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'LOCAL ELECTIONS: WE'VE A GREAT STORY TO TELL'

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Labour Party chair Ian McCartney, deputy prime minister John Prescott and health secretary Alan Milburn have launch...
Labour Party chair Ian McCartney, deputy prime minister John Prescott and health secretary Alan Milburn have launched Labour's local elections manifesto at the Rotunda, Birmingham.

The text of their speeches is as follows:

IAN McCARTNEY

Thank you for coming here today.

Unlike our political opponents, who launched their campaigns in London, I'm proud to welcome you all here to Birmingham today to this, the launch of Labour's campaign for the English local elections.

And I'm delighted to be joined here by my Cabinet colleagues, John Prescott, Alan Milburn and Hilary Armstrong.

We are all the guests of Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council. And it's right that we're here in Birmingham. The biggest council in Britain and it's a Labour council.

Birmingham is an outstanding example of what a Labour Council working in partnership with a Labour Government can achieve.

My colleagues will speak about that shortly. First from me, a word on the campaign we will run.

Increasingly, all politics is local. So we will see 308 elections in councils in England. 308 separate campaigns. Each one with its own issues, personalities and dynamics. It's right that local elections will be fought and decided on local issues.

It's right too that we run a vigorous campaign across England. We will be taking this campaign out across the country, using senior ministers to get across our message in every town and city, because we have a great story to tell.

There are three key arguments that we want to highlight during this campaign, and that we will be addressing this morning.

Firstly, because of the investment of this Labour Government we are delivering more teachers, more nurses and more police, improving the quality of local services provided in communities across the country.

Secondly, this additional investment is key to tackling crime and anti-social behaviour in local communities, and this is one of the biggest concerns of lo cal people.

And finally this investment would be put at risk by the Tory plans to cut 20 per cent of public spending across the board.

So to address these issues, I'd firstly like to introduce my colleague the Deputy Prime Minister ??? John Prescott.

JOHN PRESCOTT

Thank you Ian. Today I want to set out just how we are keeping our promises to deliver for Britain.

In the general election two years ago, when we launched our manifesto here in Birmingham, Labour stood on a clear message to put schools and hospitals first. We pledged ourselves to increase the numbers of teachers, nurses and police officers working in our local communities. We also pledged to reform local government to enable local councillors to deliver high quality local public services.

And today I can set out clearly just how we are delivering on each of these pledges.

This Labour government stands proud on its record of delivering more teachers, more nurses and more police.

Since 1997, there are 20,000 more teachers, nearly 50,000 more nurses and record numbers of police officers, over 130,000, more than ever before.

Behind these statistics are real people, helping to raise the standards of education in classrooms across the country, delivering improvements to the standards of care in our hospitals, and working to restore respect and cut crime on our streets.

And Gordon Brown's budget last week means that we can build on those achievements with even more teachers, more nurses and more police in the future.

There can be no doubt, this Labour government is keeping to our pledge to put schools and hospitals first.

And for local government, we have put in place measures to modernise councils, helping them to raise standards, and backed up by significant new funds.

Since 1997, funding for local government has been increased by 25 per cent in real terms. This year, for the first time ever, every authority in the country received an above-inflation settlement, to help councils deliver high quality services.

It is also this Labour government that has introduced comprehensive performance assessment, to provide local residents with an independent assessment of council performance and help councils tackle areas of weakness.

Councils are central to the transformation local communities. They play a leading role in building stronger communities, in improving local services and in cracking down on anti-social behaviour.

Again, on investing in local government and working in partnership with councils, Labour is keeping its pledge to local people.

But all these achievements are under threat from the Tories. Iain Duncan Smith has confirmed their plans for 20 per cent cuts 'across the board' in public spending. This means the equivalent of cutting one in five nurses, teachers and police officers.

It means poorer services for every family and every single community. And it's why every Tory candidate must be challenged to spell out exactly which local services they would cut to meet their party's 20 per cent cuts target.

If you see a Tory candidate, ask them: which teachers, nurses, and police officers would you cut in this community to hit your 20 per cent cuts target?

Which crime and disorder reduction partnerships would be cut? How many CCTV projects or street wardens would go? Which social services would be hit by these 20 per cent cuts across the board?

As for the Liberals, their record shows they cannot be trusted to deliver high quality local services.

