NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 2nd December 2016
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The privatised outsourcing of cleaning, catering and maintenance services at Nottingham hospitals finally looks like it is about to collapse. A statement from the hospital management earlier this week was a coded admission that Carillion clearly can’t cope and the hospital intends to go back to square one, with further details being released by the Trust board in January.
The Carillion contract, which was placed only recently in 2014 for £200m of services, was in my view always on dubious foundations, driven more by government cost saving pressures rather than patient needs. Whether the Trust bring services back in-house, or find an alternative contractor is as yet unclear, but the wasted admin costs involved concerns me, and I’m not convinced that the right resource allocation will necessarily be made to fix these problems for the longer term.
My priority will be asking that the successor to Carillion provides higher quality services across the hospital estate and facilities and takes great care for the 1500 staff working in these frontline roles. Personally I think it would be far better if the work was brought back ‘in-house’ but this must be done with an eye to the budget available, because thin resources will end up hitting patient care whether the provision is managed in the public or private sectors.
- On Friday I chaired a roundtable discussion with representatives from the city council and other public service organisations about the Roma Communities in Nottingham. The meeting was well attended by representatives from including the local authority, police, advice centres and schools. A number of issues were discussed including ways to overcome mistrust of authorities among the Roma Communities and ensure families enrol their children at school at the right age (as it is typical for children to start school later in the Eastern European countries from which they have migrated). It is vital to recognise that the Roma Communities in Nottingham are not a single homogenous group, and that there are communities from a number of different countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania, who can all speak different languages. This can make reaching out more challenging for authorities and organisations working with them. I look forward to following developments on this issue.
- The outgoing head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has released his final Ofsted Annual Report this week describing education standards in the East Midlands as ‘pitifully low’. He has described a widening gap in school standards between the South and the North and Midlands. While this is a worrying picture regionally, there has been an improvement in standards at Nottingham city schools in recent years, with 9% more primary school pupils and 18% more secondary school pupils attending good or outstanding schools than in 2012. If you’re interesting in reading the report, you can do so online here.
- Earlier this week I addressed an East Midlands Chamber event in Westminster to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of business and the economy in the region. There are lots of aspects of the East Midlands that are attractive to businesses, including our central location, good rail and road links, and available land for future development. However, in a lot of ways the East Midlands is being left behind by the Government: the region has low spending per head on public transport, housing is unaffordable for many and in short supply, and there is a skills shortage in many industries. I am glad that the East Midlands Chamber aims to work constructively with decision makers to boost regional growth and investment for the region – but we have far more to do to bring this idea of a ‘Midlands Engine’ to life.
- Nottingham City Transport has just been awarded Top City Operator and UK Bus Operator of the Year at the UK Bus Awards. NCT are the first company to win UK Bus Operator of the Year four times (having previously won in 2004, 2012 and 2014), showing once again that Nottingham is leading the way when it comes to public transport.
- Nottingham City Homes held their Best Garden Awards 2016 this week. The awards have been taking place for more than 80 years to celebrate the pride people take in their gardens on Nottingham City Homes estates. The winners included Mervyn Jones from St Ann’s, who won the Mapperley, St Ann’s, Colwick and Sneinton area category, and Sneinton C of E Primary School won the Best School Garden category. Congratulations to all of the winners.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- On Monday my colleague Alison McGovern MP secured an Urgent Question in the Commons Chamber to Foreign Office Ministers regarding the humanitarian situation in Aleppo. There is no more urgent situation right now than the entirely preventable humanitarian catastrophe in eastern Aleppo in Syria, where 275,000 civilians are facing imminent starvation. Food supplies have been exhausted and there are currently no functioning hospitals to handle the mounting civilian casualties. Since Syrian & Russian attacks resumed two weeks ago, hundreds have been killed and thousands more have been forced to flee. The Government states that addressing the dire situation in eastern Aleppo is a priority. It spoke earlier this year of airdrops as a last resort to relieve human suffering in besieged areas. I believe we have now reached the point of last resort and the Government should take urgent steps to agree a plan for airdrops by British planes with the UN and our international partners. I do not underestimate the complexity and risks involved in this, but with thousands facing death if they do not get immediate supplies of food and medical equipment, I see little alternative.
- On Monday, the House of Commons considered the Digital Economy Bill. While I support and welcome a number of measures in the Bill, I am concerned that it fails to address several important issues. I believe the Bill would be much stronger if it properly recognised the importance of the digital economy to the whole country. The Bill currently fails to take into account the pace of change in the development and use of new technology, and its central role in the way that work itself is changing for millions of people in the UK. A universal service obligation for broadband is welcome, but I’m concerned that it is happening far too slowly. I also support provisions in the Bill that aim to protect children. I supported an Opposition amendment that would have required schools to cover the risks and dangers of internet. Unfortunately, the Government opposed the amendment and it was defeated. Amendments relating to copyright, ticketing, broadcasting and subtitling, data and intellectual property were also discussed. In response to pressure from both inside and outside of Parliament, the Government stated that it would look into the best way to tackle the problem of online ticket touting – an issue which demands urgent action. The Bill passed Third Reading and will now proceed to the House of Lords. I hope that as it progresses the Government will clarify its thinking about the future of Channel 4, address questions around people’s rights over their own personal data, recognise the needs of those without basic digital skills and come forward with measures to secure the rights of more than 1 million workers in the digital economy.
- Wednesday’s motion about the poorly planned rise in the state pension age for women allowed MPs to cross-examine the Government and urge them to work with the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) and WASPI Voice campaigns to explore transitional protection for the women affected. I believe that the Government has created the WASPI women’s plight through poor communication and mismanagement, and women all over the country are dreading the impact of its changes to the state pension age. We need fair transitional arrangements in place to support the most vulnerable, and plenty of options have been put forward that the Government has not properly considered.
- On Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy made a statement announcing the publication of the Government’s Green Paper on corporate governance. The Government’s Green Paper considers three aspects. First, it asks for opinions on shareholder influence on executive pay, and in particular on strengthening shareholder voting, encouraging shareholder engagement and promoting greater transparency. Secondly, it asks about measures to increase the connection between boards of companies and their employees and customers. Thirdly, it asks whether some aspects of corporate governance for publicly listed companies should be extended to the largest privately held companies. Unfortunately, the Government has already rowed back on the Prime Minister’s plans to put workers on company boards.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
If you think elections and referendums here and in the USA have made 2016 a turbulent year, this weekend could easily take things to another level – with the referendum in Italy on their constitutional changes and a Presidential election in Austria.
If the Italian referendum is a ‘no’ vote then the existing Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has pledged to resign, potentially destabilising their governance and exposing the Italian banking system to speculation about its stability, which in turn could ripple across Europe. The re-running of the Austrian election could also see the far right Freedom Party succeed, which would be the first time since the second world war that a European country could see those with associations to neo-Nazis in office. Add into the mix the prospect of Marine Le Pen’s rise in France, and the situation is becoming quite alarming.
Some people ascribe these electoral results to a reaction against globalisation, whereas others point to the rise of nativist populism and racisms as a response to migration flows. I’d be interested in any observations you might have about this – and also about the result in the Richmond Park by-election closer to home where Zac Goldsmith was beaten by the LibDem candidate in what appears to be a Brexit-related expression of public opinion.