NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Sunday 9th July 2017
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With Britain’s economic situation looking increasingly anaemic, the anxieties of the businesses that I talk to locally are getting steadily greater. There are lots of employers who want to develop their products or are thinking about investing – or hiring new people – but things are on pause while there is so much uncertainty about whether we’ll still be able to trade as Britain does right now. The Brexit negotiations are very slow, and we’ll be stuck on the question of citizen rights and the divorce settlement for quite some time. Ministers haven’t even started talking about what new relationship or treaty we’ll have with the rest of the 27 countries of Europe.
When I spoke to small businesses from Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire at the Federation for Small Business Annual Stakeholders event on Friday, the Brexit negotiations remain a concern. I discussed with them ways of helping small businesses to thrive in these challenging times, about the productivity challenge and what Government can do, and it was good to speak to local businesses about their priorities for Brexit.
The election should have changed everything – and in my view all 262 Labour MPs should come together around a demand for the UK to press for continued membership of the European Economic Area (the EEA or ‘Single Market’). If we did that, we’d only need a dozen Tory MPs to agree with us and we could force a change in the UK’s negotiating position. This is tantalisingly within reach. The numbers in the House of Commons should give real scope to influence events, so I really hope that we can come together in sufficient numbers and demand that better deal.
- This week I visited the Nottingham NHS Treatment Centre which is located next to QMC. The treatment centre has a wide variety of clinics and also offers day-case surgery and I spent time talking to staff and patients in dermatology and other clinics that were running at the time. We are very lucky to have such dedicated professionals and experts at the teaching hospital, which now offers out-patient services after working hours and sometimes on weekends too.
- Broadmarsh Bus Station closes at midnight tonight, meaning buses will go from new stops on Collin Street, Canal Street and Friar Lane from Monday morning. This is in preparation for the demolition and rebuilding of Broadmarsh Bus Station and Car Park, with the car park closing later in July. You can find out where your bus is going from, and details about the £250m plans for the area, at betterbroadmarsh.com
- On Friday I attended an event celebrating the work of the ‘Sound as a Pound’ Sound as a Pound is a Big Lottery-funded five year project that helps vulnerable social housing tenants in Nottingham to learn how to manage their finances. Since the project was launched in 2013, Sound as a Pound has given support to over 2,500 people in Nottingham. By helping vulnerable people to learn how to manage their finances, the team hope to enable the social housing tenants they help to become financially confident and maintain their tenancies. It was great to celebrate the achievements of the project with the team, as well as hearing about their plans to seek funding to continue the project beyond 2018.
- A report by the Independent Monitoring Boards has found that the overwhelming majority of problems at HMP Nottingham on Perry Road were made significantly worse by the prison having ‘insufficient staff’. From February 2016 to February 2017, the report recorded 199 assaults on staff, 457 attacks on prisoners by inmates and 82 fires. Drugs were also found to be an issue at the prison. The IMB report also expressed concern about the impact staff shortages were having on the rehabilitation of prison inmates. The Ministry of Justice claims that staffing has improved significantly since the period the report covered – however I will keep a close on this situation and seek assurances that staffing levels will be improved.
- Glenis Willmott, Labour’s MEP for the East Midlands and Labour’s Leader in Europe, has announced this week that she will be retiring in October after almost 12 years as an MEP. A towering figure of East Midlands, national and European politics, she has served our Party and the trade union movement for many decades. I’d like to wish her a very happy retirement – she will be sadly missed. Due to the list system operated for European Parliamentary elections, the next person on a political party’s ‘list’ from the previous election (in this case 2014) automatically succeeds if an MEP from their party retires. I would therefore like to extend my congratulations to Leicester’s Rory Palmer, who will succeed Glenis as Labour’s MEP for the region. Rory has served as Deputy Mayor of Leicester for the last six years and will bring a wealth of experience to his new role.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- This week I raised the issue of local NHS staff shortages in Parliament – the severe staffing shortages already being felt in Nottingham and elsewhere and these would be made much worse if the Government restricts opportunities to recruit doctors, nurses and other staff from Europe after Brexit. We all know how vital the 55,000 EU nationals who work in the health service (including 10% of GPs) are to its success – they keep us safe and healthy as well as bringing crucial specialisation and expertise, and as we learned again this week, a crisis looms if the NHS is unable to recruit freely from EU countries. But this isn’t just a patient safety issue – it also creates a huge financial strain. With eight percent of Nottingham’s hospital staffing budget already going on agency costs, our NHS can’t afford to see further restrictions. Relying on stand-in locums, agency and temporary staff costs far more than training a permanent workforce in the long run. On Tuesday I pressed the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on this false economy, as you can see at the link here.
- In the Commons on Wednesday, Ministers were questioned about voter fraud – but the real crisis for our democracy is the millions of people missing from the electoral register altogether. Fewer than 75% of adults in Nottingham East are currently registered to vote in general elections – yet in the Conservative constituency of the Minister responsible for this issue, over 97% are registered. That inequality is just not fair. The Government have made it harder for people to get registered and are now talking about requiring ID to vote – when all the evidence shows that schemes like this disproportionately prevent students, young people, and those living in temporary or insecure accommodation – and we have to recognise that this effective disenfranchisement is the real problem. I believe that, instead of raising barriers to participation, we should be making it easier for people to vote – and that the best way to achieve that is by moving to a system of automatic voter enrolment, for instance whenever people come into contact with public services, as repeatedly recommended by Parliamentary Committees who have looked into the issue. Here’s what I had to say (at this link) to Ministers in Parliament on Wednesday morning.
- On Thursday the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier spelled out what has been scarily clear for some time – the Government’s insistence that we can crash out of the Single Market and Customs Union, but hold onto the ‘exact same benefits’ that come with membership, is completely detached from reality. At the election I made a promise to do all that I could to preserve our vital trade and economic links with Europe and fight an extreme Brexit deal (or worse, none at all) which would destroy economic confidence and cost good jobs and opportunities in Nottingham East, and that’s what I remain committed to doing.
- Last week marked the 80th anniversary of the UK’s 999 emergency service, which is operated by BT. The service was introduced as a way to help telephone operators identify emergency calls and prioritise them over other calls. The service began in London in 1937, and while the Second World War delayed the roll-out of the service to other areas, it had expanded to other major towns and cities by 1948. BT now handles 30 million calls per year through the 999 service, enabling callers to be put through to the police, ambulance service, fire service or coast guard as requested. 999 call handlers work in a number of locations across the country, including in Nottingham, and provide an invaluable service.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
The G20 meeting in Germany is a reminder that there are some massive issues facing governments worldwide that need urgent action, including climate change and trade.
Tuesday brought the deeply troubling news that North Korea had successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time. Concern over development of this kind of long-range missile, which could theoretically carry a nuclear weapon and is capable of striking Europe and the mainland United States, has been building for some time. This moment raises a serious set of questions for how the international community, and the U.S. in particular, should respond. The North Korean regime is volatile, insecure and thin-skinned, and we all have to hope that diplomatic, economic and other pressures will be successful in forcing a climbdown, because the costs of a military conflict would be incalculable.
I’m sure we would all agree that the North Korean regime is of deep concern – but what do you think the international community should do at this stage? There is clearly a big difference between the patient approach of the Obama administration and the unpredictable attitude of the Trump administration. Do we have the right mix of defence policies for Britain and Europe? Should Britain do more to persuade the Chinese and Russians to apply what influence they have more effectively?
I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts about what is a growing issue on the world stage.