Bill Lees

Don’t Be Fooled by the Smokescreen. Councillor Lisa Trickett reports on Plans to close King’s Heath’s Post Office

 

Moseley & King’s Heath Labour Party has been campaigning to save King’s Heath Post Office for some time. We first heard in the Spring that the King’s Heath branch was under threat of closure.  Sadly the Post Office has not listened to concerns, and is now pressing ahead with plans to close the Post Office in King’s Heath, and move the service into the WH Smith store further down the High Street.  What is very clear from the announced plans  is that we will be getting a significantly poorer service – but dressed up as “modernisation” – and all in the interests of cutting costs.

 

The Post Office has announced a public consultation, but what does not appear to be up for discussion is whether the busy and popular King’s Heath post office should close.  When you read what is being proposed, the talk is of “transformation”, “modernisation” and even “excellent standards of customer service”. But it is time to ask some serious questions.  We were told by the last Tory-led council administration that getting the private company Capita to run local services would “transform” those services. Having looked at the existing Capita contract, for Service Birmingham, in some detail, it is  clear that we do not have a council service that we can be proud of –  but Capita, nevertheless, seems to have a very healthy balance sheet.

Our Post Offices are first and foremost a public service. Since they’ve just sold off Royal Mail for a fraction of its true value, the Tories and Lib Dems clearly haven’t understood this.  For many people who cannot access the internet, Post Offices remain a vital resource. They should not be parcelled out as franchises as if they were fast food restaurants.

In its crusade for “modernisation” and “transformation” the Post Office says that WH Smith have:

satisfied us that they will be able successfully to run the branch in King’s Heath, by showing that they can deliver excellent standards of customer service, with trained staff promoting products and services in a modern environment…

Reassuring words, but words are really all that this assurance is. We cannot rely on easy platitudes from a business that wants simply to cut costs. As a matter of fact, independent research has shown that what happens when WH Smith “modernises” post office services is anything but a positive move.

In 2007/8 WH Smith took over the running of about 70 Crown Post Offices from the Post Office.  In November 2012, a detailed and independent study was published by Consumer Focus, that compared the performance of Crown Post Offices, franchised branches and – in particular – WH Smith franchised “Post Offices”. The report can be downloaded at the link below and is called “Are You Being Served” :  http://www.consumerfocus.org.uk/files/2012/11/Are-you-being-served1.pdf.

 

The Consumer Focus report suggests that WH Smith operated Post Offices are the worst performing operations across a range of service areas. The report compared performance of these offices to an earlier study carried out in 2009.  These findings included:

  • Queuing times in WH Smith are getting worse, so that 1 in 5 people have to queue for more than 10 minutes (in the same period average queuing time in Crown Offices reduced by more than one-third).
  • The number of queues with more than 5 people has gone up in WH Smith post office branches from 39% to 48%.
  • There are fewer counters open in WH Smith based post offices compared to Crown Offices (an average of 3.2 against 3.8).
  • When you do get to a counter, it takes longer to serve a customer in a WH Smith  post office than anywhere else.
  • When mystery shoppers tested the quality and accuracy of advice given, the advice given in a Crown Office was consistently of better quality and more accurate than in a WH Smith branch.

 

Some quotes from the report are very telling:

 

“Average queue times in WH Smith are now considerably longer than in other parts of the network.” (page 14)

“Queuing outside the Post Office area into part of WH Smiths, behind me in the queue there were 12 people queuing and only two positions and the foreign currency counter attending to people.” (page 14)

Anyone who has shopped in the WH Smith store in King’s Heath will already know what little space there is in the store as it is.  Accessibility is really important for Post Office customers, and Consumer Focus found in its report that, on average, Crown Offices are rather more accessible than WH Smith Branches.  In a small branch like King’s Heath, shoehorning in a Post Office can never deliver a “modern” properly accessible service.

One way that things might not appear to be as bad is that if the service is so dismal that people are loath to use it. My fear is that if that happens, it will lead to two possible outcomes:

  • We end up with an isolated, poor quality service that is only used by the elderly, vulnerable or other ‘socially excluded’ groups.
  • The take up of the service could be so poor that a further case is made to shut the post office in King’s Heath altogether.

 

Crown Post Offices are a vital part of our community. They are staffed by knowledgeable people, dealing with important and difficult transactions for the whole community, not least our most vulnerable members. Hiving services off into a franchise model as if our post office were a fast food restaurant selling hamburgers is a massive mistake. Please make sure that you have your say in one of the ways detailed below.

