NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 24th April 2016
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Here’s a prediction: I think before long David Cameron and Education Secretary Nick Morgan will back down on their plan to force the remaining local authority ‘maintained’ schools to convert into freestanding academies. The reason? Conservative MPs themselves are starting to realise that bullying already OFSTED-rated ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools into a wholly changed governance structure is a distraction from the work they are already doing well as community maintained schools overseen by the elected local council.
It is one thing to make the case that schools who are inspected as ‘inadequate’ need a wholesale management shake-up. It’s quite another to upset the strong performance of good or outstanding schools with a lurch into new governing bodies, ownership changes to academy trusts and organisational upheaval. If the school head teachers and governors choose, of their own volition, to link up with another group of academies for sound educational reasons, then we should be pragmatic about that and weigh up the merits of that case based on the evidence. But when these things become driven by ideology and dogma – probably based on outdated prejudices of how local government works – then even Tory MPs and Conservative councillors know deep down that’s a step too far.
Talking with some Conservative MPs this week I get the sense they’re distinctly queasy about this move which has big costs (including financial costs) but no proven gains. Whether this is because Number 10 are distracted by the EU referendum or just getting complacent we don’t know. But my bet is they’ll wake up to the nonsense of their argument – and under pressure from MPs of all colours they’ll scale this back before too long. Structural reforms to public services that aren’t based on evidence but on doctrinal theory are usually destined to fail, as we already know from NHS reforms in recent years. And my suspicion is that even quite a few Tory MPs themselves don’t really want to repeat those errors, if they spend a moment reflecting on it.
- This week I visited the Windmill Lane area of Sneinton with Nottingham City Homes to take a look at a new energy efficiency project for homes which is being rolled out across the neighbourhood. Using £3million of EU Smart City funding, the energy efficiency measures will be installed in houses in the Sneinton area by Nottingham City Homes supported by the City Council to help residents reduce their energy bills and reduce carbon emissions in the city (pictured below). Residents in the Windmill Lane area will also soon see a new residents’ parking scheme, which is being introduced to help tackle problems with commuters parking in the area. I’d be interested to hear any feedback about how this develops once it’s in place.
- While I was in Sneinton I had a chance to visit St Stephen’s C of E Primary School where I met with Headteacher Kelly Lee and had a fantastic tour from their School Council (pictured below), and discussions with several classes who were all busy especially with Year 6 who are preparing for their SATs. It was nice to look around the nursery and playground facilities and a real privilege to join the school assembly for their end of week merit certificate and prize giving. The pupils and teachers have an obvious rapport and I was impressed with the overall ethos of the school.
- Thanks to a group of enthusiasts from the Nottingham & District Film Society, a short film about Nottingham from 1951 can now be watched online. The film was originally made for the Festival of Britain celebrations, and shows ordinary life in 1950s Nottingham focused around the Old Market Square. It is a fascinating glimpse into the history of Nottingham – if you would like to view the film you can do so at the link here.
- HandMade Theatre, a Nottingham-based theatre company who specialise in making interactive performances, are seeking to ‘crowdfund’ their latest production. Cuts to Arts Council funding in recent years have meant that it is often difficult for small independent companies to fund their work, so HandMade Theatre are attempting to fund their latest production through small donations. If you are interested in finding out more about their project, or are able to help them achieve their goal, click here.
- Robin Hood Chase in St Ann’s was officially reopened last week following a £4.8million transformation, marking the arrival of new local GP practices, Nottingham City Homes offices and a variety of council services. Robin Hood Chase has long been a focal point for the community in St Ann’s, but has suffered some neglect in recent years, so I am glad to see the area being transformed into a public space for local people to enjoy.
- I am grateful to representatives of the various local NHS bodies including the clinical commissioning group, hospitals, and mental health services, for agreeing to meet me this week at a roundtable I hosted to discuss Nottingham’s social care services and the pressures that exist from the Emergency Department at QMC right through to discharging patients back to home. These aren’t problems exclusive to Nottingham but with a near 10% increase in patients coming into the hospital last year with emergencies we need to urgently think of ways to stop hospital beds getting blocked because social services aren’t able to cope with the numbers needing care assessments to return home. We have a lot of frail elderly people who need extra help and nursing homes with staffing pressures – and I worry about how the system is coping. I want to work up some new thinking about how we can prevent patients feeling that the Emergency Department is the only option they have, and to look at the opportunities offered by the new Urgent Care Centre at the Walk-In site on London Road when it is refurbished soon.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- There was a significant development for the Trade Union Bill in the House of Lords this week, as the Government backed down on plans to scrap ‘check-off’ – public sector employees having their union subscriptions automatically deducted from their wages. On the Minister stood up and said that when he ‘faces cannons to the right of them, cannons to the left of them, cannons in front of them—and maybe even behind them—it is usually best to pause and to ask the reason why’. He went on to announce that the Government will allow check-off to remain in place if the employer agrees. This a significant U-turn, and another example of the House of Lords playing an important role in the legislative process, scrutinising this deeply divisive Bill. While I welcome the Government’s change of heart on this, the rest of the Bill is just as punitive. Plans to prevent unions polling their members online and allowing employers to hire agency workers to replace striking employees are just two of the many damaging aspects of the Bill and I will continue to oppose it when it comes back to the Commons on Wednesday.
