Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Demand Responsive Transport - connecting the villages to the world

I was somewhat disappointed to see one of Suffolk's County Councillors criticise the Suffolk Links service recently. As a regular user, dependent on it to get me to and from the station, I have grown to appreciate the service, and have campaigned locally to encourage usage.

And strangely, contrary to the belief of some, it is a remarkably reliable service, very rarely late - often due to the failure of a preceding passenger to turn up on time - reasonably priced, and far more flexible than the fixed bus service that my village hasn't had in recent memory.

When I first came to Creeting St Peter in 2007, and asked about public transport, I was told that there was a bus service. The catch? It ran once a week, on market day, and was of no use to anyone unless they wanted a brief shopping expedition to Stowmarket. As a non-driver, that meant that living in the village was virtually impossible, especially with Ros in London most weekdays, unless I was willing to spend more than £50 each week in taxi fares just to get to Stowmarket station.

And then Suffolk Links Gipping North was introduced into my life. Originally, the morning service consisted of a fixed route in the morning, running from Stowmarket to Little Stonham to connect with buses to Diss and Ipswich, before reverting to a demand responsive service in the afternoon. This solved half of my problem, but left mornings rather difficult, as the bus connection wasn't guaranteed as Little Stonham, and the connecting bus ran on an hourly basis or worse.

Common sense won through eventually though, and the service became wholly demand responsive, just in time for me to arrange a transfer to my employer's Ipswich office and be able to use it to get to and from work. Come rain, snow or shine, Kathy or Philip are there in the middle of Creeting St Peter at 7.55 each workday morning, ready to drive me to the station, and either Philip, Alan or Ann are at Stowmarket station at 6.40 most evenings to drive me home again. They've become part of my routine, and we chat about our days, and about stuff generally. I learn more about my area, and sometimes I can suggest things that might be helpful. I even take copies of their leaflet to drop through the doors of new residents in the village.

There are some complexities. The policy of only allowing passengers to have two future bookings (a return counts as one) does mean that I have to ring daily to make the next booking, and I can't book more than a week in advance, but both restrictions mean that availability is more evenly spread. I also have to be willing to be flexible as someone may have booked earlier than I have for a time that I want, although I tend to travel earlier in the morning and later in the evening to reduce the likelihood of that.

At the core of the service is Margaret, who takes bookings and organises the schedule. It's a more difficult job than it sounds, as she needs to estimate how long each journey will take, and ensure that the bus is used as effectively as possible. She's a dab hand at matching up passengers to ensure that journeys aren't wasted, and is always keen to promote usage of the service. She also deals with those people who confuse it for a taxi service and are annoyed when it isn't available exactly when they require it.

Unlike the remaining fixed service bus routes, Suffolk Links connects up some fairly remote outlying areas, where county gritting services are less prevalent, using smaller back roads with low levels of traffic. When there is heavy snow, or flooding, this can mean that providing a service is difficult, or unsafe, but even during this month's bad weather, Suffolk Links Gipping North has made it through.

So, when considering the notion of Demand Responsive Transport, bear in mind that it serves places that wouldn't have any public transport otherwise, costs far less and is more flexible than a fixed route service, and is a vital lifeline to those in more remote communities who would otherwise be seriously isolated. And talk to your local provider, they'll be able to explain what they do, how they operate and what their challenges are.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Published elsewhere: Is bringing back the 10p rate band such a good idea?

This is a slightly longer version of an article posted on Liberal Democrat Voice this afternoon...

It is hard to believe that it has been five years since Gordon Brown announced the abolition of the 10p rate band in an failed attempt to be too clever by half (as my mother would describe it), and I am as surprised that it has taken until now for someone to suggest reintroducing it.

I have quite a lot of respect for the Conservative MP for Harlow, Robert Halfon, whose initiative this is. He does seem to have the ability to spot ideas that are popular and not necessarily obviously ideological - fuel duty, for example - and this is potentially one of them.

