NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 18th December 2015
I was pleased to learn on Friday that Nottingham has been chosen by UNESCO to be a City of Literature. This is a huge honour for Nottingham, as there are only 20 Cities of Literature around the world. I hope that the accolade will be a catalyst for further development of the creative economy and culture already doing so well. It was a demanding bidding process, and all those involved can be proud of such a major achievement.
I was really glad that a large part of the bid process for the UNESCO award was aimed at boosting literacy, as well as holding events to celebrate Nottingham’s rich literary history. This is definitely the right moment to take stock of the overall state of literacy across the city.
Currently, nearly six out of ten Nottingham schoolchildren leave without five A* to C GCSE grades, including English and maths. We have to do better than this and we need to find ways to encourage reading and writing in the early years for local children both within and beyond the school environment. Some of today’s proposals from the Social Mobility Commission may be stark, but anything that incentivises the best teachers to have good morale, better terms and conditions and helps bring in high teaching skills into more deprived areas would be a good thing. In 2016 I want to focus more on what needs to be done to boost literacy and numeracy here in Nottingham and I’d be interested in any thoughts or suggestions you might have about how best we should do this.
- On Thursday morning, I visited the local Royal Mail delivery office on Lower Parliament Street. It was great to meet Delivery Office Manager Andy Fox and the team to find out about the great work they do, particularly during the busy Christmas period. Our postal workers put in a great deal of effort all year round, but they do a particularly important job at this time of year. The last posting dates for Christmas delivery are Saturday 19th (second class mail) and Monday 21st (first class mail).
- Yesterday I met with Andrew Redfern from the charity Framework for an update on their work on housing and homelessness around the city. Winter is a particularly tough time for those struggling to find permanent and safe shelter, and Christmas is a very busy time for the charity, who have been running street collections across the city and county throughout December. I spoke with the team from Framework’s Housing Crisis Service in the city centre, which provides help for people at immediate risk of becoming homeless, and there are a number of issues coming up in Parliament I am hoping to work with the supported housing sector on in the new year.
- By now you will hopefully have received my Christmas e-card, with some outstanding artwork from local school children. This year’s fantastic winning design came from Jasmine Johal, a Year 6 pupil at Seely Primary School. Yesterday I visited the New Art Exchange on Gregory Boulevard, where they have a digital display of all of the shortlisted entries from the competition on show throughout the festive period. Do pop along and support this great local gallery if you get the chance – they have some exciting new plans for the next couple of years and their current exhibitions are extremely accessible and thought-provoking.
- At my advice surgery in Asda Hyson Green yesterday it was great to meet constituents to discuss a wide range of issues including forthcoming changes to social security and migration issues arising from conflict in Africa. It is useful to hear a cross-section of views from local residents and if you see me out and about around the constituency please do say hello. My office at 12 Regent Street is open five days a week and my team are available to help with any problems or queries. And although the office will be closed for the short Christmas break, do email me at this email address over that time if there are any urgent issues you need to raise with me.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- On Monday the Government made a Statement following the agreement reached at the UN climate talks (COP21) in Paris last week. For the first time, leaders from nearly every country in the world have come together to cut carbon pollution and set us on the path to a cleaner, greener future: to agree on a common goal of building a carbon-neutral global economy within a generation, to reduce pollution and to switch to cleaner energy and all countries have agreed to raise their ambition every five years until the job is done. I welcome the agreement which has been helped by a cross-party consensus that has existed since 2008. I also welcome the announcement that the developed world will do its fair share by providing at least $100 billion of finance to assist poorer and more vulnerable countries. We must be honest that the pledges made by each country do not add up to a commitment that will keep temperatures well below two degrees. However, the agreement does take us much closer to climate safety and sends a clear signal that the era of unchecked fossil fuel use is coming to an end. In recent months the Government have made a series of decisions that have reversed our progress on the road to climate safety. Ministers have attacked the cheapest options for achieving carbon targets, and household energy bills may rise again. Progress on carbon capture and storage has also been undermined, new wind farms have been blocked and the Government have made secret and short-sighted cuts in energy efficiency and solar power schemes. I will be pressing Ministers, therefore, to ensure UK policy matches the global commitments to which we are now signed up for.
