NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 9th July 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
There is a great deal in ‘the news’ at the moment! My principle focus is the impact that leaving the European Union will have on Nottingham residents and businesses. Nationally, I have called for a pause before Article 50 (to formally leave the EU) is triggered so we can agree our negotiating strategy – which in my view needs to preserve our access to the single market ‘European Economic Area’. The rapid fall in the value of the pound will change some of the prices for goods in the shops and I expect that fuel prices will start to rise shortly, as with other imported commodities.
And there are some other significant local issues to resolve. There are several Nottingham groups and institutions – in the arts, science & research, the universities and colleges – who were planning on support from European Union finance for their future planning. Now that things are up in the air, I want to help secure alternative sources of funding. Otherwise there will be schemes currently underway that may be in jeopardy. There are real jobs, businesses and projects at stake. My request to you is this: if you are involved in local organisations that could be adversely affected by the ending of EU finance – or the restriction on rights to trade or work in the EU – please could you email me at this address? I will try to do what I can to coordinate issues with the local authority and press Ministers in Government as best I can.
Sadly, there will not be ‘£350million a week for our NHS’, despite the slogan on the side of the ‘Vote Leave’ bus. Indeed, the value of the taxpayers’ stake in Royal Bank of Scotland has already fallen by the same amount as our annual contribution to the EU! Economic activity and confidence is likely to be affected soon, so I will be advocating an economic stimulus package to help counteract that.
- This week I visited the Schools, Colleges and Community Outreach Department at Nottingham Trent University to find out about the work they do with young people, both before and during university, to help them to develop their aspirations, raise attainment and promote engagement with their education. I observed a session with some school children where they were taught how to recognise and deal with symptoms of stress, to help enhance exam preparation, which it turn can help their educational attainment. Last year, the department delivered activities to over 1,200 pupils from two of the secondary schools in Nottingham East – Djanogly City Academy and Nottingham Academy, and I was really impressed by their work to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is great to know that NTU are working hard to link up with our local community and help with the transition from school to university.
- On Friday I visited Nottingham Academy which is the largest secondary school in the city, and one of the biggest in Europe, and I had a chance to catch up with school Principal Ged Rae. With nearly 3,000 pupils aged 3-19, it was really interesting to hear how they are meeting the challenges of having such a large and diverse pupil population. As part of my visit I met a group of year 9 pupils who told me about their experiences at the school and their aspirations for sixth form and beyond (pictured below).
- On Friday, Notts Healthcare 2016 took place in the Old Market Square to enable people to find out about services across Nottinghamshire to support their health and wellbeing. The event focused on self-care and prevention, and included mini health checks, children’s activities and information about job and volunteering opportunities. I welcome Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s efforts to engage the community in their work. With our healthcare service under increasing strain, it is important for us all to have an awareness of the appropriate services to access.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- Obviously, the main discussion in the Commons this week followed the long-awaited publication of Sir John Chilcot’s report in the Iraq war. There were clearly misjudgements and mistakes in the decision-making and action taken in Iraq – and Chilcot’s report deserves serious and sober attention, given the detailed and comprehensive account he has presented. Primarily, we need to learn from errors made for future policy. As I said in my question to David Cameron in the Commons on Wednesday, there are practical lessons to be learned especially for Parliament as a whole. This was one of the first decisions to engage in pre-mediated combat where Parliament had to authorise the decision as recommended by Ministers. As such, I want the Commons in future to have greater scrutiny of the Attorney General before it reaches decisions – I would suggest a specific question time opportunity to probe on the legality issues before a vote is taken. Second, I want more accountability of the security services to Parliament, rather than only via a group of MPs selected by the Prime Minister. Plus there needs to be improvements in the way the intelligence agencies explore and report findings. And third, where Parliament concludes that military intervention is necessary, as sometimes it will be, then future Prime Ministers should have a better equipped National Security Council with a thread of accountability back to MPs. Like other MPs I made my decisions at the time in good faith and while with hindsight we could have tried to contain Saddam’s brutality for longer, the decision was appropriate given the information then available. Nevertheless, there are significant constitutional lessons which I will press my colleagues to take forward.
- This week the legal status of EU nationals residing in the UK was discussed on a number of occasions in the House of Commons. On Monday the Immigration Minister responded to an urgent question on this issue following comments from the Home Secretary the previous weekend. The Home Secretary had suggested that “people who have an established life here” would be part of negotiations with Brussels following the outcome of the EU referendum. To throw any doubt over the right of EU nationals to remain here in the future not only undermines family life, but the stability of our public services, our economy and our society. The Home Secretary did not come to the House of Commons on Monday to answer the urgent question and clear up the confusion, and while the Immigration Minister stated that there would be no immediate change in their status in the UK, he refused to provide any further assurances. For people who are making a huge contribution to our society to be talked about as bargaining chips is insensitive to say the least, and I am glad that the Immigration Minister acknowledged on Monday the immense contribution made by EU citizens to our economy, NHS and schools. This is a matter entirely for the Government, and by its own decision it is making this an issue in the negotiations. By doing so it is leaving uncertainty for people, and I fear it is creating conditions for the unwelcoming climate that we have seen to continue. On Wednesday I supported an Opposition motion calling on the Government to commit that EU nationals currently living in the UK shall have the right to remain. I am pleased that the motion passed by 245 votes to 2. The Home Secretary should now accept the decision of the House of Commons and confirm the legal status of EU nationals without delay.
- With industrial action in some schools this week, I pressed Education Secretary Nicky Morgan on the workload pressures facing teachers during Commons Questions this week. The shortage of staff in some schools coupled with duplicative paperwork are issues that need confronting – and I was surprised that Ministers reiterated their view that somehow the ‘free market’ was a solution here!
- On Tuesday during Health Questions I pressed the Health Minister to communicate more effectively on the challenge of antibiotic resistance, which is a real threat to some key medical procedures is we do not manage this properly. Inappropriate use of antibiotics could have severe effects on some medical interventions that are reliant on these drugs, such as gut surgery, joint replacement, caesarean sections and chemotherapies. The Minister agreed and I will watch closely to ensure that the Government’s strategy works as well as possible.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
There is good evidence to suggest that musical ability at an early age equips children to be motivated, creative and self-reliant in other subjects including maths and literacy. That’s why yesterday I convened a ‘Nottingham Music Education’ roundtable discussion (pictured below) with the key stakeholders from across the city’s schools, public bodies and music organisations.
The discussion was prompted in part by my meeting with Kadie Kanneh and Stuart Mason a few months ago. Kadie and Stuart’s seven children are all musically gifted and have benefitted from a supportive school environment for their music education – and their son Sheku of course recently won the BBC Young Musician of the Year award.
I’d be interested in any observations you have about this issue. Nottingham does really well in comparison to other cities and our Music Hub has broadened involvement at the entry level including in primary schools really well. But there are still improvements we can make; making sure musical interest continues through transition to secondary school; giving parents more information about affordable after-school music tuition; bringing on ability and excellence with support (and possible sponsorship or bursaries?) for one-to-one tuition; setting a stretching goal to have more children at Grade 3 ability level. We will pursue some of these conclusions and in the meantime do let me know if you have other thoughts and suggestions to feed in.