At Conservative Home, he argues;
Restoring a 10p rate of income tax, between £9,205 and £12,000, would cost around £6 billion a year according to the House of Commons Library. This is significantly cheaper than raising the personal allowance to £12,500 (which could cost as much as £14.4 billion). It also has the advantage that it would benefit all workers, and could be paid for without dragging more families into the 40p band of income tax.
He is, I suspect, right in his arithmetic - I haven't checked, although I suspect that others are actively doing so. Introducing a new, lower tax rate would be totemic, a perpetual reminder to Labour activists and the public of the catastrophic error of judgement made when abolishing it in the first place. And given, the remarkably low level of knowledge displayed by the media with regard to tax, it would probably be hailed as a huge giveaway to the less well-off.

It also addresses something which bothers some amongst Conservative ranks, in that raising the personal allowance takes more people out of tax altogether, giving them less incentive to support reductions in government spending - it is, to their mind, much more attractive to support spending if it doesn't cost you anything personally. And whilst, adding an additional tax rate does add complexity to the system, that isn't to a huge degree.

There are some obvious downsides. His proposal only gives £279.50 back to basic rate taxpayers, whereas raising the personal allowance to £12,500 would give £659.00 to the same people, a much more attractive option for the 'squeezed middle'. And, of course, without other adjustments, his tax cut would go to everyone, including the currently unpopular wealthy, who would benefit disproportionately - it would be worth £978.25 to a 45% taxpayer, something he appears intent upon, as he doesn't apparently intend to reduce thresholds. It also leaves those on minimum wage still paying income tax. 

So yes, it would cost less than increasing the personal allowance to £12,500, but it should be noted that giving away less money should obviously cost less, and he is somewhat comparing oranges with apples given the differing thresholds he applies in his argument.

There is also an argument, which I hear less of than I might expect from Conservatives, which runs thus;

"If we take less money from the paypackets of the poorest working families, we need give less to them in benefits and credits, reducing the benefits budget plus the costs of administration, as well as reducing the number in receipt of benefits."

You might argue about whether you might withhold an amount of benefits/credits equal to the reduction in the tax bill, or use the money for other targeted benefits, such as child care, or just raise the living standards of the poorer, more vulnerable elements of our society, or whatever, but it would give governments of whatever stripe options to reform society in a manner suited to their philosophy. Personally, I'd favour measures designed to lift children out of poverty, but everyone will have their own ideas.

Increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 does come with a cost, plus the added complexity required to restrict the benefits to the wealthiest which in turn would probably drag more people into higher tax bands. It is simpler for most though, continues progress towards taking those on the minimum wage out of the tax system altogether (if it's a minimum wage, one might ask why should it be taxed). It could also be seen as part of a potential equalisation, and thus simplification, of tax rates, national insurance contributions and the National Minimum Wage.

In summary, reintroducing the 10p rate band is an interesting idea, which will attract support from across the political spectrum, even as its proponents will argue about the necessity for consequential adjustments to ensure their personal definition of fairness. It is less generous than the Liberal Democrat proposals but, obviously, more easily affordable.

The debate should be an interesting one in the twenty-seven months before the next General Election...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Recovering my equilibrium...

It has been, I admit, a rather testing twenty-four hours or so, for reasons which will be understood by readers of Liberal Democrat Voice. Apparently, that which does not kill us makes us stronger. Trust me, that may be true in the long-term, but it doesn't feel like that right now.

Writing instant response pieces has never been a personal strong suit, and I have received a reminder as to why that might be so. A valuable lesson learned, I guess.

It is also a reminder, both for myself, and for others, that one is often better served by reflection before a response, rather than reaction made in anger, or in partisan excitement. And, perhaps, reading all of something and confirming understanding might be good too...

The nature of the debate which followed is just as troubling, if not more so. The ability of some on both sides of the debate to express hostility to those with whom they disagree in terms that are themselves wholly offensive does make you wonder if there is any common ground to be had - I must thank my colleagues for their efforts in moderating comments that comprehensively breach its comments policy in my somewhat shell-shocked absence.

