Forgemasters’ loan. They should apologise to Forgemasters and to the people of Sheffield.

It is now incumbent upon them to urgently consider a further application from Forgemasters. That would be in the interests of the UK and Sheffield economies.”

Betts says Local Government Financial Settlement is Bad News for Sheffield

Following the Government’s announcement of the Local Government Financial Settlement, Clive Betts MP  and Chair, Communities and Local Government Select Committee said:

“This is bad news for Sheffield. The government published misleading financial information yesterday, when it suggested that the cuts were only some 4% nationally and that Sheffield would be getting an 8% cut in grant.

When assumptions about council tax receipts and the additional money for social care are taken into account, Sheffield has been given a grant cut of 14.54% in 2011/12 and a further 6.44% cut in 2012/13.

This is a settlement which has switched government grant from the North to the South, from poorer communities to wealthy communities, and from urban areas to rural areas.

As Sheffield City Council’s Liberal Democrat Leader has said he would only campaign against the cuts if SCC lost more than 15%, I can only assume he thinks that a 14.54% cut is a good deal for Sheffield. I think the vast majority of people will disagree.

This will undoubtedly have a considerable negative impact on services and jobs in both the public and private sectors in Sheffield.”

Clive Betts continued:

“Even Tony Travers – independent local government finance expert at the London School of Economics, and an adviser to the all-Party Communities and Local Government Select Committee – has been moved to describe the settlement as

‘A Conservative heartlands settlement which it would be difficult to describe as a progressive redistribution of resources.’

The government is planning to move £29bn on 2011 and £27bn in 2012 from urban to rural areas.”

What Big Society?

This week’s best joke came from a colleague, who rang the Liberal Democrat headquarters and asked for a copy of their manifesto. “We’ve sold out” came the reply. “Yes,” he responded “I know you’ve sold out, but can I have a copy of the manifesto?”

David Cameron has been making much of his promise to make a Big Society, and it all sounds very good. He’s been raising expectations of what voluntary organisations and volunteers – now called ‘the third sector’ should deliver in contributing to a better society.

However, all that appears to be being fatally undermined by the massive cuts, both by central and local government, being made to voluntary organisations which will damage the capacity of those organisations to deliver their part. In addition, the VAT increase will cost voluntary organisations about £150m a year.

Where David Cameron and I also part company is that he has a Downton Abbey view of society, where people have to rely on charity handouts as a substitute for good quality local public services.

For me, the Big Society is one where we are all enabled to make out contributions to make our country and our local communities a better society. Public services and voluntary contributions should be working together – the latter is not a substitute for the former. Co-operatives, friendly societies, trades unions and voluntary organisations have all thrived best when they have been seen as complimentary to the state, not as alternatives.

Between 1997 and 2010, central government support to the voluntary sector more than doubled to £12 billion. Now, as part of its deficit reduction programme, that support is being cut dramatically. Most local authorities have yet to determine where their big cuts are going to be made but, last week, two local authorities – one Conservative-controlled and the other with a Liberal Democrat majority – announced that they would be cutting grants to local voluntary organisations by 40%. This doesn’t bode well for a Big Society, let alone a better society.

So, here are some tests for the coalition government’s Big Society policy over the next 4 years. Will inequality increase or decrease? Will the number of poor households rise or fall? Will the number of charities rise or fall? Will the standard of our public services get better or worse?

UK Parliament FC V Show Racism the Red Card Select XI

I was very pleased to get the opportunity today, to take part in a special football match organised by the charity, Show Racism the Red Card. The event was held at Millwall FC and saw a team of ex-professional footballers take on the UK Parliament Football Club. Despite losing the game 4-1 I thorughly enjoyed it and it was great to be able to show my support for such a worthwhile campaign.

Sheffield Labour MPs demand an investigation into the Proposed AugustaWestland Loan

Sheffield Labour MPs have today (12th Nov 2010) called on the Business Select Committee to investigate the proposed loan to AugustaWestland.  Repeatedly, the MPs have been told the loan to Forgemasters was cancelled because it was unaffordable, now they have found out the department has found £32million for a loan to Augusta Westland

They are calling on the committee to include this loan in the investigation it is currently carrrying out into the cancelled loan to Forgemasters.

Clive Betts MP for Sheffield South East said,

“The whole issue of the loan for Sheffield Forgemasters has been beset by constantly changing explanations from Government for the reason for withdrawal, it is now time for the Government to come clean. If lack of affordability was the final explanation for terminating the Forgemasters loan how can the money suddenly be found for assistance to another company only a few weeks later”

Commenting , Angela Smith MP for Penistone & Stocksbridge said,

While I welcome this investment in the UK’s manufacturing base, serious questions need to be asked as to how the government has now managed to find £32million when they have repeatedly claimed that the investment in Forgemasters is unaffordable. 
The rationale behind this loan to Augusta Westland needs to be examined and the investigation the select committee is already carrying out into the cancelled Forgemasters loan is the place that should be done.  BIS cannot say the Forgemasters loan is unaffordable and then authorise a loan to another company. There is either money available or there isn’t.