- On Monday the Health Secretary responded to an Urgent Question in the Commons on the imposition of a new junior doctors’ contract, a dispute that continues to roll on and which by now the Government should have found a resolution for. We all want to see improvements in weekend services and appreciate that resources are finite, but the negotiation process has been crude and insensitive leaving many junior doctors feeling demoralised and fed up. Which is why I’m glad today that my colleague Heidi Alexander the shadow Health Secretary has joined forces with frontbenchers from the other political parties in the Commons to press Jeremy Hunt to think of some compromise way forward. She’s suggesting today that perhaps a ‘pilot’ of the new contract should be trialled in some Health Trusts and then evaluated to see if indeed this does make improvements in weekend service standards. That feels like a practical way forward and an offer of a route through the impasse that the Secretary of State shouldn’t just reject out of hand. Nobody should be against change for the sake of it, but reforms ought to be grounded in evidence and proven to be in the best interests of patients. I hope the Government will look at new ways through and get back into negotiations with the BMA and work to avoid further industrial action in the coming weeks.
- On Tuesday the Foreign Secretary made a statement to update the House of Commons on the current situation in Libya and what the Government is doing to support the new Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). The Foreign Secretary reiterated the Government’s support for the GNA as the legitimate Government of Libya, which has the endorsement of the majority of members of the House of Representatives. He also confirmed that the UK will allocate £10 million for technical support to the GNA to support the strengthening of political participation, economic development, and the delivery of capacity in security, justice and defence. In addition, the Foreign Secretary clarified that the UK stood ready to provide assistance at the request of the GNA in training Libyan armed forces to improve their effectiveness against Daesh, but that he did not anticipate any requests for ground combat forces. My colleague the Shadow Foreign Secretary sought assurances that if this view were to change, the Government would put any proposals to deploy forces in a combat role to Libya before the House of Commons for a vote. The situation in Libya since Colonel Gaddafi’s brutal and violent response to protests in early 2011 has been bloody and dangerous and the people of Libya have suffered a great deal. We are at an enormously important moment for their future, and it is the responsibility of the world community to do all that it can to help the new Libyan Government succeed.
- On Monday, I attended to a cross-party event to support the TUC’s ‘Dying to Work’ campaign. It seeks to change the law to provide additional employment protection for terminally ill workers. Currently workers with a terminal illness are covered by disability legislation which does not prevent dismissal on grounds of capability. The campaign aims to see terminal illness recognised as a ‘protected characteristic’ so that an employee with a terminal illness would enjoy a ‘protected period’ where they could not be dismissed as a result of their condition. Greater protection would give every person battling a terminal condition the choice of how to spend their final months. They would have the peace of mind to know their job is protected and the future financial security of their family is guaranteed.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
The EU referendum is just two months away. On Monday the Treasury published ‘HM Treasury analysis: the long-term economic impact of EU membership and the alternatives’. In this document Treasury officials make estimates of the UK’s economic condition in 2030 if we vote to leave in June. There are a number of different options available outside the EU, and they evaluate three of them. First is the ‘Norway Option’ of staying inside the European Economic Area, where we would still have to sign up to the EU’s ‘four freedoms’, ie, free movement of goods, persons, services and capital. Here, they estimate that GDP could be 3.8% lower per year by 2030 compared to if we had stayed in, or a cost of approximately £2,600 per household.
I think the most likely option is a negotiated bilateral WTO agreement, or the ‘Canada Option’, where the four freedoms do not apply. If this were the case, GDP could be approximately 6.2% lower per year than it would have been if we had stayed, or £4,300 per household. If we were unable to negotiate a specific trade agreement with the EU, the cost might be around 7.5% of GDP per year by 2030, or £5,200 for every household.
The reaction from the Out campaigners to this report was not unsurprising; John Redwood on the Radio 4 Today Programme said that: ‘It’s an absurd claim from the Treasury’, while Arron Banks (co-founder of Leave.EU) called £4,300 was (hold your breath) ‘a bargain basement price’ to leave. In their eyes, the Treasury document was another addition to the conspiracy to keep us in Europe. But other studies have estimated the costs as even greater – analysis by the LSE suggest that the cost could be equivalent to the 2008/09 Banking Crisis.
As you know, I am particularly worried about the impact of ‘Brexit’ on working people. Not only has the EU contributed towards important developments in workers’ rights – paid leave, maternity rights, the Working Time Directive – but the Treasury document estimates that 1 in 10 jobs are linked to exporting to the EU. As I argued in Treasury Questions on Tuesday (link here), we need to consider the implications for the number and quality of UK jobs.
As you can see, in my view the economic arguments are crystal clear: the EU brings us significant economic benefits. Do you agree? Or will you have other priorities when you vote? Do studies like this help you make up your mind? Let me know.