So, somewhat chastened, and rather more cautious, I continue to ponder over the responsibility I have to the audience and to my Liberal Democrat Voice colleagues. A media platform, regardless of its scale, importance or influence, is a delicate thing, requiring balance, judgement and integrity in how one interacts with one's audience. An inability to bear that in mind has tarnished our media in this country, and our politics, and I intend to remember that in future.

Monday, January 21, 2013

This committee thing, explain it to me again, will you?

Having now spent a day in the metropolis that is London, it is time to head for home.  It has, I must confess, been rather fun, although not necessarily for any reason I might have envisaged when I agreed to come.

It is still somewhat unclear as to why I was invited to attend the International Relations Committee away day, although I flatter myself to suggest that I was of some use in their discussions. I'm not a policy wonk, nor do I have a long record of activity and participation in ALDE or the Liberal International. However, I do feel that it is imperative to broaden and deepen involvement in the Party's international activity, and I know enough to make a case.

I did, it is true, wonder out loud about the purpose and function of the International Relations Committee, and whilst those with a greater record of engagement will have some very good answers to those points, I hope that I might have given the Committee some food for thought.

I then had tea with a dear friend, before meeting up with Ros and heading for dinner. It is slightly quirky, meeting her midweek, and feels a bit like a 'date night', a really rather nice feeling. Best of all, the need to come to London for training in the months ahead means that I''ll have a regular excuse to repeat it. Looks like I owe Danny another favour...

Suffolk - Conservative U-Turn on explore card shows just how wrong they were

Today's announcement that the Conservative administration is planning a new discount travel card for young people in Suffolk shows just how damaging the decision to abolish the scheme was in the first place.

When the explore card was cut in 2011 as part of the New Strategic Direction ideology budget on grounds of 'cost', the Liberal Democrats warned that this short-sighted decision would cause significant damage to the educational, work and training prospects of a whole cohort of young people.  And of course this damage did occur - in the middle of last year the Conservatives heard full details directly from Suffolk Lib Dem councillors, from schools and colleges, from parents and – most of all – from the young people affected.

Cllr Caroline Page, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Roads and Transport said, "Bringing back this card is obviously a successful outcome for the Suffolk Liberal Democrats, but most importantly all the young people and their families who have been lobbying for the restoration of this card since it was withdrawn."

"We all told the Conservatives that scrapping the Explore card would – and did – cause huge problems to those who wanted to get an education and a job.  But the Cabinet member for Roads and Transport memorably replied, "you can't spend a pound more than once." In such circumstances, the wise idea is to choose carefully what you do spend your pounds on in the first place. This was the same Cabinet that agreed the expenditure of really quite a lot of pounds on Suffolk Circle." 

"Why has it taken so long for the Conservatives to implement this decision? Why didn't they just review the explore card rather than cutting it completely and leaving many young people struggling to get to college and employment? Why has this happened now, when this is an issue that should have been extremely important throughout the years, and not just pre-election?"

Cllr John Field, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader said, "This U-turn shows just how wrong the Conservatives were in their decision to remove the explore card.  The Lib Dems urge the Council to roll out this new Oyster-type scheme as quickly as possible. We must reverse, wherever possible, the harm they have caused and are continuing to cause to the next generation of Suffolk."

The invisible politicians in our midst

I'm on my way to a meeting in London, an International Relations Committee away day, to be precise, and although I'm not entirely certain why I was invited, I'm sure that all will become clear when I arrive.

However, my attention is drawn to the anonymity of politicians this morning. There was, on my train this morning, a politician (who shall remain nameless). Naturally, he was a Coalition MP - there are no other MPs with constituencies on, or near, the East Anglian main line or its branches - and he was, as is obligatory these days, in standard class.

He was working on his papers in an entirely efficient way, and I found myself wondering how many people sharing the carriage had any idea who he was.

