NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – 24th July 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
In a crucial Parliamentary debate this week, the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Damian Green was questioned about the Government’s plans to reduce the level of housing benefit for those in ‘supported’ accommodation – affecting people living in sheltered housing, where warden assistance can be needed, or where there are extra needs including some of the most vulnerable whether they are drug or alcohol dependency issues or people fleeing domestic violence.
In Nottingham we are fortunate to have some good organisations like Framework coordinating some of the sheltered housing for those in greatest need – but Framework and others already face financial pressures as it is, and are worried that in two years’ time many of our local properties and hostels could be forced to close if this squeeze on additional elements in housing benefit proceeds.
The background is this: last November, the Government announced proposals to set a new cap on housing benefit for social tenants, equivalent to the local housing allowance rate for private rented tenants. The Government had planned to introduce this cap for new tenants from April this year, but pressure from housing and community groups forced the Government to delay implementation until April 2017. However, the Government plans to apply these cuts to all tenants in supported housing from April 2018.
While the Minister announced that his ‘review’ of this situation will be completed in the autumn, I intervened to call for all MPs across all parties to recognise that those in our constituencies with most vulnerability needed a positive resolution here. We have real needs for decent housing specialist services in Nottingham. I will continue to work with other local MPs to press the Government to get this one right.
- It was great to have the opportunity to visit the Children’s Hospital School at QMC on Friday to meet Headteacher Eleanor Tweedie and some of the pupils (pictured below). The school does great work teaching children who are unable to attend their usual school due to illness, and they place emphasis on making sure children are being taught the same programme of study as their peers at their home school where possible. The school serves 12 children’s wards at QMC and is incredibly impressive – all the more so for being such an unsung facility helping sick children continue their education and to cope with significant disruption to their lives.
- The Co-op food store on Costock Avenue in Sherwood is one of 298 stores due to be sold to McColl’s later this year. I’ve been assured that the store will continue to trade under the McColl’s name and all existing staff will be ‘TUPE’ transferred so there will be no redundancies. It’s disappointing to hear that yet another Co-op store in Sherwood is to be sold to a rival retailer – as a Co-operative MP I think the ethics and values of Co-op stores bring great benefit to our communities. If you live near the Costock Avenue store, I would be interested to know what you think of the sale – do get in touch.
- On Friday I paid a visit to Nottingham Contemporary to see their Garcia School Programme Celebration. The exhibition features creative work from 350 pupils at some of Nottingham’s schools, including five schools in Nottingham East. It was great to see all of their work – and as with music education, I feel it’s important to also support the wider creative arts in the curriculum including through to secondary school level too.
- The Sneinton Festival 2016 is taking place this month, with 26 free events taking place across the month, concluding with the main day event on Saturday 30th July at Trickett’s Park. You can find out more information about the festival on the Sneinton Festival Facebook page here. The festival are also looking for volunteers for the main event on 30th July – if you’re able to help please get in touch with Stacey on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07979 105706.
- An independent report published this month by Nottingham Business School found that the construction project to extend the city’s tram network boosted the local economy by as much as £100million. The report also found that nearly 400 people who were previously unemployed or in education were employed on the construction project, and that 700 young people took part in work experience courses on the project via the National Citizenship Scheme and the Princes Trust. It’s great to see the positive benefit to the local economy from the tram extension, and in particular the benefits to local people in terms of employment and skills.
- There’s a Jobs Fair taking place at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham on Wednesday 10th August from 10am-2pm. For more information, visit the Jobs Fair website here.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- The consequences of ‘Brexit’ and Britain leaving the EU are now starting to become clear, especially with the impact on the British economy. With a new Secretary of State for ‘Brexit’ (David Davis) now appointed, I argued this week we also need the whole of Parliament to take on the role of scrutinising and delving into the detail here too – which is why I proposed establishing a Brexit Select Committee specifically tasked with helping shape negotiations over the two year process (see my article here https://www.politicshome.com/news/europe/eu-policy-agenda/brexit/opinion/house-commons/77518/chris-leslie-mp-brexit-must-not-pass ). I am pleased that Ministers responded positively to the idea, and we may have some movement to establish such a committee in September.
