NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 1st July 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
There were several big votes in the House of Commons at the end of the Queen’s Speech debates on Wednesday and Thursday this week – perhaps the most significant of which was sadly won by Theresa May’s Government, endorsing her legislative plan by 323 votes to 309. She achieved this slim Commons majority by doing the deal with the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party, who have agreed to back her main Bills, Budgets and Brexit changes. Offering £1billion of extra spending to sweeten this DUP deal is unfair, based in politics not equal treatment of the whole country, and it’s not clear where that money will come from. I voted against the Queen’s Speech and for Labour’s alternative amendment.
I also voted in favour of a separate cross-party amendment backed by Labour, SNP, LibDems and Green MPs calling for Britain to remain in the Single Market. Despite a frontbench call to abstain, I felt that this issue was too important for the future of young people and the entire country – and so I was one of 50 Labour MPs to support it. The full text of the amendment I supported was as follows:
“At the end of the main Queen’s Speech motion add ‘but respectfully regret that the Gracious Speech does not rule out withdrawal from the EU without a deal, guarantee a Parliamentary vote on any final outcome to negotiations, set out transitional arrangements to maintain jobs, trade and certainty for business, set out proposals to remain within the Customs Union and Single Market, set out clear measures to respect the competencies of the devolved administrations, and include clear protections for EU nationals living in the UK now, including retaining their right to remain in the UK, and reciprocal rights for UK citizens.’”
As I set out in my election address I believe Nottingham benefits from the alliances and trade links which have boosted jobs and our economy since we joined the ‘common market’. I have been criticised for putting this principle first, but I will continue to vote against a ‘hard Brexit’ which would harm Nottingham’s economy, in line with the promises I made.
- Students at some Nottingham Trent University accommodation blocks have been relocated this week over concerns about the cladding used on the building. Three of the seven blocks at the Byron Residence – which was opened in 2013 and is located on the City Campus – were found to have used the same cladding panels as those linked to the Grenfell Tower fire. In a statement, the University and UPP, which owns and manages the accommodation, said that the small number of remaining students had been moved to alternative rooms as a precautionary measure while tests are carried out. On Friday, the University announced that the panels in question would be removed and replaced, with work expected to be completed prior to the new academic year starting in September.
- To celebrate Wimbledon fortnight, The Renewal Trust are holding free tennis taster sessions for children aged 2-7 years from 4th-15th Tennis Tots aims to teach children basic tennis skills through fun, interactive sessions. The sessions are held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday at the Brendon Lawrence Sports Centre in St Ann’s – for more information about the tennis sessions and other sports sessions that the Trust run for children, visit their website here.
- The Local Government Boundary Commission is carrying out a review into the ward boundaries of Nottingham City Council, and the first consultation period opened this week. The Commission has announced that it is minded to keep the total number of Councillors the same as at present – 55 – but are seeking to redraw the boundaries so that each councillor represents roughly the same number of electors. My view is that it is vital when considering the boundary changes that the Commission respect existing community links and local connections. The Commission are inviting submissions from members of the public, so if you have particularly strong views about which Nottingham areas should fall within the same ward, or where boundaries could sensibly be drawn, do consider making a submission. You can find information about the review, including how to make a submission, on the Commission’s website here.
- Arts Council England has announced its National Portfolio for 2018-2022, and a number of Nottingham venues and organisations are to benefit from funding. The New Art Exchange in Hyson Green and Dance4 in St Ann’s will see an increase in their funding, and a number of organisations including Nottingham Castle, Backlit Gallery, the Tom Dale Company and the city’s libraries will be added to the Arts Council’s portfolio for the first time. I’m pleased that the Arts Council has recognised the city’s cultural offering, I would like to congratulation all the organisations benefiting from grant money.
- Research by the organisation End Child Poverty has found that Nottingham East has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the country. An estimated 7929 children in Nottingham East live in poverty, with all of the associated impacts this can have on their life chances. It is vital that the Government starts doing more to help improve outcomes for children currently living in poverty. I’m proud of the work that Labour did in government to reduce child poverty, and it is disheartening to see backsliding on this issue.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- This week’s crack down on consumer debt and bank lending by the Bank of England should ring alarm bells about the health of our economy. With wages stagnant and household savings now at a 50 year low, it’s not surprising that people are borrowing more and more, taking out personal loans, car finance and credit card debt at a rapidly increasing rate. Consumer debt rose by over 10% in the year to April – a symptom that many people are struggling to make ends meet. The Bank of England are making the banks set aside another £11billion of loss absorbing capital in case these loans aren’t repaid – and it’s right that the banks are regulated in this way. But it’s the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer who should be urgently responding to this situation. Consumer consumption is by far and away the biggest driver of growth now in the UK, underpinning 80% of our growth while business investment isn’t adding anything currently and export performance is actually detracting from our total growth. When price inflation is nudging 3% – while pay is curtailed and benefits frozen –most households are now getting poorer in real terms. This is a situation that cannot continue and something will snap unless action is taken. The solution lies in a relentless focus on productivity, productivity and more productivity. We have to invest in a more efficient economy, stimulate new production process technologies to deliver more output for every pound spent or hour worked, and clear away the obstacles, logjams and delays in getting goods and services to market. Government has the key role to play here, but it has never taken the productivity agenda seriously. Maximising economic output would boost wages and revenues for reinvestment in public services and infrastructure. With the massive risks and uncertainties of Brexit looming on the horizon, as things stand Britain could easily get dragged into the mire of tariffs, customs red tape, restrictions on trade and even see a flight of investment. Unless we start to strengthen our productive economic engine immediately, Brexit could throw the country off the already precarious economic path we are on.
- I’m delighted that my colleague Stella Creasy was able to force Government Ministers to announce that the Treasury would pay for women from Northern Ireland to have abortions at National Health Service hospitals in England, which has not been the case until now. She tabled an amendment to the Queen’s Speech and when it became clear to Ministers that there were several Conservative MPs who also wanted to see this unfair anomaly end, they realised that there would be a risk of defeat unless they changed the policy.
- On Wednesday I supported Labour’s amendment to invest in our emergency services and scrap the 1% pay cap for public sector workers. To have such a crude cap for such a prolonged period isn’t just demoralising for key public service staff – it is also effectively a pay cut because inflation is more than twice this rate. With growing signs of nervousness among Tory MPs on this issue, there may be a chance that the policy will crumble. Downing Street signalled on Wednesday that they might lift the cap, only to recant when the Chancellor Philip Hammond objected because he wants to make this decision in due course.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
As I set out above, I’m deeply concerned that households are now saving less than at any time in the past fifty years, which is probably a consequence of the squeeze between rising prices on the one hand, and falling wages on the other. At a time when Britain’s fate is in the balance over Brexit, the last thing we need is so many people potentially unable to cope if things go wrong.
I’d be interested to know if you think that the lack of savings is a widespread and increasing problem locally. It’s difficult to get hard ‘data’ on this issue – but anecdotally a large number of local residents tell me that they’re noticing prices escalating now considerably and they are taking different decisions, whether cutting back on holidays or changing shopping habits.
With all the political news soaking up the headlines, I’m worried that these economic realities are going unnoticed and undebated. I’d be interested in your thoughts.
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East