How to Have Your Say

In any response please quote the Kings Heath Branch Code, which is 02520199

You can post your comments to “FREEPOST Your Comments”

Send an email to comments@postoffice.co.uk

Use the online questionnaire at postofficeviews.co.uk

Phone 08457 22 33 44 or use Textphone 08457 22 33 55

There is also going to be a public meeting on 25th October at 7pm at The Stadium Club, West Midlands Travel Sports and Social Society, Wheelers Lane, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B13 0ST. If you cannot make a meeting at 7pm, you can drop in from 4.30pm onwards to offer your feedback on the proposals.

Unite Against Fascism : Councillor Lisa Trickett reports back from the Liverpool Demo

Lisa rotated UAFThousands of people took to the streets of Liverpool this weekend, joining the March Against Fascism. Next year, 2014 , sees European Parliamentary elections, and today’s protest in Liverpool was part of a national campaign to stop BNP leader Nick Griffin from winning a further term as an elected MEP.

The BNP represents the politics of hatred, that damages our society at large, and threatens the safety and security of individuals. We should not just stand against fascism , but against all prejudice and against any attempt to marginalise sections of our community.

Time will tell if the 2009 European Parliament Elections represented the high water mark of BNP electoral achievement. There have certainly been setbacks for them since then, and for many,Griffin’s tawdry bunch are more a cause of laughter than concern. But ridiculous as they may be, we ignore them at our cost. The BNP might just be fading away – but their ideas move on and so do the racists and the bigots that embrace them.

More than in any other part of the political spectrum, the far right has seen parties and groupings come and go like snow in the spring. The English Defence League has recently filled a vacuum that was partially created by the on-going implosion of the BNP. The resignation of Tommy Robinson as leader of the EDL is a very small step in the right direction, but should not be overstated. Robinson and the EDL have caused immense harm, and it will take more than a couple of press conferences for an allegedly repentant Robinson to be considered truly a part of decent society. Meanwhile, whether the EDL collapses or staggers on, there are still many people committed to peddling the same vile agenda.

It is vitally important to confront the extremists of the BNP and EDL. They should not be given space for their ideas and influence to grow and flourish. However, in confronting the likes of Griffin and Robinson we should not forget those that continue to feed off the same fears of ‘difference’ and ‘outsiders’. Slightly nearer the centre ground than the far right are what might be considered the “respectable” racists, even though racism can never be respectable – it’s just racism, pure and nasty. UKIP promotes a nationalism that targets Europe and immigration. The Conservatives, fearful of losing support, respond to the dog whistle headlines of the Sun and the Daily Mail, and fail to confront the inherent myths of UKIP’s rhetoric. On the contrary, they pander to it. Meanwhile, the Tories’ Lib Dem partners in Government twiddle their thumbs on the sidelines.

The reality is that although UKIP is working very hard to present a less objectionable face than the rest of the far right, they swim in the same festering pool of prejudice. Making their own pitch for the anti-immigrant vote, this week the Tory-led government has published a new Immigration Bill. In recent times there has been, on average, new immigration legislation every two years, without counting the constant tweaking and amending of existing legislation. Immigration must therefore be a serious issue, yes? The system must be falling apart? Well, actually no. Truly, the amount of time immigration as an issue takes up is out of proportion, and solely because of lazy politics. The politics of fear.

When things are not going well, politicians and their spin doctors want to make sure that we the electors know who to blame. Across Britain people are facing a cost of living crisis. So who do we blame? Do we blame the bankers – that nearly brought the global economy to its knees? Do we blame companies like Amazon, Google and others – that could pay billions more in tax to support the communities that create their profits, but – legally – choose not to?
Do we blame the Government that is focusing ‘austerity’ on families, public services and the vulnerable whilst inequality widens every day? Not if the Tory-led government gets its way – those are the very last people they want you to blame.

Who should we blame when the economy isn’t working and we have a cost of living crisis? The government says blame the disabled for receiving benefits. It says blame tenants who have a spare bedroom. The Tory-led government wants you to put the blame on hard working staff in the NHS, schools or other public services. By all means, says this government, blame immigrants.

Theresa May launched the latest Immigration Bill with an attack on ‘health tourism’. Supposedly people coming to the UK to take advantage of treatment on the NHS. She neglected to point out that to get through the ever stricter immigration system, people generally have to have a job, or world recognised skills, or a proven intention to invest heavily in the UK economy. And all of those people pay tax to support the NHS. Ms May also did not mention that so-called health tourism costs the NHS a tiny 0.01% of it’s annual budget. That’s right – for every £100 spent on the NHS, a huge1p will go on treating people who happen to be here from abroad.

The NHS faces massive budgetary challenges. This government has just wasted billions of pounds on a needless top down reorganisation which we were promised would not happen. That has caused far more damage to our health service than ‘health tourism’, and will keep doing so as the Tories’ pals in private health care move in to cream off fat profits from our NHS. However, when waiting lists are rising and standards are falling the Tories and Lib Dems want to make sure you know who to blame – and people from abroad offer an easy target.

