NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 16th April 2016
Parliament returned from the Easter recess this week – with plenty of controversy to discuss. On Monday the Prime Minister made a statement on the leak of the so-called ‘Panama Papers’ and his own entanglement with the scrutiny of offshore tax issues. Decisive action against global tax avoidance is something I’ve discussed many times in the Commons and in previous MP Updates – and Britain has a significant role to play here. More than half of the companies named in the Panama Papers were registered in UK- governed tax havens. While the Prime Minister announced that the UK’s crown dependencies and overseas territories will provide UK authorities with full access to information on the beneficial ownership of companies – and announced a new criminal offence to apply to corporations colluding in tax evasion – many colleagues felt more was needed. Clearly, HMRC should be properly resourced to investigate aggressive tax avoidance and Ministers should be leading the global campaign to fight against evasion. The simple fact is that there are many legitimate democratic countries suffering a shortfall of resources for their public services because too many of the very wealthy can swerve obligations to contribute. I hope that this window of concern will be used to finally gain a global consensus on this before it closes and the issue falls down the priority list again of governments across the world.
- You may have seen in the news recently that East Midlands Ambulance Service was rumoured to be considering a merger with West Midlands Ambulance Service. EMAS have now ruled out this option, but both Trusts are in talks to discuss various options for ways the West Midlands service may be able to offer assistance to EMAS to tackle response times and other issues. I’m supportive of the two trusts working more closely with the aim of improving response times, but it is important that any changes do not impact negatively on services for either area.
- On Friday I visited Nottinghamshire Deaf Society to catch up on their work and also find out more about their ‘Hearing Deaf Voices Project’. Nottinghamshire Deaf Society were awarded £60,000 from the Heritage Lottery fund for the project, which seeks to celebrate the history and culture of the deaf community by capturing and displaying memories of members of the community (pictured below with the team as they start to sort through old photographs, records and equipment!). I look forward to following this project as it progresses and if you or others might have memorabilia or records that could be useful for the project, do get in touch and email at email@example.com
- On Friday I attended the Service Users Forum at Framework to hear from the housing charity’s service users and answer their questions. We discussed the resources available for health and social care rehabilitation, the challenges facing local authorities and homelessness organisations in the city and how to continue a dialogue with policy makers in the future. It’s great that Framework involve service users in this way and I learned a lot from the conversations with the tenants (pictured).
- This is an important time in the future of skills and further education in the city, which is why all local MPs met with representatives from Central College and New College Nottingham this week – and also with staff representatives from the trades unions – to discuss how the proposed merger of these two organisations will proceed, with the most likely name of the new body being Nottingham College. The consultation on the merger has now closed and it is likely that there will be an aim for any new unified college to open at the beginning of the new educational year in September. There are 40,000 students and around 8000 staff affected by this merger with 17 different college sites involved – so we will keep a close eye on how the proposal develops.
- The campaign on the European referendum began officially this week with a series of activities from both sides of the debate. I will be taking part in a Question Time event on the EU Referendum on Friday 20th May hosted by Nottingham Professional Services. I will be leading the argument for Britain to remain in the EU, against a ‘leave’ case led by North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen. The debate is primarily aimed at the professional services and wider business community. If you are interested in finding out more about the debate, you can read about it on the Nottingham Post website here.
