NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 27th October 2017
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The situation in Spain and Catalonia is quite rightly at the top of the Europe-wide news agenda this weekend. There’s no doubt that the Spanish government have handled this situation badly, using force to close down an unauthorised referendum and stoking the annoyance of the Catalan population as a result. If a region or part of a country sparks a debate about ‘independence’ it is far better to engage in the argument calmly and persuade the public of the benefits of alliances and cooperation, rather try to shut down debate. The United Kingdom faced its own issue with Scottish independence and thankfully the Scottish people were persuaded of the disadvantages of separatism in the referendum.
This is clearly a complex situation where many will have some sympathies with both sides. When it comes to nationalistic movements, I tend to take the view that, unless there is an overwhelming environment of oppression and autocracy where freedoms and liberties are at stake, it is dubious whether separatist movements such as in Catalonia can deliver a more progressive or positive outcome for the population. For a start, the separatist movement in Catalonia seems driven by a reluctance for the wealth in that part of Spain to be shared across the rest of the Iberian peninsula. Wealthy areas sometimes do resent seeing ‘their’ resources shared with those in greater need. But imagine if prosperous London decided it wanted to separate from the rest of the United Kingdom for similar reasons.
The Spanish government yesterday dissolved the regional Catalan parliament and called elections for 21st December – but I wouldn’t be surprised if local resistance to this sparks problems between now and then. I hope that a resolution can be found peacefully and a healthier devolved settlement achieved. Some will this situation as ‘plucky Catalonia breaking from an imperialist Spain’. But others will reflect on a wealthy community trying to get its own way rather than pool resources. What is clear is that – like so many of the issues in Europe today – the Catalan situation does not fit neatly into any particular ideological framework.
- Nottingham Friends of the Earth reported the results last week of a study they carried out into levels of air pollution at key road junctions in Nottingham East. They tested for levels of nitrogen dioxide over a two week period at busy road junctions in the constituency. Analysis the results, they found particularly high levels of nitrogen dioxide at three junctions – A60 Mansfield Road/Magdala Road, A60 Mansfield Road/Huntingdon Street and A612 Carlton Road/Manvers Street. All three junctions recorded levels higher than the 40 microgram per cubic metre legal limit for the mean annual average for nitrogen dioxide, and while the group recognise that a two week recording period is not equivalent to an annual mean, they are raising legitimate concerns about the level of air pollution in the area. It’s clear that more needs to be done at a national level to tackle air pollution in our cities, and I will be pushing Ministers on this.
- Yesterday I visited the Nottingham branch of the Yorkshire Building Society to learn about their ‘Socktober’ campaign. The Society has been running a month-long appeal throughout October as part of its charity partnership with End Youth Homelessness (EYH). Donations of new pairs of socks, plus other items such as woolly hats, gloves, scarves and toiletries can be made at the Nottingham branch, on Milton Street. I was very impressed with the generosity of local people in donating to this campaign. If you are able to contribute something, please do take your donation in to the branch before the end of the month. I also spoke to staff at the Society about the forthcoming Budget and what it might mean for their customers.
- Three parks in the constituency have been nominated for Field in Trust’s UK Best Park Awards for 2017. Arboretum, Hedley Villas and Woodthorpe Grange parks are all in the running for the awards, which are voted for by the public. You may recall that I had the pleasure of visiting Hedley Villas park a few weeks ago, but I’m sure you’ll agree that all three parks are worthy nominees. Voting is open until Friday 3rd November – if you’d like to take part you can do so online here.
- Last Sunday a plaque was unveiled at the birthplace of Herbert Kilpin, the founder of AC Milan football club. The plaque was unveiled by the Nottingham Civic Society at the site on Mansfield Road on the 101st anniversary of Herbert’s death, and the site has also been repainted in Milan’s colours of red and black. Robert Nieri, who has written a book about Herbert Kilpin, hopes that the building will now attract AC Milan supporters to Nottingham to pay tribute.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- On Monday Theresa May made a statement to the House of Commons following last week’s meeting of the European Council, which last week touched on citizens’ rights, the Irish border and Britain’s financial settlement with the EU. This round of talks, of course, was supposed to mark the beginning of ‘phase two’ in our negotiations, dealing with all-important questions on trade and our future treaty arrangements. But the Government has managed to fall behind its schedule, so we remain without answers on these most vital of issues. I’m afraid this slapdash approach is now par for the course for this Government – in her statement, Theresa May not only failed to provide detail on a potential transition deal, but announced that the Government wouldn’t be able to secure such a deal until the totality of our post-Brexit arrangements had been negotiated! British businesses of all sizes desperately need certainty on this; without it, they will be unable to take the most basic planning decisions in the coming months. I asked the Prime Minister how she could justify keeping them in the dark, as you can see here, and talked about it in more detail on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme on Tuesday.
- On Tuesday the Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt spoke about the future of the campaign against ISIS in light of the recent liberation of Raqqa. The Syrian Democratic Forces officially liberated the city last Friday following a months-long campaign. This comes on the heels of significant losses for ISIS – notably its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul in July – which now occupies less than one tenth of the territory it once did. While MPs are waiting on a fuller update on counter-ISIS operations from the Foreign Secretary, victory in Raqqa represents a vital blow against the evil group, and I pay tribute to the sterling work of the British Armed Forces engaged in the operation. I believe that the decision to support the extension of action against ISIS into Syria helped secure this and was the right thing to do.
- On Wednesday, MPs unanimously backed a Labour motion calling on the Government to shelve plans to cap the assistance given to supported housing vulnerable tenants. These housing benefit cuts, which were due to come into effect in April 2019, would have risked the closure of thousands of vital schemes, including homelessness hostels and refuges for victims of domestic violence. The National Housing Federation reported that the mere threat of these changes had already led to an astonishing 85% drop in new supported housing development. But I’m pleased that the Prime Minister has bowed to pressure and announced that the planned caps will not be going ahead. Looking ahead, I’d like to see the Government commit to safeguard supported housing in the longer term by introducing a targeted ‘supported housing allowance’, set at a rate which better reflects the higher running costs involved. This is a big issue in Nottingham affecting supported housing providers such as Framework, who I will continue to work with closely on this campaign.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Over the next two years there will be a massive programme of electricity and gas ‘smart meter’ installation across the country – and 4,700 homes in Nottingham East have already had them fit
Yesterday I met with one of our local Nottingham ‘Smart Energy Experts’ from British Gas (see pictured) who explained to me the advantages customers can get from seeing energy usage in pounds and pence, as well as ending the need for meter readings.
But I’d be interested to know what you think about the introduction of smart meters? If you’ve already had one installed, do you find it a useful addition to your home? Have you come across any problems? Have they helped you control your energy spending? Is it true that smart meters make it harder to ‘switch’ providers? Or is the technology less useful as smart phones are developing so rapidly?
The aim is for smart meters to be offered to all homes and businesses by the end of 2020, so if you don’t already have one then your supplier will be in touch in due course to arrange a free installation.