Time after time, they make promises they can't deliver. Their flagship policy in this election ??? introducing a new layer of local income tax ??? doesn't add up. They even admit this themselves in their own private briefing, revealing that they 'don't want to be drawn extensively on this!' I wonder why?

And remember the Liberals' own Campaign Guide that revealed their political dishonesty? It tells their councillors to say one thing in one area and a nother in the next, if it will win them more votes.

I quote - 'In simple terms if it's a Labourcouncil you can secure support from voters who normally vote Tory by being effectively anti-Labour and similarly in a Tory area secure Labour votes by being anti-Tory.'

Be in no doubt ??? when the people see the Liberals in office, they quickly vote them out again.

So these elections will decide whether the record investment in our public services will be safeguarded and how it will be spent.

These elections are about Labour councillors working in partnership with a Labour government.

These elections are the best way to ensure our public services keep improving.

That's why I'm so proud to help launch our campaign here today in Birmingham and why I am proud to encourage everyone to go out on May 1st and vote Labour.

ALAN MILBURN

It's good to be in the west Midlands again because our investment and reforms in the NHS are making a real difference here.

In this region, since 1997 there are over four thousand extra nurses and over 80 extra GPs.

New hospitals in Hereford and Worcester are already open as part of the biggest hospital building programme the NHS has ever seen. The new Walsgrave hospital in Coventry is being built. Major hospital redevelopments are to come in north Staffordshire, Wolverhampton and Dudley.

University Hospital Birmingham will be the first completely new hospital in this City since the creation of the National Health Service.

Labour's programme is delivering for patients, here in the west Midlands and across the country as a whole. As the NHS modernisation board put it just last month, the NHS is now turning the corner.

There are almost 50,000 more nurses working in the NHS today than there were in 1997 - with tens of thousands more to come.

Double the number of drugs are being prescribed to prevent heart attacks. 6,000 lives are being saved as a result.

One million more patients are gettin g a hospital operation every year. One and three quarter million more are getting seen in outpatients or in A and E.

And on virtually every measure both waiting times and waiting lists for treatment are falling.

The maximum wait for a heart operation has been halved in just one year ??? from 18 months to 9.

All of this progress would be put at risk by the Tories 20% public service cuts. They must be the only people in Britain who think you can get more out of the NHS by putting less in.

Their proposed 20 per cent cut across the board does not represent a slimming down of our public services. It would mean a haemorrhaging of those public services. It would mean less resources and fewer services in local councils. In the NHS it is the equivalent of a cut of one in five nurses, one in five doctors, one in five beds.

And it could only mean ??? as Liam Fox set out just a few weeks ago ??? more patients being forced to pay privately for their treatment.

That would be both inefficient and unfair. Of course there is still a long way to go to give Britain the world class public services we seek. In the NHS there are many problems to overcome. But the only way of tackling them is to keep the resources going in ??? which is why the NHS can now look forward to five years of unprecedented growth - and to speed up reform, not slow it down.

Already Labour councils and local health services are working more closely than ever before to improve care for children and for older people. New national standards and inspection are now in place. Patients are beginning to exercise real choices over when and where they are treated. Power and resources are being devolved to frontline NHS services. The next stage is NHS foundation hospitals which will have greater freedom to run their own affairs and give local communities the right to directly elect hospital governors to represent them.

There is one further reform we want to make: to crackdown on anti-social behaviour in NHS hospitals and health centres as part of Labour's wider programme to tackle crime and disorder. Nurses are up to four times as likely as other employees to experience violence and aggression. NHS staff in A and E are amongst the most likely to face this anti-social behaviour. Those staff come to work to care for others. They do not come to work to face abuse or violence.

That is why we support those NHS trusts which refuse to treat patients who have persistently used violent and threatening behaviour. I can tell this press conference today, that in the last 8 months more than 50 people have been prosecuted by NHS trusts for violent or abusive behaviour.

And I can also confirm today that alongside the additional investment we are making to protect NHS staff as we modernise A and E services, we will support the prosecution and, if necessary private prosecutions taken out by NHS employers, of those individuals who threat, intimidate and assault NHS staff.

We will not tolerate assaults on NHS staff. We do not expect NHS employers to tolerate it either. Violence against NHS staff is a crime. It should be treated as such.

The choice in this election is clear. Record investment and reform with Labour ??? new hospitals, more beds, thousands more nurses and doctors. A better, faster higher quality health service for all as the cornerstone of the fairer society we seek to create in our country.

