NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – 9th December 2016
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This week I decided to vote against the Conservative Government’s 31st March timetable for triggering Brexit.
I do not believe it is sensible to rush unprepared into this crucial negotiation, before we know who in Germany & France we will be negotiating with. While we do have to respect the outcome of the referendum to leave the EU, the UK risks getting a worse deal if our two year Article 50 ‘notice period’ is in reality truncated to just 12 months. This is because, on the one hand, the German elections are not settled until next Autumn, and on the other, the EU are insisting that everything must be wrapped up by October 2018.
This is a timetable that puts our country at a big disadvantage. I worry that the EU negotiators will now simply be able to run the clock down and back the UK into a corner giving us little room for manoeuvre. Ministers obviously have no plan yet for how to proceed – so triggering in just 16 weeks’ time is premature and by no means the ideal conditions for us to get the best deal for Britain.
Ministers should have used the triggering of Article 50 to extract guarantees from the EU about a smoother transitional process and demands talks about our future trading relationship in parallel with the talks about the ‘divorce’ process. But instead they’ve given away this crucial leverage in exchange for no concessions at all. Suffice to say, I am not impressed with the Government’s approach to these negotiations so far.
A ‘hard’ Brexit where Britain drops over the cliff edge in April 2019 will hit local businesses and residents hard. So I will instead continue to do my best to argue for a level-headed and prudent Brexit preserving the benefits of full access to the single market, while respecting the referendum result to formally leave the European Union. I believe that the 57% of local residents in Nottingham East who voted to ‘remain’ would at the very least expect me to fight to salvage as many of these benefits as possible.
- You may have heard recently about funding cuts to community pharmacy budgets, which are due to be slashed by almost 7% over the next two years. So earlier today I visited a community pharmacy to find out about the vital work they do in helping to support our healthcare services. Nick Hunter from the Nottinghamshire Local Pharmaceutical Committee took me to the Well Pharmacy at the St Ann’s Valley Centre to see behind the scenes of a local pharmacy, and I also met with Nitin Lakhani, a Pharmacist Independent Prescriber working within Wellspring Surgery. It’s vital to support our local pharmacies, as they can really take the strain off GP services for people suffering from minor ailments.
- The Lambley Almhouses on Woodborough Road have this week been awarded a commendation by the Nottingham Civic Society. The almhouses were built in 1897 to provide a home for older people facing financial hardship, but had fallen into a state of disrepair in recent years. The almhouses have now been extensively renovated by Nottingham Community Housing Association, and the Nottingham Civic Society award is in recognition of this work to preserve a historic building. NCHA plan to use the flats for their original intended purpose – new residents will be expected to be ‘persons who are in need, hardship or distress; and are or have been resident in the area of benefit’, and preference will be given to people over the age of 50.
- On Friday I had the great pleasure of opening Stonebridge City Farm’s Santa’s Grotto! The Grotto will be open up 10am-3pm every day until Christmas – it costs 50p to visit Santa without a present, or £2 with a present. You can also visit the rest of the farm and meet the animals for free every day except Christmas Day – visit their website for details.
- This week I presented the prize to the winner of my 2016 Christmas Picture Competition (and I’ll be sending out my e-card later this week with the winning pictures!). The winning design this year came from Haleluya Yonas from Our Lady & St Edward Academy in St Ann’s (pictured below with other runner-up winners from the school). Haleluya won some Love2Shop vouchers kindly donated by Experian. Thank you to all of the schools who took part this year, as well as the many companies who generously donated prizes for the children – and the New Art Exchange team for helping with the judging process.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- On Tuesday, the Government was asked to make a statement on rail infrastructure. This followed the Government’s announcement that it plans for rail franchises to be run by joint management teams including representatives from both train operating companies and Network Rail, which manages the tracks. The Government expects the Southeastern and East Midlands franchises to be the first to be run under the new arrangements. Some rail experts have raised concerns about inviting private train companies to take responsibility for safety-critical repairs and maintenance, a situation which led to the creation of Network Rail in the first place. I am very wary of returning to circumstances where private interests cloud the management judgement of a service that needs to be passenger and safety focused. However, I am also aware that the separation of track management and train management isn’t always brilliant. For instance, in Japan the combined operation or track and train has resulted in far more efficient delivery of major rail improvements. So I will monitor closely the Government’s plans here – and do so with a sceptical eye.
- On Monday, the House of Commons considered the Children and Social Work Bill, which proposes reforms across the children’s social care system. The challenges facing children in care today are significant, and I applaud the great work that is done on the ground every day by many public sector workers and welcome any attempt to improve the lives of young people. However, I am concerned about the impact that cuts are having on our most vulnerable children and families and I believe this Bill lacks the bigger ambition to have the meaningful impact that is needed. The first part of the Bill includes a set of “corporate parenting” principles intended to help a local authority to think and act in the interests of the children in their care. It also creates a requirement that local authorities provide access to information about the services available to care leavers through a “local offer”. I welcome these steps towards helping young people in care and leaving care, but they need to be properly resourced. The Bill establishes a new regulator, Social Work England. I welcome that when the Bill was considered by the House of Lords plans to place regulatory control with the Secretary of State were defeated. However, the Government had a number of questions to answer on Monday about how the new regulator will work in practice. The Government’s plans for the outsourcing and privatisation of children’s services were also defeated when the Bill was in the Lords. It will be important that as the Bill progresses through Parliament the Government is reminded that privatisation and micromanagement are not the answer to every problem. Though there are parts of this Bill that I can support, I have concerns about others and I will follow its progress closely.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
During the week the Emergency Department at QMC has had to issue its second ‘black alert’ this winter, due to an unprecedented number of ambulances arriving at the hospital. The ‘black alert’ means there are no available beds, and there will be long waits to be seen at the Emergency Department. Although the condition at the Emergency Department has been now downgrade to ‘red alert’, the hospital are still urging people only to attend in a real emergency and to consider using other services as appropriate, such as the Urgent Care Centre (next to the BBC building), which is open 7am-9pm and able to deal with non-life threatening injuries and health issues, GP practices and pharmacies.
I’d be interested to know of any experiences you have had recently with our local NHS. Have you experienced longer waits or difficulties getting in to see a GP? Have you tried to use the NHS 111 service for advice?
I am keen to work with our local hospital to find solutions – including campaigning for more resources to build GP advice surgery access around the Emergency Department itself, to take some of the pressure off the accident and emergency acute service.