NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – 13th March 2016
There was a surprise defeat for the Government on the issue of Sunday trading this week, after Labour MPs joined with some Tory rebels to remove the proposal for longer trading hours for large retail if local authorities wanted it. Thank you to those of you who emailed in reply to my ‘what do you think?’ consultation about this a few weeks ago – it was helpful to hear some of the arguments on both sides.
On the one hand, like many others, I have been known to go shopping on a Sunday and of course it is reasonable to have some availability of retail for convenience sake. But on the other hand, those who work in retail do need a measure of protection to keep Sunday as a special day with some respite in distinction from the rest of the week.
So my judgement was that the existing arrangements work well enough and strike a sensible balance. I therefore opposed the Government’s proposed changes, voting in favour of an amendment to remove these provisions from the Bill. The Government was defeated by 317 votes to 286. While I am open to arguments about these things as society changes over time, for now I felt it was better to keep the current rules as they are.
- The Care Quality Commission have this week published their latest inspection report of the services at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, which they have rated as Good following an inspection in September. While the report found areas in need of improvement, the Trust are already seeking to address these concerns. The report also found examples of outstanding practice, particularly within the emergency department, critical care and surgery. I am pleased to see that Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust is performing well, particularly in light of their long-term partnership with the struggling Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust. If you would like to read the full report, you can do so on the CQC website here.
- You may be aware that Central College Nottingham and New College Nottingham have agreed in principle to merge on 1st August 2016. While there are no doubt benefits to the two colleges merging, in terms of efficiency and pooled facilities, I know that concerns have been raised about the merger. In light of this, the two colleges have agreed to hold a public consultation on the proposed merger, which runs until 15th The consultation document is available to view on both the Central College Nottingham and New College Nottingham websites, where you can also offer feedback on the proposed merger. I will also be meeting with key parties involved in the proposed merger in the coming weeks to listen to concerns and ensure any transition is handled as smoothly as possible.
- The Times newspaper ran a story yesterday on its front page raising concerns about inappropriate text messaging in schools and worries about child exploitation. Nottingham Academy was mentioned in that article along with several other schools from other parts of the country. At this stage it is not clear on what evidence the Times based that particular story, but I will be asking the school for their response and also liaising with the City Council education officials to ensure that the right measures – and the right sort of education to protect children – are in place.
- This week marked International Women’s Day, with events held across Nottingham and the UK. On Wednesday, Nottinghamshire Police & Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping held a ‘Chance for Change’ Conference, which focused on violence against women and girls. The conference showcased best practice from Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, as well as considering the impact of the new coercive control offence which came into force as part of the Serious Crime Act 2015. Police & Crime Commissioner elections are taking place on Thursday 5th May, and Paddy Tipping is seeking election once again in Nottinghamshire.
- I’m glad that the protest against the Government’s Housing Bill changes went well this morning with a protest march to Speaker’s Corner arranged by Nottingham City Homes highlighting the concerns of many tenants. Ultimately we need to work harder in Parliament to ensure that a diversity of affordable housing remains available in this country – there’s a lot at stake.
- It was great to meet local residents at my surgery in Tesco Metro at the Victoria Centre recently. Issues raised included the forthcoming European referendum and housing in the area. It is always useful to hear from local residents, so if you see me out and about in the constituency, please do come and say hello.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- On Monday the Government’s Policing and Crime Bill was debated in the House of Commons for the first time. There are a number of measures in this Bill that I welcome, such as proposals to ban the use of police cells for children in mental health crisis and to limit the time for which people can be held. I also support measures relating to child exploitation, firearms and alcohol licensing. It is encouraging that there now appears to be consensus for reform of police complaints, accountability, and police bail, although I do not think the Government has gone far enough. There are concerns expressed about the proposal to put the fire service under the control of Police and Crime Commissioners. Collaboration between the services is important, but it must be led by local need and with local agreement from all parties concerned. The Bill passed Second Reading on Monday and will now be considered in Public Bill Committee where I hope that the Government will work with my colleagues in the Shadow Home Office team to address some of these concerns.
- On Tuesday and Wednesday the House of Commons considered the Enterprise Bill at Report Stage and Third Reading. This Bill mostly contains a hotchpotch of minor and underwhelming measures, rather than the outline of an ambitious and active industrial strategy which businesses, industry and workers in this country need. I voted for a number of amendments to strengthen it, included retaining the Green Investment Bank’s green focus.
- International Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate the achievements of women and to recognise the progress made on women’s rights and freedoms to date. On Tuesday there was a wide-ranging debate in the House of Commons in which some of the economic, social, cultural and political successes of women were noted. It was also an opportunity to recognise how much further we have to go, both in the UK and internationally, to achieve equality for women. This Government are turning back the clock on economic equality. Of the £82bn in tax increases and cuts in social security spending since 2010 that will be implemented over the course of this Parliament, 81% will come from women, but the Government still refuses to publish a cumulative impact assessment of their policies on women, despite calls from the Opposition.
- On Wednesday the Government responded to an Urgent Question on the agreement reached in principle at the EU-Turkey summit on Monday. The Foreign Office Minister outlined what the agreement entailed. It provided a basis on which all migrants who arrive in Greece in the future could be returned to Turkey. It does not impose any new resettlement or relocation obligations on the UK, and Turkish citizens visiting the UK will still require visas as we are not a member of the Schengen area. It will also ensure the proper disbursement of the €3 billion commitment agreed in November last year to provide humanitarian support, and to fund the schools, hospitals and housing required to support refugees. The UK has already agreed to pay a £250 million share of this. I welcome that European nations are working together to find a solution to the refugee crisis, and I think it this cooperation shows why we need to work together internationally.
- Quite a few local residents contacted me about Green Party MP Caroline Lucas’s NHS Reinstatement Bill which was due on Friday. As expected, the Bill was ‘talked out’ and got only 17 minutes of debate with no vote. This is the usual pattern for private members’ bills that are contentious – because serious legislation needs the support of the government of the day to secure ‘prime time’ legislative space in the parliamentary calendar. As I explained in my reply to those who wrote, there’s no shortcut to saving the NHS; only a change of government can achieve this.
- It’s Budget day on Wednesday – and there is much speculation about how it will shape up. I wrote an article on the PoliticsHome website with my thoughts about this and how the Opposition should approach the issue: there’s a link to the piece here.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
This week Education Secretary Nicky Morgan started her official consultation on ending the current schools funding formula – perhaps moving to a system which spreads resources on a more ‘per capita’ basis rather than emphasising factors such as disadvantage or community need. I’d be interested to know what you think about this consultation – and would encourage you to contact the Government directly about this (follow this link here for the full consultation paper https://consult.education.gov.uk/funding-policy-unit/schools-national-funding-formula/supporting_documents/Schools_NFF_consultation.pdf )
In my opinion, we need to demand Ministers recognise that some communities face additional challenges more than others, not only because of higher levels of English as an additional language, but because disadvantaged households can find it harder to put the same resources into learning than those in more affluent areas. This isn’t to say that children from poorer households are inevitably going to have relatively lower academic performance. But there is ample evidence to suggest that, in aggregate, poorer communities can catch up if schools have those additional resources to offset some of those obstacles with high quality teaching and facilities.
So I would worry if these national formulae are being changed – to the detriment of education in Nottingham. I am a great believer in the power of excellent teaching to overcome even the most difficult circumstances children can face. But we have to will the means to deliver that excellent environment.