Or the Tory alternative. Cuts and charges. The rundown of the NHS. A fast track to treatment for those who can afford to pay: slower second rate services for those who cannot.

That's why we say on May 1st, vote to put Britain's public services first: vote Labour.

HILARY ARMSTRONG

I would like to say a few words about the great work being done by both the Labour government and Labour councils across the country to tackle anti-social behaviour.

For many people, tackling crime and anti-social behaviour is their number one priority in these elections. Not just tackling burglary, car thefts and street crime, but also cracking down on loutish behaviour, graffiti, vandalism, abandoned cars, and litter dumped in public places.

One in three people feel that anti-social behaviour impairs their quality of life. Too often, the law-abiding majority have to suffer the irresponsibility and selfishness of a loutish minority, behaviour that can undermine people's health, destroy their family life and hold back the regeneration of the whole community.

I know from my constituents just how this sort of behaviour affects people. Only last weekend, a local woman told me how she is ashamed of her own area because of damage through graffiti and petty vandalism. Anti-social behaviour is destroying her quality of life and her environment and she wanted us politicians' to do something about it

I know from talking to colleagues in Birmingham that there are similar experiences here too.

Much has already been done to tackle these problems. With this Labour government we now have more police on the beat in this country than ever before. Today we have 131,500 police officers across England and Wales. In Birmingham and the west Midlands this has meant an additional 432 officers on the beat since the spring of 2001. This is a huge achievement, especially given the fact that police numbers fell in the last four years of the Tory government.

Today I also want to praise the great work that has led to a substantial drop in crime. The very latest British Crime Survey figures show that since 1997 crime has fallen overall by more than a quarter.

Burglary is now down 41 per cent, car thefts are down by more than a third and violence is down 26 per cent since Labour came to power.

And in Birmingham, which has had its own problems with crime and anti-social behaviour in the past, the latest figures show significant falls in crime here too.

The last quarter of 2002, when compared to the same period for 2001, has seen a drop in burglary of 27 per ce nt and a 15 per cent fall in car theft. And, following the launch of the street crime initiative in Birmingham, Birmingham has seen a drop of almost a third in thefts against the person.

These figures represent an enormous endorsement of the work of the police, local councillors, street wardens and community representatives, all working to tackle crime. They are even more amazing given how crime doubled under the Tories.

However we still have much more to do to beat this, and to help people who live in fear of crime. We are currently debating the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill in the House, which sets out additional measures to restore respect in our communities and to take a stand against anti-social behaviour: providing more powers for the police to tackle crack houses, banning air weapons in public places, and improving the way ASBOs work.

But my key message today is how local authorities, and especially Labour councils, are now central to the fight against crime and anti-social behaviour. Labour has strengthened the powers of local government to help deal with these problems ??? more power to tackle nuisance neighbours, the means for councils to introduce street wardens, and crack down on anti-social behaviour, litter and graffiti. And these powers have been matched by additional resources ??? 25 per cent more in real terms for local government since 1997, with additional funding for Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships which are an important way for local government to lead the way in beating crime.

Across the country, here in Birmingham and elsewhere, it is Labour councils that are pioneering new ways to tackle anti-social behaviour. Like in Reading, where Labour has set up a dedicated Nuisance Team to deal with anti-social behaviour on the streets. Or Wigan, where their imaginative street scene scheme helps to reduce the amount of litter and dog fouling on the borough's streets. Or Manchester, which is leading the way in the use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. Here, with every ASBO, the council and police issue a full colour leaflet to every house in the area, detailing the person under the order, the reasons it was obtained and what local people can do if they suspect the order is being broken.

And it is not just in towns and cities. In my own area, a scheme called Farmwatch has increased security in the countryside and reduced the number of farm vehicles being stolen.

These are just of few of the huge number of measures being taken by Labour Councils, in partnership with the Labour government, to tackle anti-social behaviour.

But there remains a huge challenge in this area. Central government, local government and the communities themselves have a lot of work to do to rid our towns and cities of this menace.

That is why these elections are so important. The choice is clear: a Labour government and Labour running local councils, working in partnership, investing in our communities and helping to restore respect and responsibility, or 20 per cent cuts to the police, crime reduction partnerships and drug treatment activities, under the Tories.

To enable these councils to continue this important work, it is critical everyone votes Labour in these elections, whether by post, or at the polling station on 1st May.

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