David Blunkett, MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, said:

“There may be absolutely nothing untoward about the way in which the Augusta Wetland application was handled, but the contrast with the clear politicisation and confusion from senior government ministers of the refusal of the Forgemasters loan requires true transparency if we are to be able to trust coalition ministers with any major industrial investment decisions for the future.”

Even more worrying is the fact that the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws, is the MP for Yeovil, which is where the Augusta Westland factory is located. It is known from parliamentary questions he lobbied for the loan; it is unclear however how much influence he had over the approval of the loan during his time as Chief Secretary.
The MPs have now written to both the BIS select committee to ask for an investigation and also to the Secretary of State for BIS asking why this loan has been approved when he cancelled the loan to Forgemasters on affordability grounds.

They are also seeking clarification of the first point at which Augusta Westland applied for a loan, whether they approached their local Member of Parliament at that time (and if not when such an approach was made), and what due diligence was undertaken by the Department before approving the loan.

Free electricity …. a good deal?

If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

That aphorism needs to be at the forefront of our minds whenever we’re offered what looks like a really good deal. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a good deal to be done. It does mean that we need to ensure we’ve asked all the important questions and satisfied ourselves about the answers before we sign on the dotted line.

Have you been offered free electricity?

Last week, I attended a really useful session about micro-generation organised by Consumer Focus. They’ve done a very good piece of work in recent months on npower who overcharged customers for gas supplies, which is why many residents who bought their gas from npower have been receiving cheques for rebates in the last few days. It’s probably because Consumer Focus has done such a good job that the government is closing it down!

But, back to micro-generation. Since April this year, electricity suppliers have had to pay a feed-in tariff (also known as ‘clean energy cash-back’) to people who generate their own renewable electricity.

There aren’t many of those, you might think. And you’d be correct. However, a number of organisations are now offering free solar panels to some households and businesses, including in our area. The deal is that the home-owner or business gets free electricity and the organisation takes the income for the surplus electricity produced and fed into the national grid.

Well, free electricity sounds like a really good deal, doesn’t it? And it could be.

But, just think about these questions:
• What are the guarantees about electricity production?
• What happens if the kit stops working?
• Will it affect my mortgage?
• Do I need planning permission or building regulations approval?
• What happens if I want to sell my house but the buyer doesn’t want the kit?
• Who is responsible for any damage to neighbouring properties during installation?
• What happens if the organising company goes out of business?

And there are many, many more.

So, before you sign up to the free electricity deal, make sure you do your homework.

I’m putting some advice on my website. You can also get advice from the Energy Saving Trust.

Clive Betts MP

Youth Sports Slashed in South-East Sheffield: Cuts to sports are too fast and too deep, says Betts

Clive Betts MP [Sheffield South East] warned today that youth and school sports in Sheffield face huge cuts as a result of this week’s Government spending review.

Clive Betts said that the scale of the Coalition’s cuts, announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review, to youth and school sports threaten to reverse the huge advances achieved over the past decade.

Clive Betts said
”The Con-Dem coalition government has announced plans to withdraw the extra money that all recognised specialist schools receive to promote their specialist activity.

This includes specialist sports schools. There are four in Sheffield; two of them – Handsworth Grange Community Sports College and Westfield Sports College – in South-East Sheffield.

This additional ring-fenced funding is £129 per pupil per year. Westfield Sports College is getting nearly £177,000 this year. This additional money is simply being taken away.

Further, the Institute for Financial Studies has now concluded that ‘real-terms spending on school pupils will decrease by 2.25% over the next four years’, even with the inclusion of the pupil premium. So, specialist sports schools are going to get a double whammy.”

Clive Betts continued:

“The government is also scrapping Labour’s guarantee of five hours of PE and sport to young people. Every local school will lose thousands of pounds provided for PE.

Parents want to see their children competing on the pitch, in the pool or in the gym because youth sport is also the best way of keeping youngsters fit, healthy and out of trouble.

I’m sure local parents and coaches will be appalled to see the damage David Cameron and Nick Clegg are about to do to youth sport.

Over the last decade, we’ve made significant progress in levels of participation, including the resurgence of competitive sport. And, here in Sheffield, we have superb sports facilities which thousands of children enjoy using each and every week of the year.

