NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – 19th December 2016
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Every year before Christmas, Ministers announce how much grant they are going to allocate from the central government Treasury in order to part fund local council services (including schools, social housing, waste collection and social services). This year’s ‘Local Government Finance Settlement’ has been another step away from the funding councils used to receive – making them more reliant on council tax, which of course is easier for wealthier communities to raise and harder in poorer towns and cities. The pace of government cuts has been rapid and deep in recent years. This has hit the quality of social care (both care of children in need and in particular the vulnerable elderly population) and there is now widespread agreement that the system is at breaking point.
The Government have responded in a piecemeal fashion, shuffling £240 million from the New Homes Bonus to fund adult social care and barely making a dent in the funding gap, which is predicted to be at least £2.6 billion by 2020. Nor does it compensate for the £4.6 billion which has already been cut from adult social care since 2010.
The council tax precept has already proven to be an inadequate and short-term sticking plaster for a problem which needs long-term answers. This will simply not meet existing need. Shifting the burden on to council tax payers creates a postcode lottery in social care services. Nottingham City Council is the provider of many crucial facilities including the social care lifeline for lots of elderly people in our city – and I have a great deal of sympathy for our elected local councillors who now face an invidious task trying to prioritise services by which should receive more or less of a cut.
- Police are reassuring Sneinton residents following two knife-related murders last weekend. These are both shocking incidents and I am in contact with the Police who are updating the community on the progress of the investigation. Chief Inspector Mark Stanley, of Nottinghamshire Police, said: “The murders are not believed to be linked and we’re treating them as separate incidents”. However, I am glad that the police have increased visible patrols in the area to reassure the local community. I understand 19 year-old man has been charged in relation to the first incident. My thoughts are with the family and friends of both victims.
- On Friday I visited the Switch Up Project run by Marcellus Baz, which aims to steer young people away from crime and gang-criminality. I went to a youth boxing session in St Ann’s, where I got to see first-hand the work the project is doing to help young people. It was also announced on Sunday that Marcellus Baz has won the Get Inspired Unsung Hero award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards in acknowledgement of his work. Switch Up work closely with the Police, Social Services and other authorities, and run knife awareness sessions in schools and the community. In light of the recent knife-related incidents in Sneinton, it is especially important that projects like this carry on their important work with young people at risk of turning to crime.
- On Friday I paid a visit to the New Art Exchange to view the digital display of the winners of my Christmas picture competition. Hopefully you will have received my e-card this week, and I’m sure you will agree that there were some great entries. Thanks again to Skinder and the team at NAE for helping me to judge the competition once again.
- The new Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police has been confirmed following a recommendation by Police & Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping. The new Chief Constable will be Craig Guildford, currently Deputy Chief Constable of Gwent Police, and he will take up the post early in the New Year.
- Nottingham City Transport are planning to make it easier for passengers to pay their fares without the need for cash by using their smartphones. Through the NCT smartphone app, passengers will now be able to buy tickets on their phone via Apple Pay or debit/credit card, then will simply need to show their mobile ticket to the driver to travel. You can find out more information about the changes on NCT’s website here.
- It has been announced that Nottingham businessman Alan Hardy has agreed to buy Notts County Football Club. There have been discussions with a number of potential buyers in recent months, but I’m glad that a local owner has been found for the oldest football league club which will hopefully bring an end to a period of uncertainty for fans.
- News came this week that Mapperley Park Medical Centre is to reopen following a period of temporary closure to allow the practice to address concerns raised by the CQC. It has now been decided that the practice has made sufficient progress to allow it to reopen from 19th December. Patients who have registered at alternative local practices as a temporary patient and wish to re-register at Mapperley Park will need to do so on or after 3rd January 2017. For information, advice and guidance about registering with a local GP, patients can contact the CCG’s Patient Experience Team on 0115 883 9570 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I am pleased that the practice has rectified issues to the satisfaction of the CQC – from the contact I have received from constituents it is obvious that Dr Stevens is a popular GP.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- On Tuesday last week, there was an emergency debate in the House of Commons to consider international action to protect civilians in Aleppo and across Syria. The worst predictions made in the previous emergency debate on Aleppo just over two months ago have now happened. The bombing continued, with thousands of civilians trapped, desperately short of food, water, medical supplies and shelter. I condemn Russia and the Assad regime for their actions in eastern Aleppo and we must ensure that they are held to account for them. The last UN humanitarian aid convoy entered eastern Aleppo on 7 July and the last food rations were handed out on 10 November. It is vital that humanitarian aid reaches the citizens still in eastern Aleppo. The Foreign Secretary stated on Tuesday that airdrops of humanitarian aid posed “too great a risk.” However, if Russia and the Assad regime continue to block road convoys, the Government must tell us what the alternative is. This has been a global collective failure and inaction is simply not an option. This is a desperately dark time for the people of Aleppo, and one of shame and disgrace for those who have perpetrated this vicious assault.