Right wing extremists, right wing newspapers and cynical politicians would have us all believe that immigrants want to take our jobs, our school places, our health service and our homes. The very real message about the positive benefits of immigration are drowned out by the clamour. Immigrants’ historical, and current, contribution to the economy. The importation of crucial skills and entrepreneurial flair. Diversity adding to the cultural riches of our society.

We must of course confront the BNP as the most outspoken representation of prejudice and the lazy politics of blame. But we also have to confront and condemn UKIP for peddling a supposedly respectable, diluted version of the same agenda of hate. And challenge the Conservatives too – who are chasing the self same agenda – whilst at best the Lib Dems look the other way.

It takes time and effort to confront prejudice, because by its very nature the lazy politics of blame plays to people’s gut instincts, fostered by an inherent suspicion of ‘difference’ which has been fed by right wing news media taking cheap shots. We have to make the arguments, and take the time to dispel the myths and challenge the spin. If we do not, the problems will not be solved – because we are blaming the wrong people, and our society will go on getting a bit worse, a bit poorer, and a bit more unequal day by day.

This is why today in Liverpool was so important. Ordinary people that haven’t been taken in and want to confront prejudice, bigotry, and hate. Labour has renewed its commitment to stand with such people. Why not join us?

 

Demo UAF

Birmingham Against the Racist English Defence League

Faced with the prospect of supporters of the EDL bringing racial hatred and violence to Birmingham on Saturday, Birmingham Labour Party has agreed the following statement.

We, the undersigned, strongly oppose plans by the racist EDL – a group linked to the fascist BNP – to demonstrate in Birmingham on 20th July 2013.

The EDL is a racist and fascist group dedicated to attacking Asian people and Muslims. The EDL is deeply islamophobic – bigoted against Muslims – which is as unacceptable as any other form of racism. The EDL’s aim is to divide us by making scapegoats of one community, just as the Nazis did with the Jews in the 1930s.

Today they threaten Muslims.Tomorrow it could be Jewish people, Hindus, Sikhs, black people, lesbians and gay men, Travellers or Eastern Europeans. There is no place for Nazis, racists or the EDL in Birmingham’s multiracial, multicultural and multi-faith community. We need the utmost unity against their poisonous aims.

Every time the EDL have come to the Birmingham and other cities, they have been violent. Their demonstrations have closed down cities, large numbers of EDL members have been arrested for violence and disorder and huge security costs have been incurred. In March 2011, it was estimated that policing an EDL demonstration had cost over 1 million pounds.

There is no place in our city for messages of hate. There is no place for intolerance and there is no place for violence or extremism of any kind.

unite

We stand for unity in the community.

Moseley & Kings Heath Labour chooses its candidate for 2014

Moseley and Kings Heath Labour Party has selected its candidate for the 2014 Birmingham City Council elections. She is the popular local environmental campaigner and community activist, Claire Spencer. Claire lives in Moseley, and is currently Chair of Sustainable Moseley (SusMo) and CoRE50, a community renewables co-operative started by SusMo, Transition Kings Heath and Balsall Heath is Our Planet. She is also a Director of Moseley Community Development Trust, a governor at Kings Heath Primary School and is part of the Moseley & Kings Heath Community First Panel. Prior to her selection, she also volunteered as part of Moseley Forum and the Moseley Society. She currently works for The Energy Saving Co-operative.

Selection2013

Claire said: “I am delighted, and deeply honoured, to have been chosen by local members to be Labour’s candidate at the 2014 council elections. I love Moseley & Kings Heath. I love living here, and I love that people care so much about making it a great place to live. It is because I want it to be a great place for everyone – a place where everyone has a stake and a say -that I am putting myself forward. There is a basic unfairness to what local governments all over the country are being asked to do by the Tory-led government. Birmingham City Council has received cuts to its budget that are well over the national average, and it is normal people who are paying the price. I will work with people to develop smarter services that make the best use of the budget, as well as pushing for a better deal for our home”.

Nick Drew, Chair of Moseley & Kings Heath Labour Party, said “Claire will be a fantastic candidate for Moseley & Kings Heath.  She is a brilliant campaigner and a tireless worker within her community, who will do us proud if she is elected as our councillor in 2014. I’m really looking forward to campaigning to get Claire elected.”

Our picture shows Claire (front, centre) with happy local members after her selection.

If you would like to help with Claire’s campaign, please get in touch by emailing claire4mkh@gmail.com.

The Tory Attack on Welfare

In 1942, in the darkest days of the Second World War, Sir William Beveridge, a civil servant and a Liberal, produced a report. In it he identified what he called the ‘Five Giants on the Road to Social Progress’.