Ten years ago, just one in five local children did five hours of sport a week. After years of extra investment more than nine out of ten do so today”

Clive Betts added:
“This is just the start of major cuts in support for young people and support. It is inevitable that there will be further cuts in youth provision supported by the City Council, because of the huge reduction in government grant announced this week.”

Further information:
In the Spending Review, the government announced that it is:
• Scrapping Labour’s commitment to give a guaranteed five hours per week of PE and Sport to young people, reverting to a basic two hours per week;
• Tearing up Labour’s Sports Strategy for young people
• Cutting almost £160 million of funding for sport in schools;
• Withdrawing government funding for the Youth Sport Trust; and
• Ending the specialist status of sports schools and colleges. This removes their ring-fenced annual funding (£129 per pupil per year). The money will revert to the central schools budget and be re-distributed amongst all secondary schools.

Sheffield has 4 specialist sports schools:
• All Saints Catholic High School
• Handsworth Grange Community Sports College
• Westfield Sports College
• Wisewood School and Community Sports College

Never let the facts get in the way of a good headline

In the last few weeks, we’ve all been treated to media headlines about government plans to ‘slash the number and budgets of quangos’. I expect most people’s immediate response was to think that was a good thing. But, all is not as it seems.

Why do we have quangos? There are different types:
• where government control of decisions would be wrong – like the Crown Prosecution Service
• executive agencies, which are given a degree of operational control to drive innovation and efficiency – like the Land Registry
• advisory bodies – like the Low Pay Commission, which makes recommendations on the minimum wage
• executive bodies – like the British Museum.

Anyone reading the headlines would think they’ve been growing like topsy. They haven’t. There were 1128 in 1997 and 752 now – a cut of 40%. And, last year, the Labour government announced plans to cut another 140, with a budget saving of £500m. That is as it should be – government must continually review ways in which it can be efficient, effective and responsive.

So, what’s the problem? Well, the Conservatives promised in their manifesto to set up 20 new quangos and, then, in the emergency budget, to slash spending on quangos. But last week, as more and more information came to light that their proposals wouldn’t actually do what they said, the government minister responsible, Francis Maude, told us that ‘the main purpose was to increase accountability’.

It is now clear that the proposals were designed to produce lots of populist headlines – certainly achieved – but that they hadn’t been thought through.

Let me take just one example from my area of special interest. Completely out of the blue and with no consultation, Eric Pickles announced that he was going to abolish the Audit Commission and save £50m.

The Audit Commission is responsible for auditing the accounts of councils, health authorities and other public bodies. That work still has to be done in the future, so Mr Pickles says it will be done by private-sector auditors instead. Well, all the evidence, from tendering exercises over the last 10 years, tells us that that is going to cost more.

The Commission has also driven the really successful performance improvement programme. That may go to the National Audit Office, but it won’t cost any less.

And, now it has been revealed that, instead of saving £50m, the way in which Mr Pickles is proposing to wind up the Commission may actually cost £200m.

I’ve already asked a number of Parliamentary Questions to try to get all the facts on the table. The Select Committee, which I chair, will certainly be investigating further.

But, the real lesson is that good headlines are no substitute for good government.

CLIVE BETTS MP [Sheffield South East]


Clive Betts MP [Sheffield South East] has attacked the ConDem Government proposal to impose a Mayor on Sheffield without them being directly elected and without local people having a say.

Local Government Minister, Bob Neill, confirmed last week that mayors would be created in 12 cities, including Sheffield, with “a vote held at a later date to ask whether local people wanted to stick with the arrangement that their council would be led by a Mayor” who had not even been directly elected.

Bob Neill said the Government will simply make existing council leaders into mayors. There would not be a referendum first as to whether local people even wanted a change to a Mayor leading the City Council, rather than a council leader as at present.

Clive Betts said

“This news will astound anyone who has heard Eric Pickles expounding the virtues of localism. It is now quite clear that his version of localism is ‘local people implementing what Mr Pickles has decided.’

The last Labour government gave local people the ability to choose whether they wanted a Directly-Elected Mayor or a Leader and Cabinet model for their local council.

In Sheffield recently, after wide consultation, it was shown that there was little support for a change to the Directly-elected Mayor model. It is astonishing arrogance for this ConDem government to now go on and impose this arrangement, flying in the face of the expressed views of Sheffield people.

It shows that Mr Pickles just doesn’t trust local people to take decisions for their own areas.”

Clive Betts, who is also Chairman of the House of Commons’ Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, continued:
“In some places – like Hackney, Lewisham and Newham – the Mayoral model has proved highly successful because of the calibre of the Mayors who have been elected.

In other places – like Doncaster – independent evaluation has shown that the Mayor is simply not up to the job.

The Select Committee will be examining all aspects of the Localism agenda..”