Why does this draw my attention? Because, like everyone else on the train, he has experienced the delay to the service, the discomfort of the elderly rolling stock - in short, life as "the rest of us" experience it. He isn't cocooned from the public, he is part of it. And yet he will repeatedly be accused of being out of touch with us, of not understanding what we go through.

I suppose that, as a politician, you can't win. Quietly get on with your life, do your job and don't make a fuss, and we ignore you. Be highly visible and we take potshots at you - it's the British way.

Ah well, on that note, I'd better get to my meeting...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

It's the lack of a sense of humour that makes you despair...

It would be fair to say that I have a slightly quirky sense of humour, and that it tends to be expressed in my blogging, both here and in my role as day editor for Liberal Democrat Voice. What I find surprising is not that other people don't get it, or even that they don't like it, it is the fact that some find it necessary to moan about it. 

I would probably be the first to admit that I don't entirely take politics seriously. Contrary to the expectations of others, it is not the be all and end all of my life - I am a liberal and a bureaucrat and I am one because I am the other. As a bureaucrat, I believe that you must treat people equally under the law, and that the purpose of the State is to enable people to have as much freedom as possible whilst protecting the vulnerable.

If you like, that's my passion, to enable others, and most of my 'political career' has been about that - not political, more organisational. I see my role in Liberal Democrat Voice as being part of that, about enabling debate, supplying information and, hopefully, a little bit of fun along the way.

So, to anyone out there who doesn't like that, get used to it, as I have absolutely no intention of changing unless I feel like it, or get bored, or decide that it's time to hand over to someone else. Any of those outcomes is possible, as my attention span is quite limited, and there are plenty of great people who could take over...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A perceived breach of netiquette... Am I being unreasonable?

I have been, for some time now, a member of a Facebook group linked to a possible reunion. Not wholly surprisingly, it hasn't happened, and it became a means for one member to publicise his various blog entries.

I put up with it for a while, but yesterday finally lost patience. If I want to read your blog, I'll follow it, or look for it. If I choose to follow you on Twitter and you use it to promote your blog, that's my prerogative. If your blog appears somewhere I frequent regularly, that's fine too. But please don't use a social group for your self-promotion.

So, I've quit the group, at least for the time being. Am I being wholly unreasonable?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Another precept, another dilemma...

It is, I'm told, quite easy to be liberal with somebody else's money. It is, I can confirm, rather harder when it's your money and that of your neighbours.

This week, it was time to set the precept for Creeting St Peter Parish Council, and once again, our calculations are complicated by the interventions of higher tiers of local government. With the County handling us a nature reserve, which will have long-term effects, and the District raising bin emptying charges - more than 1% on the precept alone - my responsibility as the "finance guy" means that I tend to pay close attention to the numbers.

This year, I took a rather longer view of the numbers, which meant accepting an overspend next year, whilst aiming to break even sooner rather than later. I need to think about how to pay for the nature reserve when the County slush funds run out, make provision for the replacement of our new playground in 2033 (or thereabouts) and set our finances up on a sustainable basis.

For all of those reasons, I felt it necessary to recommend a 6.2% rise in the precept for 2013/14. We will be able to reduce our costs somewhat - the generous grant from our County councillor to cover the cost of meters for our nine streetlights is likely to reduce our electricity bill by 40% from 2014/15 - 4% of our current precept - but the scope for further savings is limited unless we reduce staffing costs - 60% of our precept - an option that would be better avoided.

My colleagues have taken a slightly different view, and we agreed a 5% increase instead. That's fair enough, I think, and we''ll see where we are this time next year...

Secret Courts: an open letter to Nick Clegg

Dear Nick,

I've been following the progress of the "Secret Courts Bill" with rather more interest than usual, as justice issues are not exactly my area of expertise - I'm a bureaucrat, not a lawyer - but given my wife's multiple votes against the proposals at the Report Stage, I do feel that I have an obligation to take an interest.

I'm proud of my Party's traditionally strong stance on civil liberties, opposing ID cards, ninety day detention and so on, representing as it does the support for individuals against an over mighty State.