These giants were Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.

He argued that to defeat these giants, the government should provide people with adequate income, adequate health care, adequate education, adequate housing and adequate employment.  It proposed that ‘All people of working age should pay a weekly National Insurance contribution. In return, benefits would be paid to people who were sick, unemployed, retired or widowed.’

This report also encompassed educational reform (the 1944 Education Act, passed in wartime by R A Butler, a Conservative minister) and Universal Child Benefit. It strengthened Old Age Pensions, Unemployment and Sickness Benefit and of course, proposed  the National Health Service.

Beveridge had researched universal benefits and found them to be the most cost-effective way of providing support, unlike the means-tested benefits of the 1930s.

This report had all-party support in the wartime coalition government, and formed the basis of the programme followed by Clement Attlee’s Labour government in 1945. A huge national achievement at a time when the country was bankrupt after the war.

But not without opposition.

The National Health Service was strongly opposed by both Tories and vested interests in the medical profession. Aneurin Bevan said that in order to quieten the opposition he had to ‘stuff their mouths with gold’.

nyebevan

For many years, under both Labour and Conservative governments, there was support for the welfare state and social justice. But in the wings some Tories’ anger still lingered, and they made their plans to destroy what Beveridge and the 1945 government had achieved.

That opposition never went away,  but festered in the right wing of the Tory party.  It came back, suddenly made respectable,  in the time of Margaret Thatcher.  Who once said “There is no such thing as society”.  Which meant that there should be no such thing as having the majority who were in work and reasonably comfortably off looking after the poorer, older and more vulnerable members of – what?  If there was no society, how could people help each other?

Thatcher was a neoliberal,  a devotee of a political philosophy whose advocates support economic liberalisation,  free trade and open markets,  privatization,  deregulation, and decreasing the size of the public sector while increasing the role of the private sector in modern society.  An enemy of any social enterprise such as the Welfare State.   She began the process of privatisation, especially in the NHS,  through measures such as competitive tendering (which was nothing of the sort) in hospital ancillary services,  and also in areas of education.  In fact, she tried to push education into the department of industry, but that was a move too far.  In effect she was starting a process that we see operating at full tilt today, crony capitalism, where a neoliberal government acts and passes laws to benefit its friends and supporters.

The present coalition government are often referred to as ‘Thatcher’s Children’ and they truly are – both the Tories and the Liberal Democrat Orange Bookers – most of whom only disagree with the Tories over Europe.  Indeed Clegg has said he would have joined the Tories had they not been Eurosceptic. David Laws and Danny Alexander are similar.

They have as a central plank of their political ‘philosophy’ the smaller state.  They actually believe that the state should not help anyone unless they are absolutely flat-out destitute,  or almost dead.  The worst of this attitude can be seen in the works of George (“Iain Duncan”) Smith – the ATOS decisions on Disability Living Allowance, the Bedroom Tax, the Social Emergency Fund, the cap on welfare spending.  In education it can be seen seen in Michael Gove planning to sell state schools to profit-making Academy chains.  It is there in Lansley and Hunt’s utter destruction of the National Health Service – to be replaced by a US style private insurance system.  It is clearly shown in the closing of the public coastal rescue services and putting the service provision out to tender.  It is there in the sale of libraries, fire stations, school playing fields.  The list of private benefactors being given big presents by this Tory-led government goes on and on, and on.

This was clearly the direction of travel from day one of the coalition.  It is in their souls.  And they have been assisted by a media which either supports them or,  like the BBC,  acquiesces without complaint.  By media commentators who have never used the NHS or the state education system,  and see no reason to fight for them…

But we ordinary citizens have to fight, in any way we can.  We need to take that fight to the Lib Dems, who praise food banks whilst voting to cut welfare payments. Who praise local state schools but vote for Gove’s destruction of the system. Who break their ‘solemn pledges’ not to raise university tuition fees. Who now campaign to save our local hospitals having voted for Lansley’s bill which set out the destruction of the NHS and will vote for Hunt’s which will finish the process off. We need to expose the Tories’ crony capitalism for what it really is, raw, naked greed dressed as a political principle.

And the time all this greed and desecration  comes together is now – April 2013.  It is no longer a bleak future, it is a callous present,  in which everything is described by its cost,  not by its value.

But when we have seen off this mob of shysters we will have to rebuild the caring nation – the one nation. We will have a task as great as that facing Attlee and his generation. Like him we should take our vision from the work of Sir William Beveridge.

The giants on our road to social progress may be different, but we must resolve to slay them also.

 

With acknowledgements and grateful thanks to Dick Smith, Carshalton and Wallington Labour Party.

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