NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Friday 21st July 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
Despite promises before the election, the Government’s ‘commitment’ to electrifying the Midland Mainline suddenly evaporated this week – in an announcement from Transport Ministers snuck out on the last day of Parliament sitting before the summer recess.
By ditching electrification, Ministers are holding Nottingham’s principal train connectivity back in the 20th century, fobbing off the East Midlands with what they claim are ‘bi-modal’ diesel and electric trains – which can barely go faster at times than the 1970s train models they are replacing.
I appreciate that there isn’t a bottomless reserve of money, but I believe that as a country we need to prioritise long-term investment in things that boost our economic productivity and make it easier for us to do business and boost prosperity. Public transport upgrades are long accepted as a great way to do this.
I’m appalled at this short-sighted decision by Conservative Ministers and I know that even other Tory MPs across the region are embarrassed about this big let-down. It makes a mockery of all the warm words about a ‘Midlands Engine’, with people now remarking it’s more like ‘Thomas The Tank Engine’. The decision to downgrade this line and also the line through to South Wales suggests that Ministers are retreating on what should be some key economic priorities – perhaps because they had to shell out £1billion in Northern Ireland at the behest of the DUP.
I’ll keep working closely with my Nottingham colleagues Lilian Greenwood, Alex Norris and Vernon Coaker to press for a better deal on transport. The East Midlands loses out consistently when compared with London transport investment and this has got to change. If you’ve time, please add your thoughts on this via the Government’s consultation at the link here.
The House of Commons has now broken up for the summer recess, so as usual these ‘MP Update’ email bulletins will resume when Parliament returns. In the meantime, please email any issues you want to make me aware of, or areas where I might be able to help. You can also contact my office at 12 Regent Street NG1 5BQ on Tel: 0115 956 9429.
- The Renewal Trust is holding a Community Fun Day this Sunday 23 July from 11am-3pm at Brendon Lawrence Sports Centre, 35 Hungerhill Road, St Ann’s, NG3 4NB. The event is now in its second year, and there will be lots of family activities on offer, including bouncy castles, a soft play area, circus workshops, face painting, a petting zoo, a barbecue and refreshments, an ice cream van, a tombola and raffle. Entry to the event is FREE and children of all ages are welcome – you can find full information about the event on Facebook here.
- Nottingham has the lowest carbon emissions of all of England’s largest cities, according to new Government figures. The figures show that Nottingham’s emissions have fallen by 21 percent since 2005. It has also been announced that three further Nottingham parks have been awarded Green Flag status this year, including the Pirate Park in Sherwood. This brings the total number of Green Flag council-run parks in the city to 32, showing the pride Nottingham takes in its parks and green spaces. It’s good to see Nottingham continuing to lead the way on dealing with carbon emissions and other environmental issues.
- Nottingham Central Women’s Aid are holding their first fundraising gig next month at The Maze on Mansfield Road. The ‘Free from Fear’ charity gig is taking place on Friday 18th August at 7pm. Tickets are on sale for £5 and the gig will feature performances from two local acts – New Apostles and Alice Short. You can buy tickets on The Maze’s website here.
- A ten-year regeneration project at St Ann’s Allotments is coming to an end. The £4.5 million restoration project, which has been overseen by The Renewal Trust and STAA and received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the East Midlands Development Agency, the European Regional Development Fund and Nottingham City Council, came after a long campaign to save the allotments, which were largely left empty and neglected throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Thanks to the success of the project, there is now a waiting list for the allotments for the first time in a generation. It is fantastic to see that these historic allotments, which date from the 1830s, have been preserved for the future. I plan to visit the allotments over the summer to see the final results of the project and learn more about the ongoing work to manage them.