And, I must admit, I do have my doubts about the logic of allowing a situation whereby an individual can potentially be denied information that might restrict their ability to defend themselves.. There may be a credible argument to support the contention implied by the need for such legislation, but it hasn't convinced a good many people whose judgement I respect.

Under such circumstances, it strikes me that there is scope for a conversation on the subject, an opportunity for both sides to make their case, an opportunity that you have rejected, as I understand it.

Given that you are asking our Parliamentarians to act in a manner contrary to what is stated as Party policy, I can't help but feel that you have an obligation to reach out to your opponents on this, especially as these are the very people that you call upon to make the case for the Liberal Democrats on the ground and in the media.

I accept that, as the leader of a political party in government, you cannot just do as our conference tells you - being in a coalition means that some compromises are inevitable - but you do have a duty to explain what those compromises are and why they are necessary.

The concession of holding a meeting with the campaigners against this Bill would earn you some respect and, more importantly, goodwill with the wider Party. Is it too much to ask?

Yours sincerely,


Friday, January 11, 2013

John Doran attacks Nick Clegg - not such a surprise, really...

"Like a number of others who have posted I am a life long Liberal/Lib Dem. I first canvassed in the Feb 1974 election and have stood for councils numerous times, and was a County Councillor for 4 years. I used to give thousands to my local party, hundreds to Cowley St. No more. My membership is up for renewal in January and I will be paying the minimum that allows me to be a voting member..."

- John Doran, Liberal Democrat Voice (16 November 2010)

One of the advantages of being fairly cynical, and having been encouraged to be a sceptic at university - many thanks to Dr Janacek, my statistics lecturer and academic advisor, for that - is that I tend to wonder about someone's motivation.

And so, when I discovered that a former Surrey county councillor had taken the opportunity of Nick Clegg's radio call-in show on LBC to attack him, I did what anyone might have done (like journalists ought to?), and Googled him, finding the above quote rather easily.

So, Mr Doran doesn't like Nick Clegg - it's a free world. But don't let anyone believe for a moment that he's a recent convert to that view...

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Another day, another Tory defection to UKIP...

According to the Ipswich Star, Conservative Town and District Councillor for Stowmarket North, Frank Whittle, has joined UKIP. Given his comment that he was "sick and tired of all the political correctness and politicians who are all mouth and no action", I suspect that he'll be right at home there until he loses his seats in 2015.

Perhaps the more interesting thing was the response of the Chair of the local Conservative Association. Andrew Speed said,

We are disappointed that Frank has felt the need to move to UKIP but we retain a healthy majority on the district council.
There are twenty-one Conservative councillors out of the forty on Mid Suffolk District Council, hardly a healthy majority, or is that a confession that Ray Melvin, Charlie Flatman and Stuart Gemmill are really only masquerading as independents after all?

Saturday, January 05, 2013

White lines and dead armadillos - I'm a liberal, not a centrist...

Apparently, I am in politics to anchor our government in the centre ground. At least, that is what my Party Leader thinks. And sadly, he's wrong. A Texan Democrat once said that the only things you'll find in the middle of the road are white lines and dead armadillos.

No, for me, the whole point of being a liberal is that I want to challenge the things that hold our society back, to enable people to take control over their lives, whilst ensuring that those who are vulnerable are protected and supported. Part of that is about personal responsibility, the idea that people should also have to face the consequences of their actions.

"Anchoring the Coalition in the centre ground" is, in those terms, pretty meaningless, even if it does reassure some voters. Perhaps that is why I'm a bureaucrat and not a politician. I suppose that politics is about a cause, be that a big, grand one like world peace, or equality, or a small, more personal one, such as representing your community and trying to do your best by, and for, it.

Yes, one does have to be pragmatic about it. Politics is about the art of the possible, and you are confined by budgets, or existing legislation, but with some things, such as equal marriage, you can do them because, fundamentally, they're the right thing to do. You should also try to bring the public with you, because change is more likely to last if it is broadly accepted.

