NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 25th October 2015
Next month the Chancellor George Osborne will stand up in Parliament to announce how much money has been allocated to public services for the coming three year period in his ‘Spending Review’. So we will see, over the coming weeks, various campaigns starting to build pressures for more resources. There are already some big needs which the Chancellor should address – including revisiting his cuts to the working tax credits which will hit some of the lowest paid working people.
But following my meeting on Friday with the management team at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, I am increasingly worried about the financial crisis facing our health service – and whether the Government are taking this seriously. A few figures brought this to life for me; despite growing demand and workload pressures, higher clinical negligence insurance costs and agency nursing fees, our local hospitals actually received a £6million CUT in the cash they received from the clinical commissioning group this year. Cutting the cash for QMC and City Hospital through this local CCG contract means that, in turn, a whole series of equipment improvements we need at the hospitals have been put on ice, including planned upgrades for radiology imaging equipment.
The hospitals budget needs £848million just to stand still, but there is only £755million of income and grants – leaving a whopping £93million shortfall. The Trust plan to make some of this shortfall up with a further £44million of ‘savings’, but that would still leave them £49million short. These are big figures, it is a dangerous deficit, and the numbers paint a picture sadly replicated in other hospital trusts across the rest of the country.
The Chancellor’s spending review has got to address this NHS financial crisis or the pressures we see in winter months especially in the Emergency Department will get worse and worse. They were elected on a promise to meet NHS funding needs, and the Spending Review must now come up with the goods – and that’s just to preserve the existing services we have, let alone to fund new improvements.
- Sickle cell disorder affects between 12,500 and 15,000 people in the UK, making it the most common inherited disease in the country. Abnormal blood cells getting stuck in the blood vessels can produce a ‘sickle cell crisis’ – episodes of severe pain in the bones, joints, stomach or chest. Although good medical treatment is available, often social support is not, and awareness is low. That is why OSCAR Nottingham, a charity founded by parents of sufferers in 1983, is so valuable. It was great to speak at the opening of their Health & Wellbeing Day and talked to chairman Paul Pryce (pictured) about the important work they do. This includes raising awareness of how the disease is passed on and support for young sufferers (e.g. help with difficulties at school, counselling, health advice). It is clear that they offer vital social support for sufferers that otherwise would not be available.
- On Friday afternoon I visited Runnymede Court in Portland Road, a 60 unit retirement complex where over 78 residents live. I was given a warm welcome by their staff and residents, and enjoyed hearing about the support the estate offers and discussed some of the concerns and issues of those living in the complex (pictured below).
- 19th October marked the first day of the extended franchise for Stagecoach to run East Midlands Trains, which runs until March 2018. As part of the £150 million deal, Stagecoach are launching a £13million investment programme, which they say will bring a number of improvements to the service, including 22 additional services from Nottingham to Newark Castle. I will be keeping a close watch on how this franchise progresses as it is important to hold these services to account.
- Are you registered to vote? Changes in the system introduced by this Government mean around one million people will be taken off the electoral register this year. You can make sure you’re not one of them by registering to vote at gov.uk/register-to-vote . It is quick and easy, and only takes three minute. You will need your National Insurance number so do have it to hand. There are significant elections coming up in the coming year and don’t forget, if you don’t register there could be an £80 fine and you may find it harder to get a credit card or mobile phone contract. Nottingham City Council’s electoral registration team have been trying to ensure the register is up to date in our area but I am concerned that there are some pockets of our neighbourhoods where registration isn’t high.
- October is almost over and Christmas adverts are probably soon to follow. I launched my annual Christmas Picture Competition last week, so this is just a reminder to keep sending entries in. It is 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 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!
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- The fight to persuade the Chancellor to change his working tax credits proposal is reaching a crunch point, with a vote in the Lords tomorrow and possibly more opportunities for opposition during the rest of the week. My suspicion is that he will use Tuesday’s Treasury Questions to announce a ‘tweak’ to the plan – but whether this is enough to end the penalty for those in work remains to be seen. On Tuesday I supported the Opposition Motion calling on the government to drop the plans and even some Conservative MPs voiced their concerns.
- On Tuesday there was an Urgent Question on the future of the steel industry following the announcement of nearly 1,200 job losses at the Tata Steel plants in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire, and Caparo Industries entering administration. The ongoing crisis in our steel industry is a tragedy for all those affected. I understand the real and difficult problems facing the steel industry. However, I am concerned that the Government have been so reluctant to defend the industry when it is so important to our strategic national interests. A steel summit was held last Friday and I believe the Government should immediately carry out the emergency actions which the industry called for. With each passing day there is a new blow to the steel industry. We need action from the Government including working with the European Commission and the Chinese Government to relieve the pressure on the industry. Coming so soon after the closure of the Redcar steelworks, I hope the Government can work with every agency and jurisdiction to support the individuals, families and communities who are being affected by these job losses.
- This week the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill started its Committee Stage in the House of Commons and a range of amendments were debated. I support real devolution to empower our communities. However, I fear this Bill is a top-down process of piecemeal deals that do not offer meaningful devolution to all areas of England. I supported a number of amendments on Tuesday including on fair funding, and for the provision for a multi-year funding agreement which would allow combined authorities the resources and time needed to build financial stability and allow them to best protect themselves against unfair funding settlements delivered by central government.
- In the next few weeks I expect that George Osborne will have negotiated a joint proposal with council leaders across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire on how a combined authority for our part of the East Midlands might look, with Osborne insisting on the proviso of an elected mayor across this area. Until we see what is on offer, the jury is out. My concerns are whether this extra layer of local government is justified by the powers and resources vested more locally. I will keep you posted when we hear more detail.
- I was sorry to learn this week that my colleague Michael Meacher died at the age of 75. He was a Minister in the previous Labour Government on environmental issues and was a great fighter for social justice and equal opportunities.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Should we have English votes for English laws (‘EVEL’) in the House of Commons? Clearly there is a need to address the anomaly where Scottish and Welsh MPs have a say on English issues, but English MPs cannot take part in decisions which are devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.
But the Government’s solution this week may make matters worse, rather than resolve these tensions. The so-called ‘EVEL’ reforms will now mean that the Speaker has the tricky job of certifying if a piece of legislation relates only to England and, if so, English MPs alone will have to grant their ‘consent’ for the Bill to proceed. The trouble is, whether a Bill is purely ‘English’ is not always clear cut. For instance, does a third runway at Heathrow only relate to England? Or are the Scots affected if Heathrow does or doesn’t expand routes to different parts of the UK?
There should have been far more in-depth thinking about the major constitutional ramifications of this change, rather than the rushed changes to the House of Commons standing orders pushed through on Thursday afternoon. I think the UK is strongest if we find ways to bind the nations together, not plant the seeds of disunity and animosity with a sense that there are ‘two classes’ of MPs sitting in the same Parliament.
I’d be interested to know your views and whether you think there are better solutions.