- Last week I paid a visit to Stonebridge City Farm in St Ann’s to catch up with staff and volunteers and to meet some of their new arrivals, including some new born lambs and baby rabbits which they have for children to pet (always nice to include cute animal pictures – below!). Stonebridge City Farm is open daily 10am-4pm and entrance is free – I would highly recommend it for a family day out.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- On Monday the Secretary of State for Business made a statement in the Commons on Britain’s steel industry and on Tuesday there was an emergency debate on Tata Steel’s decision to sell its UK steel operations and the action the Government is taking. Since Easter, the challenges facing the UK steel industry have escalated into a crisis, and the Government have been found wanting. Labour MPs including myself have raised steel issues no fewer than 200 times in the past year and we have seen no effective action month after month. There are 15,000 jobs directly at stake in the industry and a further 25,000 jobs at stake in the wider supply chain. These are the kind of high-skill, high-paid jobs of which we need to see more. Steel is a foundation industry which is vital for our manufacturing sector and fundamental for our defence. There are big challenges facing UK steel, but I believe that it can have a strong and sustainable future, and decisions made by this Government now will ultimately determine whether it does. The most significant cause of the crisis facing the steel industry is the dumping of huge amounts of cheap, state-subsidised Chinese steel on the market. I support calls for action to protect UK producers and level the playing field. On procurement, the Government should take action to ensure that UK steel producers are able to compete fairly for large public sector contracts. The Government have ignored the warning signs for far too long, and now they must act to find a suitable buyer at Port Talbot, and to work with the steel producers, the work force, and the clients and customers to ensure that the industry is placed on an even keel.
- On Monday the Europe Minister made a statement on the upcoming European Union referendum on 23 June and public information. This statement came as households in England began to receive a leaflet explaining why the Government believe that remaining in the European Union is in the best interests of the British people. Households in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive the leaflet from 9 May. In my view, it is reasonable for the Government of the day to set out its position and the facts about our membership of the EU, just as the Labour Government did prior to the 1975 referendum. This is the biggest political choice the British people have faced for more than 40 years, and the public expect an informed debate that is backed up by information. It is my belief that the country would be better off remaining in the EU because of the jobs, growth, investment and protection for British workers and consumers that depend on it. In my view, were the country to leave the EU, this would put that at risk and diminish our influence in the world.
- On Wednesday there was an Opposition Day debate on the Government’s Schools White Paper. The White Paper sets out plans for all schools to become academies by 2022. It also proposes that schools should no longer be required to reserve places on their governing boards for elected parent governors. I believe that these plans are deeply flawed. The debate provided an opportunity to air the concerns of parents, communities, heads, teachers and others and to call on the Government to put the proposals on hold. I am concerned that the Government’s plans for all schools to become academies constitute a costly and unnecessary reorganisation of the school system. We need to build a school system that provides an excellent education for all children regardless of school type and there is no conclusive evidence that academisation in and of itself leads to school improvement. There are outstanding academies and excellent community schools, but also poor examples of both. Furthermore, the vast majority of schools affected by this policy will be primary schools, over 80 per cent of which are already rated good and outstanding. The Government’s plans will not solve the serious problems facing schools today, such as teacher shortages, real-terms cuts to school budgets and major overhauls of curriculums, exams and assessment, and will take time, money and effort away from raising standards. In addition, I believe that the removal of parent governors from school governing bodies will reduce the genuine involvement of parents and communities in local schools. Labour’s motion noted these concerns. Unfortunately, the Government opposed the motion and though I voted against their amendment, it passed with the support of Government MPs.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I had a useful catch-up with the Chair and Chief Executive of Nottingham Hospitals NHS Trust on Friday – the team managing City Hospital and QMC – to discuss a series of local NHS issues. The pressures on the Emergency Department have been particularly great this winter and performance against the four hour wait target has been under strain. When I visited the Emergency Department recent it was clearly getting quite crowded at times and I hope that decisions to rebuild and remodel into a bigger facility can be made as soon as possible – and I will be lobbying the Department for Health for the capital resources needed to do this. Other issues came up too, including the performance of Carillion as the contractor for cleaning and portering, and of course the ongoing Junior Doctors’ dispute with Ministers concerning the proposed change in contract.
What has your experience been of our local hospitals recently? The NHS is a large organisation and the hospitals are run separately from GPs (‘secondary’ health care as opposed to ‘primary’ healthcare) and I would welcome any observations you might have. Do you think services are improving? Have you been affected by the Junior Doctors’ dispute? I am keen to raise issues continually with the Government and would be grateful for any feedback you have.