But our politics is tainted already by a sense that the three main political parties are squabbling over some mystical middle England - which always seems to be somewhere else - leaving a vacuum to be filled by UKIP, the Greens or some bunch of racist lunatics.

So, instead of coming up with a slogan, why can't we just explain what we stand for and why, and leave the race to the bottom for the rest. As all the evidence is that they're better at it than we are anyway, I can't help feeling that it isn't the game we ought to be playing.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

And you complain about the hike in your train fare...

As a non-driving village dweller, I have become rather reliant on my local Demand Responsive Transport service, Suffolk Links - Gipping North, which carries me from my home to Stowmarket Station and back, most days when Ros is away, and most of the time when she's at home too. Compared to the cost of a taxi, it's extremely reasonable, and I have become part of a cosy little circle over the past two years. 

However, on ringing Margaret, who organises the schedule with incredible efficiency, to organise a bus for today, I was somewhat surprised to be told that fares were going up by 20%, on the instruction of Suffolk County Council. There had been no announcement of such an increase and, upon checking the Suffolk Onboard website, there was no indication of the change at all.

In fairness, my return fare for the three mile journey to Stowmarket Station is still only £2.60, and the service is reliable, safe and friendly. Besides, I'm lucky enough to be able to afford it. However, for those who aren't as fortunate, it will come as an unpleasant surprise - in my case the additional cost will be £2.50 per week, an increase of 23.8%, and I assume that this will be reflected across the board.

It is, I suppose, typical of the utter disrespect for residents shown by the Conservatives on the County Council that there should be no attempt to inform voters of the change. Luckily, I've got my county councillor coming to a meeting next week, and he might like to come up with a justification... especially as he's up for election in May...

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Fruit Ninja... part of my five a day

My parents very kindly gave me a Kindle Fire HD for Christmas,, and it is already becoming clear that it will be especially useful for my studies in 2013, as it is small, lightweight and surprisingly easy to use. There is, however, a down side.

I am, as has been noted in the past, a bit too easily distracted, and the discovery of Fruit Ninja, a game in which the player attempts to slice fruit as it flies randomly across the screen, has proved just a little tempting, to the extent that I'm now only missing one blade and a background of the many available for achieving certain goals.

It would, indeed, be fair to say that I kill far more fruit than I eat, which is possibly a bad thing, although it does make my commute mildly more entertaining.

On the plus side, although there are those of you who might find this a bit sad, I have been able to load my training notes onto it, allowing me to study HMRC's policy on diversity (they're in favour), and the time management course that I am supposed to do.

So, new year, new gadget. I wonder what else will be new in 2013...

Ros in the Lords: Motion to Take Note - EUC Report on Grass-roots Sport

Here's another of Ros's interventions that I hadn't covered, from 10 November 2011...

Until its abolition in May, Ros was a member of the European Union Sub-Committee G, something she enjoyed greatly. One of its final acts was to review the impact of EU legislation on grass-roots sport, particularly appropriate in the run-up to the Olympics and Paralympics...

Baroness Scott of Needham Market (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, on 22 November I shall be taking over as chair of the Volunteering Development Council, following in the footsteps of my noble friend Lady Hanham. It is a great honour to have been asked to chair the council, because it represents the opinions and interests of the millions of people throughout this country who contribute to the daily life of our nation by volunteering. I would like to use today's debate as an opportunity to say a few words about the relationship between the EU and grass-roots sports and volunteering.

First, may I place on record my appreciation of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and her chairmanship of EU Sub-Committee G. She combines incisiveness and understanding of whatever subject is in hand with great good humour and a collegiate approach, and it is genuinely a pleasure to serve on the sub-committee. We are also, as ever, served very well by the staff of this House and in the case of this inquiry by the specialist adviser, Professor Richard Parrish.

Our report highlights the importance of volunteers in sporting activity and notes that, for example, the average football club will involve some 21 volunteers. Indeed, the Football Association estimates that there are more than 400,000 volunteers involved in footballing activities alone.

