Clive Betts MP for Sheffield South East said,
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
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.”
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
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..”
Clive Betts MP [Sheffield South East] said today that the claim that Sheffield lost £222 million in housing investment over the last decade, because receipts from council house sales were subsumed into a national pot, was simply ludicrous.
The claim was made by Councillor Penny Baker, the SCC Cabinet member for Housing, Regeneration and Planning in The Star. 
In a letter to The Star , Clive Betts points out that the total of housing grants which Sheffield received from government far outweighed this figure.
Clive Betts has also written to Coun Baker  asking her to set out the detailed comparisons over the last decade and to make these figures public.
We should always welcome a review, because it’s important to know whether a policy is efficient, effective and responsive.
That’s why I have no problem with the new Home Secretary Theresa May’s announcement that she is launching a review of anti-social behaviour policies. My problem was with her speech which accompanied the launch.
Rarely have I read a speech which was so littered with factual inaccuracies, so distorting of recent history, so fatuous in the analysis, so out of touch with reality on the ground in local communities. That should concern all of us.
Theresa May said:
• “she would judge success on whether or not crime and ASB fell.” Well, crime and anti-social behaviour have fallen significantly under the very policies she is now proposing to abolish – crime fell 47% between 1997 and 2009
• “people’s fear of anti-social behaviour had increased” – the British Crime Survey, regarded by all the experts as the best measure of crime trends, has just reported that public perception of anti-social behaviour is at its lowest since records began
• “anti-social behaviour orders don’t work because so many people breached them”. She clearly failed to understand that ASBOs are not the first intervention to stop bad behaviour. Other methods are tried first. Even then, the National Audit Office and the Audit Commission Labour’s approach to ASB worked with 65% of behaviour desisting after the first intervention and 93% after the third.
• “ASBOs criminalise young people” – ASBOs are not part of the criminal law, which is why it has been easier to take action, rather than with possible criminal law alternatives which have stricter standards of proof
• “ASBOs should go because some young people wear them as a badge of pride”. How fatuous can you get? In my youth, some of those who’d been to borstal or detention centre also used to brag about their record. The only impact was on the small minority of their friends who were stupid enough to believe this was something to be admired. The vast majority of young people think their behaviour is contemptible and their bravado foolish.
As she has already announced cuts in the budgets for the police (police on the streets will fall) and diversionary activities for young people, restrictions in police powers to use the DNA database and restrictions on CCTV, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Theresa May, like the Conservative governments of the 1980s and 90s, wants crime and anti-social behaviour to increase again.
Perhaps she should be served with an ASBO before she can do any more damage?
CLIVE BETTS MP (SHEFFIELD SOUTH EAST)
In today’s episode of the Forgemasters’ saga:
• Vince Cable (Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills) provided a Written Ministerial Statement, and
• Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister) answered more questions in the House of Commons
Clive Betts MP (Sheffield South East) described the Written Ministerial Statement as a clear admission that “all the previous Government explanations had been simply wrong or grossly misleading.”
Clive Betts said:
“So far, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Secretary and Ministers of State for Business, Innovation and Skills have given a range of reasons for reneging on the agreed loan to Forgemasters. Not one of those reasons holds up to scrutiny.
They’ve said ‘The loan was a bouncing cheque’ – now confirmed to be untrue.
They’ve blamed Forgemasters’ shareholders for scuppering a deal because they ‘didn’t want to dilute the value of their shares’ – simply and demonstrably untrue.
They’ve said ‘If it’s such a good investment, there’d be no problem with getting a commercial loan’ – just demonstrating an ignorance of commercial reality.
It’s been alleged that ‘the loan is illegal under EU rules’. It isn’t.
They’ve said ‘It’s a grant we can’t afford’, when they know that what was offered was a loan, repayable with interest, which would have made a profit for the government.
They’ve said ‘It was a politically-influenced assessment’. They know that is untrue. The proposal was independently assessed over an 18 month period by the Industrial Development Advisory Board, as well as by the Treasury, and recommended on three separate occasions as a good value-for-money proposal. We also know that it scored more highly as a good investment than other schemes that have been approved.
What we do know is that the only documented political influence on the decision-making process has come from Yorkshire’s biggest Conservative Party donor, who failed to disclose his own business and financial interests in scuppering the deal when he secretly lobbied Government Ministers.”
Clive Betts then commented on Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s response to questions from Jack Dromey MP in the House of Commons today.
Clive Betts said:
“I was interested to note that Nick Clegg shifted the Government’s ground yet again today.
Nick Clegg said
“…..we are willing to look carefully at all proposals ….when the future availability of public funds becomes clearer after the completion of the spending review….the issue was the lack of affordability in this year’s current Budget…….”
This is a completely new formulation of the Government’s position. And, in his statement today, Vince Cable finally admitted ‘this is a worthwhile project.’
Taking these statements together, one can only conclude that the Government at last recognises that it made the wrong decision, has made a complete hash of seeking to justify it, and is now trying to provide itself with some wriggle-room in order to provide itself with the cover to revisit the issue later in the year.”
Clive Betts concluded:
“This has become a political issue only because of the crass way in which the new coalition government has dealt with it so far.
We all need to remember that the proposed investment was to enable a successful and innovative British company become a world leader in a growth sector of the 21st century economy.
That investment would be good for jobs, good for the national economy, good for exports, good for the balance of trade, and especially good for Sheffield and the regional economy.
