NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 18th October 2015
The severe cuts to working tax credits due from next April will mean that people in employment but on modest levels of pay could lose more than £1000 a year. And because these losses won’t be made up for by the rise in the national minimum wage, it is now clear that the Government are going to come under intense pressure to rethink this plan.
In the hours after George Osborne made this announcement, I was clear that it would be the most pernicious aspect of his Summer Budget – which is why I called the change a ‘work penalty’, penalising people trying their hardest to do the right thing and go out to work. Because tax credits are complex and calculated for different individuals depending on their own circumstances, it is easy to see how for many people the impact of the changes in April might be a bit unclear. But the two major changes will together be a major disincentive for people to go out and earn a living – cutting the threshold at which the full allowance of working tax credit begins to be payable and then tapering away the tax credit more steeply for every pound earned through work.
I would predict that George Osborne is already planning to back down in his ‘Autumn Statement’ on November 25th, but it is quite important that MPs speak up to keep the pressure on the Chancellor. If you are likely to be affected and depend on working tax credit to make ends meet, I’d be interested to hear your story. With Labour out of government now we can only hope that Conservative Ministers respond to public pressure – so if you want to write to the Chancellor about these changes do so at HM Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ.
- Seventy years ago in October 1945 the United Nations was formed after the end of the second world war, out of the lessons of the failures of the old ‘League of Nations’, the global forum for diplomacy aiming for a more peaceful and sustainable planet. Here in Nottingham we have a very welcome branch of the United Nations Association, which met in the Council House on Friday morning to hand over a commemorative copy of the UN Charter to the Sheriff of Nottingham (pictured below) – and to discuss future ideas for UN reform. It is incredibly frustrating that action is often thwarted by the unanimous requirements of the UN constitutions, but at least we have 139 countries signed up to talking and dialogue, albeit many of whom still shun notions of democracy. We sometimes take for granted the obvious – but we should acknowledge that the UN is a vital forum we continue to need in an insecure world.
- Well done to the team at Green’s Mill in Sneinton for the transformation of their new garden, led by Rachael Hemmings who gave me a tour of their newly built facilities and greenhouse last week (see pictured below). Next Friday they’ll be hosting a Family Grow & Cook taster session from 10am until 1pm and I’d recommend popping along – just walk up to the mill and the garden is situated through the mill yard. Book at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to go along.
- When young people are at risk of school exclusion or find that the school environment isn’t working for them, the education system has developed a series of ‘alternative learning’ centres to ensure continuity of schooling. But the range of alternative education providers is varied and it’s up to schools to find the right one. So it was heartening to have the chance to visit the new ‘Pheonix Aspirational Learning’ in Liddington Street, Basford recently. They have come together from the staff of the former Wheelbase Centre which sadly closed last year – and the new team (pictured) are determined to help young people develop practical skills including plumbing, gardening, woodwork, arts and crafts as well as business skills, Maths and English. I was really impressed with the dedication of the team, who have personally taken a big leap to set the new facility up with very little financial backing, and it’s really great that they’ve had loads of donations and offers of help from across the community. They still need donations of tools for their workshop so if anyone knows of spares they could donate, do email me to let me know.
- Happy 21st birthday to health food shop Roots Natural Foods in Sherwood – it was really nice to catch up with Ken Dyke and the team and ‘cut the cake’ especially as they’ve been supporting the local charity NUH Jimma Link as they work to exchange medical staff with a hospital in Addis Ababa.
- Assisting constituents with individual cases and problems are a really important part of being an MP and also a good way to hear about local concerns first hand; that’s why I was in Asda in Hyson Green chatting to local residents about schools, council matters and national politics last week. If you don’t have an issue you’d like me to pursue please still let me know what you think of the news of the day – so if you see me out and about, come and say hello!
- As October continues and autumn starts to bite, few of us have even started to think about the festive season. However, the time has come to launch this year’s edition of my annual Christmas Picture Competition, open to all primary school aged children living in Nottingham East. All local schools have been invited to participate, but we accept individual entries too. The theme for this year’s competition is “Christmassy Books”. The closing date for entries is the 27th November and prizes will be presented around 11th December. Entries should be A4 or smaller and please avoid using loose materials like glitter. Please remember to provide contact details and a return address. Please send the original artwork to my office, either by post (to 12 Regent Street, Nottingham, NG1 5BQ) or via email to email@example.com Best of luck!
- Denewood and Unity Pupil Referral Unit on Forest Road West was judged “inadequate” and requiring urgent improvement by Ofsted last December. Due to the amount of improvement still required, I gather that the Secretary of State for Education is considering enforcing a temporary change of management in the school. I am trying to find out more about this situation and am keeping an eye on developments.
- The Jobs Fair is coming to Nottingham on the 13th November. The Fair, being held at Nottingham Arena, will feature 20+ local businesses and employers actively looking for new workers. The event itself is running from 10am to 2pm and is suitable for all types of companies and jobseekers. More information can be found here.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- The big debate in Parliament this week revolved around the Government’s proposal for a ‘Charter for Fiscal Responsibility’ which sets out the goal for there to be more revenue coming in to the Treasury than public expenditure going out by 2019/20, and in ‘normal times’ thereafter for a surplus to be achieved, to begin the process of reducing the UK’s £1.5trillion of debt.This was a surprise, not just because it seemed at odds with John’s views about public spending, but because over the summer I had been carefully crafting an approach to avoid this trap, instead planning to table Labour’s own separate motion in the Commons on an Opposition Day with our preferred version of fiscal rules, and to ignore the Osborne political game-playing by abstaining on the Government’s version. Far better to offer the country our own free-standing approach, which would have also aimed for a surplus but with more safeguards including a series of ‘tests’ to protect the viability of public services, the NHS and national security, and to protect the needs of the most vulnerable in society.Having argued throughout the summer that we shouldn’t engage with Osborne’s silly game-playing, my judgement was to abstain on the vote on Wednesday. As John himself now admits, this has been an embarrassing situation for the frontbench, but to be fair it is a complex issue which was designed to ensnare and tarnish Labour. I am quite sure that lessons will be learned.
