NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 15th July 2017
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Over a million children in the UK have lost contact with a parent following separation, with young people often stuck in the middle of disputes. Fortunately, there are services available to help and Nottingham is the location for the headquarters of the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC). The charity began in Nottingham 25 years ago and they now monitor and assist around 400 ‘contact centres’ across the UK, which provide families who have recently gone through separation with a safe space for children to meet with their non-resident parents, and they help around 22,000 children per year. They have an excellent video showing their work at the link here: https://www.naccc.org.uk/
Yesterday I met with Elizabeth Coe the chief executive at NACCC to discuss their work and in particular think of ways to raise awareness of the importance of families maintaining support and focus on the needs of the child even through an acrimonious split. Clearly there are some serious situations where it is not possible for a child to maintain contact with both parents. But I agree with Elizabeth Coe that society needs to do more to assist children with the trauma of family break-up, as part of the ‘early intervention’ work that is such an important ‘stitch-in-time’, preventing emotional problems growing into educational under-achievement, mental ill-health, stress and even preventing the costs of crime and worklessness in the longer run.
I am particularly in agreement with Elizabeth that separating and divorcing couples with children need more support and intervention to prevent a catastrophic breakdown which inevitably hurts the children torn between warring parents. One idea is that divorcing couples could be required to attend a court-authorised ‘Separated Parents Information Programme’ one day course, before proceedings are heard, to focus minds on how to make arrangements for childcare, holidays, shared decision-taking for their children. Sometimes parents are unaware of the different methods and ways of keeping in a civil dialogue even if going through divorce, and this course can give some tips on how to structure that dialogue for the long term. I intend to press for this sort of programme to be rolled out more effectively across the country – and I’d be interested in any thoughts, experiences or ideas you might have on this topic.
- You may have heard that there are due to be job losses at the newly-merged Nottingham College. Staff have been told that 161 posts will go as a result of the merger, replaced by around 120 new posts, and staff and unions have raised concerns about the timescale for the redundancies and the lack of consultation. I met with representatives from the University and College Union on Friday to hear their concerns. My primary concern is whether compulsory job losses can be avoided through redeployment and voluntary changes, but I’m also worried about the student-to-tutor ratio and whether the current range and quality of courses can be sustained. Nottingham deserves improvements in skills training and I hope this will remain the focus of the newly-merged college.
- The organisation Playworks is holding a free family fun day event in aid of National Play Day on Wednesday 2nd The event is running from 11am to 3pm and is being held at the Arboretum park. The event will include arts and crafts activities, animal handling, sports, games and a wild walk and is sure to be a great family day out. For more information about the event, visit the Playworks website here.
- This week I took part in a Westminster Hall debate alongside my fellow Nottingham MPs about support for Nottingham schools. The new National Funding Formula for schools, which is due to come into force in April, will result in a real-terms funding cut for pupils in Nottingham. My colleague Lilian Greenwood spoke at length about the many strengths of Nottingham schools including the high number of pupils learning a musical instrument, but also about the problems Nottingham’s schools are facing. I spoke about the fears from Nottingham schools that further budget cuts will impact on specialist teaching in areas like the arts and will result in a very narrow curriculum for pupils. You can watch the full debate here.
- Nottingham City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council are to receive funding between them of around £446,000 over the next three years as part of the Government’s ‘Violence Against Women and Girls’ transformation fund. The funding will go towards a range of services to support victims including support for children who have witnessed abuse, support for the victims themselves and working with perpetrators of abuse to change their behaviour. The funding will also benefit survivors of honour-based violence, forced violence and FGM as well as victims of exploitation. Funding for domestic abuse services over the last few years has often fallen short of the help victims need, so I am pleased that the council have been successful in their bid for funding, which was submitted jointly with other organisations including domestic violence charities.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- As you will know, I’ve long argued that we need to compromise and find continued partnerships and alliances with European countries for the longer term – and these partnerships will have to be overseen by shared legal enforcement mechanisms. On Monday, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson confirmedthat there will be a potential role for the European Court of Justice in the transitional phase of our withdrawal from the EU – but with the exact scope and duration of its continued jurisdiction in Britain remaining a “matter for negotiation.” This represents a clear and hugely important break with the Government’s previously immovable ‘red line’ of an end to all ECJ jurisdiction from the precise moment we are scheduled to leave in March of 2019. It’s increasingly obvious that the Government themselves don’t have the answers here, as I discovered when I pressed the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson on the transparent change in policy in the Commons this week – you can watch the exchange here.
- On Tuesday morning we had sight of the independent review of modern working practicescarried out at the Government’s request by Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts. The Review sets out seven principles aimed at bringing our system of worker protections up to date with the realities of modern employment. Much of the focus was on its call for greater distinction between platform-based ‘dependent contractors’ and those who are fully self-employed, with additional safeguards in place for the former group, who currently often miss out on key workplace protections. The Taylor Review was a real opportunity to improve the employment system to better protect workers in a fast-changing world. While I agree with its sentiment in many areas, I worry that it misses a number of opportunities to clamp down on workplace exploitation, and that its references to ‘dependent contractors’ leave the Government leeway to row back on recent legal victories for ‘gig economy’ workers when it responds later this year.
- On Tuesday the House of Commons debated the contaminated blood scandal. More than 45 years on from the first cases of NHS-supplied blood products infecting people with HIV, hepatitis C and other viruses, and with estimates suggesting the scandal has taken the lives of at least 2,400 people, the Government has confirmed that it will call an inquiry. We await more detail on its size and scope, but in light of recent allegations about the conduct of public officials and the treatment of victims and their families, transparency will be vital. I support a comprehensive public inquiry delivering full disclosure of documents, real answers and compulsory participation for parties involved in the scandal.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
This week the Government published the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – previously called the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ by Ministers. You can see the full details of the Bill at the link here. This will be the biggest legislative task facing Parliament for a generation, as Ministers say they want to ensure that EU-derived laws remain in force after ‘exit day’.
While such a Bill might be inevitable following the referendum, I’ve got real misgivings about the Government’s approach – and would welcome your advice about how to approach this process.
My suspicion is that Ministers are lining up a series of rights and freedoms, currently enshrined in European law, so that they can then push them into oblivion one by one as they come within their jurisdiction. This suspicion is made worse by clause 7(1) of the Bill which states that ‘a Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the minister considers appropriate’ to prevent, remedy or mitigate deficiencies in retained law arising from Brexit.
This means that massive law-making powers are being taken into the hands of Ministers, away from Parliament and perhaps without any scrutiny or debate.
I’m worried that the Bill creates legal uncertainty for our wider economy because Ministers haven’t figured out what court arrangements will become the alternative to the European Court of Justice, and I’m also concerned about restrictions on access to justice that could flow from this Bill.
This Bill will dominate Parliament in the autumn so I wanted to get your opinion on it at this stage.