That’s why I will continue to work hard for a solution.”
Information for Editors:
Vince Cable’s Written Ministerial Statement is attached.
Nick Clegg’s response to Jack Dromey MP is set out below:
T3.  Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): On 22 June, the Deputy Prime Minister told the House that the decision not to proceed with the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters was a consequence of the reluctance of the shareholders to dilute their shareholding. Today, a written statement from the Business Secretary clarifies that it was an issue of affordability. The Government have announced a £1 billion regional growth fund. Were the company to make a fresh application, will the Deputy Prime Minister give an undertaking to the House that it will be considered as a matter of priority, and will he support it as a Sheffield Member of Parliament?
The Deputy Prime Minister: In the written statement to which the hon. Gentleman alludes, the Business Secretary concludes:
“We have made clear that we stand ready to work closely with the company as it pursues its ambitions and we are willing to look carefully at all proposals, as we would for any project”
from any other company
“when the future availability of public funds becomes clearer after the completion of the spending review.”
The hon. Gentleman will know that the issue was the lack of affordability in this year’s current Budget, because we discovered when we came into government that the previous Government had promised £9 billion more than departmental budgets. That was wrong. That is why it was wrong for Government Ministers at the time to write out cheques that they knew would bounce.
Under the last Conservative government in the 1990s, the number of police officers was cut and crime increased dramatically. Further, lack of investment in modern technology and policing systems meant that our police forces were easily amongst the least efficient and effective organisations.
Since 1997, there has been an increase police numbers – and, more importantly, the number of police on the beat and not hidden away in back offices – the introduction of new laws to tackle anti-social behaviour (nearly all opposed by the Liberal Democrats) and modern crime, and a requirement of all police forces to work with other agencies to tackle crime.
The result has been a significant cut in crime, as recorded by both crime statistics – those reported to the police – and the British Crime Survey – which interviews more than 40,000 people each year on their actual experience of crime. The recently published Survey for 2009 suggested that crime fell again by 9 per cent last year to reach its lowest level since 1981; similarly, recorded crime fell by 8%.
But this doesn’t mean that policing can’t be significantly more efficient. You don’t need years of police training and an advanced driving certificate to escort wide loads on the motorway. And, it’s highly unlikely that having a pointed head and big feet are essential pre-requisites for efficiently and effectively investigating internet fraud.
As reports from the Chairman of the Audit Commission and the Chief Inspector of Constabulary have pointed out this month, there is considerably more to be done to get better value for money in policing. But this will require further investment in technology and systems’ reviews. As both of them confirmed, this won’t happen with a 25% cut in police funding as suggested in the right-wing coalition’s emergency budget.
And now, the Conservative Home Secretary is proposing the replacement of local police authorities by a single elected official. It’s no surprise that this is overwhelmingly opposed by both Chief Constables and by councillors of all political parties. There is not a single shred of evidence to support the view that this will improve local policing; but, there is all the evidence to suggest that this will compromise the operational independence of police forces.
Clive Betts MP
Sheffield’s Labour MPs are keeping up the pressure on the Government to reach an early decision on the Forgemasters’ loan.
Today, on behalf of Sheffield Labour MPs – Paul Blomfield, David Blunkett, Meg Munn, Angela Smith and himself – Clive Betts MP (Sheffield South East) has written to Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, urging an early decision to confirm the previous government’s decision to award an £80 million loan to Forgemasters towards the procurement and installation of a new forging press.
The letter reads:
It is with real concern that, as Sheffield MPs, we learnt of the Government’s decision to review a decision of the previous Government to support an £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters, enabling them to purchase a major new forging press.
The purpose of the forging press – and the reason that the previous Government agreed to support its purchase – is to put Sheffield Forgemasters in a unique position to win worldwide contracts to produce essential parts for the replacement nuclear power stations that will be required internationally over the next few years. Linked to the Government investment in the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, it will provide the basis for the development of related manufacturing which will bring investment and new jobs to the local region. The press will also put Forgemasters in a unique position to gain contracts for other major castings, for example in the renewable energy sector.
As there is no other company, outside Japan and Korea, capable of producing forgings of such a size, any withdrawal of support for this loan will simply transfer the work and jobs abroad. It will also have the effect of taking work away from companies in the supply chain, such as Davy Markham which is also based in Sheffield, and remove the potential of increased export markets for these and other British companies.
Given the obviously long lead in times for such investment, and the fact that Forgemasters are already developing their plans on the basis of the previous Government’s support, it is absolutely essential that the Government not only come to a correct decision but a speedy decision as well. Indeed, Forgemasters are committing resources on the understanding that interim funding will be available very soon.
We look forward to a reply indicating that the support for Forgemasters will be confirmed.
David Blunkett said:
“The original application from Forgemasters went through a lengthy and detailed appraisal process. The decision of the previous Government to make the loan was taken after the investment in the project provided good value-for-money – for the government and the company, and for Sheffield and the UK. A positive decision to confirm this loan needs to be taken as quickly as possible.”
Paul Blomfield said:
“This loan levers in a massive amount of private investment – not just at Forgemasters, but at a large number of other manufacturing companies, such as Davy Markham, which would form part of the supply chain.”
Clive Betts said:
“Taken together with the considerable private sector and government investment in the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, the investment at Forgemasters provides the basis for the development of cutting-edge manufacturing and new jobs in Sheffield and the local region.”