- So when I spoke with John McDonnell last Sunday, I advised him not to vote in favour of the Osborne charter as he planned, but to stay out of the fray that the Chancellor was trying to entangle him in. On Monday, John announced a u-turn on his plans, saying he would no longer back the Osborne plan, but would now vote against it. Unfortunately this leap from one extreme to the other sent the signal that Labour would actively oppose a surplus, which I believe is not where the majority of the public think a sensible alternative government should be.
- It has been quite clear to everyone for many months that this was a giant political ‘trap’ designed by George Osborne to tarnish the Labour Party as somehow ‘addicted to borrowing forever’, enticing Labour to vote against the measure and thereby allow him to label us as ‘deficit deniers’. Indeed, Labour’s new Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said he recognised as much himself – and surprised us all during the Party conference in September by saying Labour MPs would be whipped to actually vote in favour of this Fiscal Charter.
- This week the Shadow Health Secretary asked an Urgent Question on NHS financial performance following the recent figures which show the NHS overspent by £930 million in three months and could be on course for an annual deficit of £2 billion this financial year. The figures show that the deficit for the first three months of this financial year was larger than the deficit for the whole of 2014-15. It is unclear how the Government expect to fund more services spread over seven days. I am also concerned by reports that the health regulator, Monitor, was “leaned on” to delay the publication of these figures. The pressures faced by the NHS are a direct result of the decisions taken by this Government, with a significant reduction in social care provision, staff shortages which are forcing hospitals to recruit from overseas or hire expensive agency staff, and a damaging top-down reorganisation. Hospitals across the country and here in Nottingham are being faced with the stark choice between balancing the books and delivering safe care, with a further £22 billion of ‘efficiency savings’ threatening staff cuts and service closures. People across the country depend on NHS services and I fear the Government has no plan to tackle the financial crisis facing our NHS.
- On Tuesday the House of Commons debated the Government’s Immigration Bill. I believe that there should be firm and fair controls on illegal immigration, and there are measures in this Bill which I support, such as the strengthening of sanctions on employers of illegal workers and the establishment of a Director of Labour Market Enforcement. However, the Bill contains a number of highly problematic measures, some of which I fear could leave families and children homeless. I am particularly concerned about the Bill’s proposals on housing which will require checking of the immigration status of potential tenants through the ‘Right to Rent’ scheme. An independent study into a pilot of these proposals resulted in extremely troubling findings, notably that checks are not being undertaken uniformly for all tenants, and are being directed at individuals who appear ‘foreign’. I am therefore concerned that if the Government proceed with this scheme as it stands, it could lead to widespread, indirect discrimination.
- In its current form, I do not believe that this Bill will decrease illegal immigration, but instead will reduce social cohesion and punish the children of illegal immigrants. That is why I voted for an Opposition ‘Reasoned Amendment’ which highlighted the elements of the Bill I support and those measures I oppose. This amendment did not pass, however, and so given the strength of my objection to some of the proposed measures, I voted against the Bill in its entirety.
- On Wednesday the House of Commons debated the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. I support devolution to empower communities across the regions and cities of this country. While this Bill is a step in the right direction, I am concerned that the Bill is a top down process of piecemeal deals that do not offer meaningful devolution to all areas of England. The Bill imposes mayors without consultation or referenda as a condition of devolution. I do not agree that elected mayors should be a pre-condition for further devolution of powers to combined authorities. Indeed, if the Government are serious about devolution, they should let local areas choose their own model of governance. The Bill also does not offer a fair funding settlement which I fear threatens the financial stability of local government.The Government’s Bill was passed on Wednesday. However, I hope the Government can be persuaded to go further and faster in delivering real devolution to the country as the Bill continues its passage through Parliament.
- We need to look at the constitutional and political issues facing our country but it is clear the Government still do not have a real vision for what a more devolved Britain might be. I would like to see a constitutional convention that could reach into every part of the country to test the arguments about a new settlement for Britain.
- This week my colleagues Anna Turley and Tom Blenkinsop asked Urgent Questions in the House of Commons following the closure of the Redcar steelworks, which is likely to directly affect 2,200 jobs and many more in the supply chain and local community. This closure is a tragedy for the families of those affected, for the town of Redcar – where at least 50% of those employed at the ovens and blast furnace live – and for a community with a proud steel-making history. It also shows the Government’s lack of strategic vision for Britain’s economic and industrial future. The Government still hav e a number of questions to answer, including why they have been so passive about saving the steel industry in this country when it is so strategically important, and about the level of support that will be provided for those affected in Redcar and beyond.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Ministers are shortly to bring forward proposals that could radically change the Sunday trading arrangements. They plan to give the power to local councils to decide on whether larger retailers should be able to open beyond the current nationally restricted Sunday hours. I’d be interested to know how you think I should vote on this when the issue comes before the Commons in the next couple of weeks.
On the one hand, some people do find the restricted hours troublesome and shopping on a Sunday is often convenient and popular – and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to running my own Sunday errands.
On the other hand, I am concerned that shop workers may be forced into having less time off and less flexibility if Sunday becomes just another retail day, as the shopworkers’ union USDAW has been arguing. I also sympathise with the idea that Sunday should be a ‘special’ day to allow space for family time.
Should local authorities be the ones to decide these things? The case for ‘localism’ is always a powerful one. Or should this remain a national policy to protect the nature of Sundays as they are.
I can see both sides of this issue and would be grateful for any thoughts you might have.