NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 25th February 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
While the news headlines about Brexit, Trump and UK political parties are dominant, they mask some very important issues that aren’t getting much attention. It’s not just the creaking pressures on our NHS that aren’t receiving sufficient scrutiny. Just look at how little is being said about the forthcoming Budget that the Chancellor will be presenting on 8th March. With projections that borrowing and national debt are remaining stubbornly high, and retail sales starting to falter, any unforeseen budget pressures could cause real difficulties.
Take the example of the recent court ruling that broadens the entitlement to disability benefits of those who qualify for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – affecting 160,000 people potentially. This additional cost to social security of £3.7bn over the next five years will be bitterly resisted by Ministers, but I wonder if some Tory MPs can be persuaded to agree with the court verdict and allow this help to be provided. Just as George Osborne found last Spring, this could be an area where Philip Hammond is under pressure.
I will be doing my best to look ahead at the Budget and the economic outlook facing the UK and I hope to say more about this so that better scrutiny can be provided.
- On Friday I visited the Boots site in Beeston to find out more about the work done at the Nottingham Enterprise Zone, as well as visiting the MediCity site. I was really encouraged to see the work to support new businesses in Nottingham, and it was interesting to see some of the companies based on the site, including All Naturals Cosmetics (pictured below). I was able to take a look at their soap production facility, which was a great example of the MediCity site encouraging new SMEs to flourish. Thanks to Elizabeth Fagan, the Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Boots, for showing me around.
- This week Nottinghamshire Deaf Society held a celebration of their ‘Hearing Deaf Voices’ project, which has now been running since April 2016, and it was great to pop in briefly to their well-attended launch this week. The Heritage Lottery-funded project celebrates the history of the Deaf Community in Nottinghamshire and the East Midlands through interviews, photographs, videos and documents. If you would like to see the project’s display for yourself, it will be on show at Nottingham Central Library from 1st-30th You can find out more on the website here.
- The banking chain TSB is to close its branch in Sneinton Dale. All customers will be informed of the closure, and TSB will be conducting a review into the impact of the closure both in branch and online. I’ll be raising the closure with TSB when I meet their Chief Executive next month, so I would be interested to hear from you if you’re a TSB customer and the closure will affect you.
- It has been announced that brain injury services are to remain at City Hospital, rather than being transferred to the community as previously proposed. The decision means that the Linden Lodge Neuro Rehabilitation Unit on the City Hospital site will continue to provide support to patients with a wide range of neurological conditions. Plans are still in place for other services, including pain management and geriatric day care, to be transferred from NUH to the community from July. I am meeting with the CCG shortly to discuss the implications of these changes, and to seek assurances about maintaining quality of care when these services are recommissioned.
- The group NG Solidarity are holding a blanket collection for refugees on Saturday 4th The group are specifically looking to collect donations of thick blankets and 3-4 season sleeping bags, which will then be taken to the Dunkirk refugee camp and to refugees in Paris. If you are able to help, please take your donations to Unit 2 Gauntlet Court, Hyson Green, NG7 5HD between 11am and 3pm on Saturday 4th March. If you need to contact the organisers, you can do so on 07812 456954 or email email@example.com
- The Nottingham Kashmir roundtable event I hosted on Friday afternoon was well attended by representatives from across the Pakistani Kashmiri community in the city. We discussed the situation facing those living with the long-running dispute between India and Pakistan, heard reports about the curfews and human rights issues, and decided that collectively there needs to be greater awareness and coordination between the different groups campaigning on this issue. A Nottingham Kashmir Group facebook page will now be produced as a way for information and discussion to be coordinated as a first step.
- The two parliamentary by-elections held on Thursday have been high in the news. While Labour fought off UKIP’s Paul Nuttall in Stoke, the defeat in Copeland to the Conservatives was the first time an Opposition Party had lost a seat to the Government since 1982. I am sure you can imagine my feelings about this situation – I continue to hope that Labour Party members will recognise that we must be allowed to provide a viable ‘check’ on the excesses of Theresa May’s administration and form ourselves into a credible government-in-waiting.
- On Monday, the High Speed Rail Bill returned to the House of Commons for consideration of the Lords amendments. The commitment to a station at Toton will be to Nottingham’s advantage and High Speed Two (HS2) will go some way to address the severe capacity constraints on our rail network and improve connections between cities in the Midlands and the north of England. The Bill became an Act after Royal Assent this week.
- On Wednesday, the House of Commons debated three motions on local government finance. The Government presented its final financial settlement for local councils. It stated that the settlement commits to four-year funding periods for some councils, funding for adult social care and a new funding formula for local government. The settlement follows the introduction of the Local Government Finance Bill to the House last month, which will devolve 100% of business rates to local government, establish a legal framework for multi-year settlements and abolish the revenue support grant. Local government is facing a funding crisis, including a £2.6 billion funding gap in social care. However, this local government finance settlement offers councils no new money to tackle the social care crisis, and nothing to tackle rising homelessness and the doubling of rough sleeping. The Government’s social care precept is completely unrelated to need and shifts the burden of solving a national crisis on to hard-pressed local councils, leaving local residents paying more in council tax. It is important that the Government gets business rates right, so I welcome its decision to review the support for small businesses hit hardest by the business rates revaluation. However, the Government needs to clarify whether there will be extra money available to fund this support or whether funds will simply be taken from one group of businesses to be given to another.
- On Thursday, my colleague Yvette Cooper who is chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee asked the Government to make a statement on the case of Jamal al-Harith. It has been reported that Mr al-Harith, believed to have recently carried out a suicide attack in Iraq, received a substantial sum in compensation after being freed from Guantanamo Bay in 2004. In November 2010, the then Justice Secretary informed the House of Commons that the Coalition Government had secured a mediated settlement of civil damages claims brought by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in the early 2000s. The Minister stated on Thursday, however, that it was a long-standing policy of governments not to comment on intelligence matters, and would not comment on whether particular individuals received compensation payments. There will, of course, be public concern about this case. There will also be concern that the Minister chose to hide behind the notion of sensitive intelligence to avoid answering even simple factual questions about it. The Minister was therefore pressed to answer the questions of whether a payment had been made to Al-Harith and of how this individual was able to leave the country and join Daesh in 2014. I believe the Government should review this case and provide a report to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, which would be the most appropriate method of dealing with this important issue.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
With the legislation on triggering Article 50 now in the House of Lords, it’s worth taking stock of where we are in the Brexit negotiations – and I’d be interested to know your views about how things are likely to pan out, and what Parliament should be prioritising.
I’m worried that the EU Commission are going to insist that Britain agrees to pay it’s “divorce settlement” fee before they’ll even allow a discussion about the new trading relationships we so desperately need to settle. The news that German and Italian Ministers are firmly insisting that a possible £50billion demand must be agreed upfront is a real blow to hopes that a sensible transition to new settled rules is going to be achievable. In my view, Britain should have made it a condition of triggering Article 50 that we have parallel talks on both the new relationship AND the divorce process simultaneously, not one before the other.
I visited Geneva this week with the International Trade Committee to meet officials at the World Trade Organisation and the European Free Trade Association to discuss the different options for Britain after 2019 – and the committee will be reporting shortly on our recommendations.