- On Wednesday the Foreign Secretary gave an update in the House of Commons on the campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria following the vote to extend airstrikes two weeks ago. The Foreign Secretary outlined how the UK is targeting Daesh’s finances, disrupting the flow of foreign fighters, fighting Daesh’s ideology and propaganda, and leading diplomatic efforts to deliver a political settlement to end the Syrian civil war. The RAF has struck wellheads in the Omar oil field, as well as conducting reconnaissance and surveillance missions. The RAF has already conducted over 400 strikes as part of more than 1,600 missions flown over Iraq since September 2014, and the Foreign Secretary stated that there has been no reports of civilian casualties as a result of UK airstrikes in either Iraq or Syria. Military action can, however, only be one part of a package of measures needed to defeat Daesh and end the wider Syrian civil war. Indeed, Britain should support a diplomatic agreement that unites those opposed to Daesh within Syria, and paves the way for the departure of Assad. To this end, the Foreign Secretary updated MPs on the diplomatic efforts to deliver a negotiated end to the civil war and a transitional government, noting the ongoing meetings of the International Syria Support Group, and highlighting the bringing together of over 100 representatives from a wide range of Syrian opposition groups in Riyadh by Saudi Arabia. I believe the key test for the Riyadh agreement will be whether it facilitates meaningful peace talks and a ceasefire. With so many different parties to the civil war in Syria, maintaining a ceasefire will be extremely complex, and so I would urge the Government to explore the possibility of a UN resolution reinforcing the outline agreement, including a ceasefire, agreed at the second Vienna conference.
- Yesterday the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government gave a statement on the funding settlement for local councils, including Nottingham City Council. This settlement reduces the central Government grant to local councils by more than half and doesn’t acknowledge additional spending pressures amounting to at least £6.3 billion. The serious underfunding of social care is putting extraordinary pressure on local government and the NHS. Additionally, the Government recently announced in the Spending Review that the public health budget for local councils will be cut by 3.9% which will put vital preventative services at risk. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that local authorities in deprived areas have seen cuts of £220 a head while more affluent areas have seen cuts of £40 a head. I believe the Government needs to re-examine the unjust formula it uses to distribute funding to local councils and I will be working with the City Council locally to press Ministers for the best deal we can get from the Treasury.
- On Monday the Transport Secretary made a statement to the House of Commons on Airport Capacity. In July 2015 the Airports Commission published its final report and the Prime Minister promised to make a decision by the end of the year. Last week this promise was broken when the Government announced, through a last-minute press release, that it would be delaying its long-awaited location decision to further consider measures to mitigate the impacts on local people and the environment. This shambolic response has been criticised by business and MPs from across the House of Commons. I support a new runway in the south-east but the environmental concerns have been known since July and the Government still cannot tell us basic information about the new environmental and mitigation work and what areas were not adequately covered by the Airports Commission. The Government must now address the uncertainty surrounding what I fear is a politically motivated delay.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
This week the Government used a non-debatable motion in the Commons, rather than a proper piece of legislation that could be debated, to pass new regulations on fracking. I voted against the regulations, but because Government MPs supported them, they were passed by a majority of 37.
Ministers had previously conceded that there should be the tougher safeguards that Labour has been calling for to protect drinking water sources and sensitive parts of our countryside like National Parks. Now they’ve abandoned those promises.
It is not unreasonable for the British public to ask for firmer reassurances making sure that shale gas extraction is safe and won’t present intolerable risks to our environment. In my view the Government is ignoring some legitimate concerns. In January Amber Rudd, now energy and climate change secretary, told Parliament: “We have agreed an outright ban on fracking in national parks [and] sites of special scientific interest”. Yet Ministers have gone against their word on this. I received many emails this week on this issue, so I know that plenty of constituents feel very strongly about fracking. We do need to be guided by the scientific evidence and keep an open-mind to lower carbon energy sources than coal. However, we also need to take proper precautions and I’m not convinced the Government are doing this seriously enough. Which direction do you think the Government should be going with energy policy? Are they striking the right balance in the gradual move away from higher carbon-emitting fuels? Are we mindful enough of energy security and costs for consumers, as well as the environmental objectives? As always I look forward to hearing your thoughts.