Why do they do this? For some, it is the love of a particular sport that stays with them throughout their lives. For others, it is drawn from a commitment to their local area and the role sport can play in cementing that sense of local community. My home town of Needham Market has a thriving and very successful football club that was first established in 1919. It has a number of teams and a record of success that is the envy of far larger towns. Over the 30 years that I have lived in Needham Market, I have seen hundreds of young people commit their time and energy to the club. There are currently some 130 young people active in football in the town, which has a population of only 4,500.

Other people become drawn to volunteering in sporting activities because of the many benefits that sport can bring to people who are disadvantaged in some way. We had powerful evidence from Street Games and the Prince's Trust, among others, about the role that sport can play, not just in providing meaningful activity but in teaching leadership skills and providing a route to recognised qualifications. The RNIB, for example, explained how physical activity can improve balance, mobility and co-ordination for those with a visual impairment, and locally I have seen how the bowls club often brings great social as well as health benefits to older people.

All these activities depend on volunteers, and one of the great things is that much of the interaction goes across the generations in a way that few other activities do. Volunteering of any kind is and should remain essentially a local activity with support from local councils and national Governments. The European Union-level dimension to grass-roots sport and volunteering is hard to establish at first sight. Indeed, a very recent communication from the Commission spoke about having a legal framework for volunteering. Even as a Europhile, I would need some convincing of the need for that.

However, as our inquiry went on, it became clear to me that there is a role for the EU in grass-roots sport, although it is limited. First, many witnesses highlighted regulatory burdens as one of the great barriers to volunteering. The experience of the English Federation of Disability Sport was that,

"even small increases in administrative burdens can have a devastating effect on a club's ability to recruit and retain volunteers".

While I accept that it is often difficult to sort out the truth from myth about EU regulation, I would support the Sport and Recreation Alliance in its call for a review of EU regulation as it impacts on volunteers. A number of witnesses told us that both sport and volunteering are vulnerable to the law of unintended consequences as a result of EU legislation in other areas. The Sport and Recreation Alliance told us how regulations about working at height and on the use of open water had had serious adverse impacts on climbing and water sports. With the coalition Government committed to reviewing domestic regulatory burdens, perhaps it would be a good idea, before we end the EU Year of Volunteering, to begin to carry out a parallel exercise in EU law.

In an ideal world, impacts on volunteers would be considered pre-legislatively, rather than afterwards. Our evidence suggests that despite the coming into force of Article 165 of the Lisbon treaty, which, as we have heard, has given the EU a legal competence in sport, the procedures within the Commission are not giving sufficient weight to the opinions of the sport unit when looking at how other policy decisions might impact. There are certainly many formal channels for dialogue between policy-makers and sporting organisations, but our evidence suggests that these are dominated by elite sport and big money, especially in football. An MEP who is an expert in this field highlighted the lack of a real grass-roots voice in EU policy-making in sport.

We definitely detected among our witnesses a real appetite for the strengthening of pan-European networks between grass-roots organisations, especially for using the benefits of modern technology in the exchange of best practice. I note that the Minister was reticent about this, but both Street Games and the Football Foundation pointed to the success of their websites' pages that detail case studies, briefing papers and best practice.

Marginalisation of grass-roots sports organisations extends to the funding programmes. The chief executive of Street Games told us that the application procedures are simply too complex and bureaucratic for small organisations. At this morning's sub-committee meeting, we looked at a mid-term evaluation of the Europe for Citizens programme, and it is shown that of the €215 million budget for its projects only €1.16 million has come to the UK. This is a significant under representation in a programme that ought to be of great interest to the UK, and which includes sport.

Although it is tempting just to blame the bureaucracy, the fact that other countries are finding a way to get through the bureaucracy suggests that we have a particular issue. I certainly undertake to work with the current Government, if they wish, and with the volunteer sector to find out exactly why we are so poor at accessing this money. I look forward to the Minister's response.