- On Tuesday the House of Commons considered the Higher Education and Research Bill which proposes to allow ‘high-performing’ universities to raise tuition fees. I voted against the Bill at Second Reading. I am concerned that the best universities will become more expensive and therefore less accessible, at a time when the proportion of low-income students at many top universities is already falling. Students have already been hit in the past 12 months by the scrapping of maintenance grants for loans, freezing the student loan threshold and removing NHS bursaries. This has damaged social mobility for the most disadvantaged students. The Bill will also reform the research council and funding system, which I believe is poorly timed and likely to be ineffective. The vote to leave the EU has already put the funding of academic research in the UK into a prolonged period of uncertainty. There are some elements of the Bill I support on introducing a transparency duty for university admissions and an alternative student finance method. However, overall the Bill is a missed opportunity that will set back the cause of equal access rather than advance it.
- On Monday the House of Commons debated and voted on a motion on the UK’s nuclear deterrent. The motion supported the assessment that the UK’s independent minimum credible nuclear deterrent, based on a continuous at-sea deterrence posture, remained essential to the UK’s security. It expressed support for the maintenance of this current posture by replacing the existing Vanguard class submarines with four Successor submarines, and recognised the importance of this programme to the UK’s defence industrial base, supporting thousands of highly skilled engineering jobs. The motion also noted that the UK remains committed to reducing its overall nuclear weapons stockpile by the mid-2020s. As I committed in the manifesto on which I was elected, I believe that a multilateral rather than unilateral approach to disarmament is the best way forward, and that for the UK to choose this moment of uncertainty to dispose of our deterrent would be unwise and reduce our leverage in disarmament terms with others in the longer run. I supported the motion, which was carried with a majority of support on the Labour benches.
- On Thursday the new Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening was asked to make a statement on school funding. The Government announced that the implementation of a new national funding formula for schools will be delayed by a year. It will publish its response to a consultation on this and set out further proposals once Parliament returns in the autumn. The Secretary of State said that no local council will see a reduction from their 2016-17 funding for schools or for high needs next year. I am concerned that the Government has delivered a real-terms cuts to school budgets across the country. Schools are struggling to cope with a 5% funding shortfall as a result of the decision to increase national insurance and teachers’ pension contributions. In my view the Government should recognise that pupil numbers are rising and that the shortage of teachers is growing and consider how it can help schools.
Parliament goes into the summer recess period now and returns in September, so as usual these MP Update email bulletins will also take a break and return then. As ever, do get in touch with any issues on your mind in the meantime and I will try my best to reply.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Many thanks to those who filled in last week’s e-survey. I’m still working my way through the results and it is very helpful to get views on local and national issues in this way.
It occurs to me, however, that I don’t often ask your views on international issues – and I know there are plenty of opinions and views you will have on what is happening in the wider world. Just look at a few (and by no means all!) of the issues currently in the news which I find of concern:
- the dreadful terrorist attack in Nice in which at least 84 people were killed when a heavy goods lorry was driven deliberately into crowds, is the third in 18 months to have killed large numbers of people in France. The Home Secretary confirmed on Monday that consular staff were assisting British nationals caught up in the attacks and that the threat from international terrorism in the UK remained severe. The rampage of the gunman in Germany has also heightened anxieties on security too.
- the attempted coup in Turkey resulted in a reported 260 people being killed and 1,400 injured. Turkey is of pivotal cultural, political and strategic importance to the world and a vital NATO ally. It is important that we work together to ensure that Turkey has a secure foundation of democracy, freedom of speech and human rights into the future.
- There are many local people of Kashmiri and Pakistani origin concerned with the news from Kashmir of hundreds of civilians reported injured in the past fortnight in the long-running dispute. Here there is a case for Britain and the EU to make efforts to encourage all sides to demilitarise and enter into a thorough peace process so that a settlement can be achieved. I spoke to the new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson about Kashmir this week.
- The collapse of peace talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities in 2014 has seen sporadic attacks and continued Israeli settlement expansion in occupied territory. Since October, Palestinian street attacks have killed at least 33 Israelis and two visiting Americans and Israeli forces have killed at least 204 Palestinians, 138 of whom it said were assailants. The renewal of a peace process continues to be clearly necessary.
- The US Presidential election offers a real fork-in-the-road choice, between Hillary Clinton and the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency. This election in November will have real ramifications for us in the UK and the wider world, simply because of the massive impact that US foreign and economic policy has globally.
There are of course plenty other examples of international controversy and concern – so I wanted to know where you thought I should be focusing and on what aspects of foreign policy I should take the time to consider. As ever, I look forward to reading your views. In the meantime, do have a pleasant summer.