- On Monday last week, the House of Commons debated a Bill which will introduce the new Lifetime ISA and the ‘Help to Save’ scheme. The Lifetime ISA would be available to people aged between 18 and 40 from April 2017. Individuals would be able to save up to £4,000 each year and receive a Government bonus of 25%. The money could be used to buy a first home or withdrawn after the age of 60. While I support the idea of incentivising people to save for the future, especially for retirement income, I am concerned that the Lifetime ISA scheme could create a diversion from saving in traditional pensions. The new Help to Save accounts would be for people in receipt of Universal Credit with minimum weekly household earnings equivalent to 16 hours at the National Living Wage, or those in receipt of Working Tax Credit. They would work by providing a bonus on up to £50 of monthly savings. Of course the main problem is that the majority of people on low incomes are not in a position to save, so whether this Government initiative makes much progress I have some doubts.
- On Tuesday last week, the House of Commons considered the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, which aims to identify and free up more land to build homes on and to speed up the delivery of new homes. I welcome measures in the Bill to further strengthen neighbourhood planning, as well as changes to local plan-making to enable planning to take place across more than one local authority. However, I believe the Bill contains missed opportunities to increase the number and quality of houses built. Given the scale of the housing crisis, any measures that will deliver new housing are welcome. However, I believe it is important that the Government recognises how important the planning system is in delivering developments that are well planned, in the right place and supported by the infrastructure they need. People must be at the heart of planning so communities can feel ownership of new developments in their area. The Bill passed Third Reading without a vote and will now proceed to the House of Lords.
- This afternoon the Government gave a statement in the House of Commons about the conflict in Yemen. The efforts to restore the legitimate Government in Yemen in accordance with the UN resolution and make progress on peace talks have been hampered by ongoing conflict, which has worsened recently. Britain has a potentially crucial role as an ‘honest broker’ in helping the dialogue between the parties in this conflict and I understand that the UN Security Council is waiting for the UK to present a proposed resolution to effect a ceasefire. An immediate ceasefire has to be the priority and I hope that the British Government can focus on achieving this – this is crucial for getting humanitarian aid in. In the meantime, allegations of breaches in humanitarian law by the Saudi government must be taken seriously and have to be thoroughly investigated especially if UK arms exports may be implicated. The news that Saudia Arabia have said they will cease the use of munitions originally exported from the UK in the 1980s is a step in the right direction although their use is, of course, very worrying – and of course they should sign up to the Anti-Cluster Munitions Treaty immediately.
- Friday private members’ Bill sessions are often dispiriting because, without the allocation of official ‘government time’ on the floor of the Commons, these proposals from individual MPs stand very little chance of becoming law. Nevertheless, I was pleased that on Friday a private members’ Bill advocating the ratification of the Istanbul Convention got through one symbolic hurdle. This convention is a historic international treaty that requires states to take comprehensive action, set out minimum standards and create legally binding measures to tackle and prevent violence against women and girls. Domestic abuse remains at endemic levels in the UK. Between 2009 and 2014, domestic violence and violence against women has increased rapidly, pushing up overall levels of violent crime. Crucially, the Convention gives all survivors of domestic abuse the right to access the specialist support services which they need to live in safety and rebuild their lives. Unfortunately, since 2010, 17% of specialist refuges in England have closed down. On one typical day, Women’s Aid claim that 155 women and 103 children are turned away from refuges because there was not enough space. I hope that the Government will take urgent action to tackle domestic abuse and violence against women and girls and ratifying the Istanbul Convention would demonstrate a clear commitment to this goal.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
2016 has been a turbulent year in politics – and the Brexit vote for Britain to leave the EU must surely be the most significant event. However you voted, I think it’s vital we get the best deal possible to protect jobs and your income, and it will continue to dominate the headlines in 2017.
Parliament is now going into recess for the Christmas break (and normal service from these MP Updates will resume in January when the Commons returns).
But earlier today I challenged Prime Minister Theresa May in the Commons about the ‘cliff edge’ risks that exist for many businesses in April 2019 – and that it would be sensible to negotiate a transitional arrangement to extend beyond that deadline. These are difficult negotiations, but we have to start planning now otherwise lots of firms may think it more sensible to move business abroad, which would be really damaging. I made further comments on the BBC last week – see the link here.
It looks like the ‘Article 50 Bill’ will be the main event piece of legislation in January / February, so if you have any ideas for amendments that should be tabled, reassurances sought, or issues raised with Ministers, please do drop me an email – I’d be interested in your thoughts.