- The route that HS2 will take through the East Midlands was confirmed by the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling this week – but the scheme is still a very long way from being constructed. The route will now follow the eastern side of the A42 around East Midlands Airport, before passing through Long Eaton on a 16m high viaduct to reach the East Midlands Hub at Toton. Work is expected to begin on the first phase of HS2 (from London to Birmingham) next year, and the civil engineering for the project alone is expected to create 16,000 jobs, which is a welcome boost for the economy.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- Parents and teachers – as well as Labour MPs – have been warning for months that the Government’s planned changes to education funding would have a devastating impact on schools up and down the country. In Nottingham East, as I noted back in March, they would have meant completely avoidable cuts of nearly £700 per pupil. But there were some signs that Ministers know this is unsustainable, with the Education Secretary Justine Greening announcing a £1.3 billion increase for schools budgets on Monday. It sounds too good to be true, and it is – all of this supposedly new money is actually coming from elsewhere in the Department for Education. So far, we know that £620 million of it will come out of planned building and repairs to school facilities, but we’re still in the dark on how the Government will find the remaining £600 million plus. On Monday afternoon I pressed the Education Secretary on exactly where the axe would fall, as you can see here.
- Last week the Office for Budget Responsibility drew attention to the risks a Hard Brexit would pose to Britain’s long-term economic success, with even a small impact on our productivity opening up a £36 billion hole in the public finances. On Tuesday I made this point to the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, and urged the Government to get on with negotiating a transition period for the UK in the Single Market and so avoid the unmitigated disaster of a cliff-edge Brexit. (And there’s been some evidence this week that, at least for some Cabinet Ministers, reality has begun to seep in.)
- On Wednesday the Government announced an increase in the state pension age to 68 from 2037, bringing the planned increase forward by seven years. While the pension system does need to be sustainable given the costs fall on the shoulders of younger generations, just this week we learned that a century-long rise in life expectancy had stalled, and Public Health England set out how deep inequalities in lifespan and other indicators persist across regional, economic and social lines. The trouble with announcements like this is the disconnection with those who will be affected – with no information about how those in the forties and older should take steps to make up the income for that now extra year’s lost pension right. Raising the pension age in this way also hit those in manual work far more, because there are just some occupations that it’s unreasonable to expect people to keep working in until age 68.
- On Thursday the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling provoked justified fury in Nottingham and across the region when he announced that the Government’s plans for electrification of the Midlands Mainline had been scrapped; new trains will in some instances run more slowly than the ones they’re replacing. This is an appalling, short-sighted decision. It makes a mockery of Ministers’ supposed commitment to the ‘Midlands Engine’ industrial strategy and, as Lilian Greenwood, the MP for Nottingham South and incoming Chair of the Transport Select Committee, said yesterday, it raises serious questions more generally – “about the government’s willingness to invest in the long-term future of our railways, and their commitment to the decarbonisation of transport.” The announcement has been met with a chorus of opposition already, and
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
As I mentioned above, education funding was the focus of Justine Greening’s announcement this week and the Education Secretary was responding to clear pressure – including from parents and teachers at Nottingham schools – to end their policy of real terms cuts per pupil. The Conservatives are still planning a reform of the funding formula, which is particularly concerning because anything that moves away from recognition of need, deprivation and special assistance is likely to disadvantage Nottingham schools.
But the sticking-plaster decision to redirect money to schools from other non-schools programmes within the DfE underlines another fundamental short-termism in attitudes towards learning in the UK.
While schools must be able to keep pace with rising costs and prices, and while early years are clearly crucial, we have a habit in the UK of neglecting further education and vocational education. Spending per student in FE fell from 2010 and in real terms hasn’t risen from where it was 25 years ago. Locally we can see this playing out in the consolidation of our FE sector into a single Nottingham College and the risk of an ever-restricted curriculum and narrowing of specialisms. This is short-sighted for our economy and productivity, comparative to other countries with whom we have to compete.
I’ve met with local FE college staff representatives and urged Nottingham College’s management to avoid compulsory redundancies in their restructure. I’d be interested in your views on the future of FE both locally and nationally. This wider question about the effort and energy we’re investing (or not investing!) in adult skills is in my view absolutely crucial.