NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 26th March 2016
The whole world was shocked this week by the multiple terrorist attacks launched by ISIL Daesh on the people of Brussels. This is the fourteenth attack in Europe since the start of 2015, killing at least 31 people and injuring hundreds more. On Wednesday the Home Secretary made a statement in the Commons about the threat that we face from terrorism in the United Kingdom. She confirmed that the UK’s terror threat level remains at ‘severe’, meaning that an attack is highly likely, and stated that seven plots linked to, or inspired by, Daesh to attack the UK have been disrupted by the police and the security services over the last 18 months. The Government have intensified Border Force checks at border controls in Belgium and France, increased numbers of officers present at ports and introduced enhanced searching of inbound tourist vehicles.
Whilst all our thoughts will be with the people of Brussels, we also remember that there are many victims of attacks by Daesh around the world. In my view we have to do everything we can to combat such evil and root out those responsible.
- Last week saw the launch of the Nottingham Centre for Children, Young People and Families. Experts at Nottingham Trent University are seeking to address inequalities in health and life chances of children, young people and families in Nottinghamshire – and nationally. The Centre will bring together over 80 researchers from the university, along with organisations working in the sector, and the affected children and families themselves. With Nottingham ranking highly on the national deprivation scale, and with 36% of the city’s children living in poverty, it is hugely welcome to see Nottingham Trent University taking this bold step to tackle inequality and improve the everyday experiences and outcomes of children, young people and families.
- A neglected space in St Ann’s is going to be transformed thanks to a grant awarded to Groundwork Greater Nottingham (a regeneration organisation that aims to improve lives of people in the area) by The Veolia Environmental Trust. The grant will be used to transform Britten Gardens into a wildlife area, and to also install seating and lay footpaths. A start date for the project has yet to be finalised, but I look forward to hearing more about the project as it progresses.
- If you are looking for activities over this Easter weekend or over the school holidays, there are a range of events taking place across the city in the coming weeks. The City Council has a list of Easter events on their website, which you can find by clicking here.
- Nottingham Hospitals Charity has given over £1.4m to support projects across Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust that have been deemed ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission. The projects supported by the charity include Pocket Midwife, an app for mums-to-be developed at NUH which has been nominated for several awards, and the Playlist for Life project which works to improve services for dementia patients. It was great to meet with the charity a few weeks ago to discuss their work, and I look forward to following their continued work supporting projects at NUH.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- It has been quite an eventful final week in the Commons before the Easter recess (and as usual these MP Update bulletins will return when Parliament is back). The fall-out from Iain Duncan-Smith’s resignation played out throughout the week, starting on Monday when a Treasury Minister (David Gauke) was forced to come to the chamber and explain the tangled web engulfing the Chancellor’s Budget. With the former Work and Pensions Secretary sayig that the cuts to disability benefits were “not defensible in the way they were placed within a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers”, it was inevitable that the Government would have to abandon their planned cuts to disability benefits, however, now leaving a £4.4 billion funding gap in the Budget. Ministers have not yet outlined how this hole in the Budget will be filled, delaying any announcement on public finances and the compliance with the welfare cap until the Autumn Statement. Stephen Crabb, the new Work and Pensions Secretary, then made a statement to the House of Commons on welfare. He confirmed that the Government would now not be going ahead with the changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIP). I was very concerned about these changes which could have seen 370,000 disabled people lose £3,500 a year, which is why I asked the new Minister to apologise. I also pressed the Prime Minister on Monday to justify the near £3billion giveaway to the very wealthiest in society through his decision to cut Capital Gains Tax. That issue is also, I believe, an example of the Government making the wrong priorities. When the Chancellor eventually came to the Commons on Tuesday, I intervened in his speech asking if he’d confirm he had made a mistake – and whether he would say sorry. You can see from the excerpt of film from that debate (at 13:01:40 in this clip) that he just couldn’t bring himself to do so: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/d32599c4-5705-46f1-be88-ed2a40dd319e?in=12:58:01
- On Wednesday the High Speed Rail Bill returned to the House of Commons for its Report Stage and Third Reading. I support High Speed Two (HS2) because it will address the severe capacity constraints on our rail network and improve connections between cities in the Midlands and the North, although there should be no blank cheque for this or any other project. Two amendments from the Opposition were made to the Bill on Wednesday. One imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare an annual report on vocational qualifications obtained in each financial year in connection with HS2 construction. The other amendment requires the Secretary of State to have regard to the relevant development plans when considering compulsory acquisition of land for regeneration or development. I voted for an amendment to the Bill that would have allowed but not required phase 1 of High Speed 2 passenger services to be run by a public sector operator and an amendment on the construction of an integrated Euston Station. Disappointingly, the Government opposed both amendments and they were defeated. HS2 is essential for meeting our capacity challenge and rebalancing the economic geography of the UK. The project has been improved by the parliamentary scrutiny it has received, which will continue as the Bill progresses. I voted for the Bill and it passed its Third Reading.
- This week we saw a landmark war crimes trial at the United Nations court in the Hague pass the verdict that Radovan Karadžić, former President of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (now the Republika Srpska) has been found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica in 1995. Karadžić is the most senior figure convicted of genocide since World War Two. Karadžić was also found guilty of ten of the eleven counts against him, including persecution, extermination, murder as a crime against humanity and murder as a violation of the customs of war, terror and unlawful acts and the taking of UN hostages. I am glad that the international court has patiently and methodically brought this man to justice and it is an example of the sort of international cooperation we must uphold worldwide in pursuit of justice beyond our borders.
- The Government snuck out a little-noticed announcement of a further attempt to privatise the Land Registry on Thursday, which would obviously have ramifications for their staff in Nottingham and elsewhere. There are serious questions to be asked about this – the Land Registry isn’t unprofitable for the Treasury, making a £100m surplus in 2012/13. That may be why appetite was so small in the 2014 consultation when they last floated the idea of a sale. I’ll certainly be trying to scrutinise the value for money basis of what appears an ideologically driven move.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
There were some pretty significant changes to the pensions and savings rules announced in the Budget. Public service worker like teachers, police officers and medical staff will be made to contribute more from their wages from 2019 to fill a £2billion cut.
Savings levels are at a very low level across households in general – and the Budget predicted that savings will be depleted even more for the next four year period. That might be because interest rates are so low, but also because people are finding that it’s too much of a luxury to be putting money aside.
I’d be interested to know what your view is of the savings and pensions situation at the moment. Are there enough incentives to save? If you’re under 40 this new ‘Lifetime ISA’ looks interesting with a significant government contribution for every pound saved – and pensioners of course were able to benefit from the ‘pensioner bond’. But what about those between 40 and 65? Will the flexibility in pension withdrawals be useful? Or could it leave us wondering in 20 years’ time why we have so many pensioners unprovided for in old age?