NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 25th November 2017
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Philip Hammond’s Budget on Wednesday was more notable for the dire forecasts for the British economy than the small policy measures he announced. We used to be able to expect growth rates of 2% or above in this country – but instead he unveiled massively downgraded expectations, with Britain bumping along at just above 1% for the foreseeable years ahead. This is because our productivity (output per hour worked) is very flat, which in turn is caused by poor business investment because of Brexit uncertainty.
We can now expect a decade of Brexit austerity ahead of us – with Treasury receipts getting worse and worse (even according to the Government’s own figures! See the table below). If we have £20billion less coming into the Treasury in taxes by 2021, this either needs substituting from borrowing (not sustainable) or more likely will be cut from spending on public services like schools, hospitals and council services. THIS was the real story of this week’s Budget; a Brexit cloud casting a shadow across the quality of life and services we ought to have in the 21st century.
I gave my detailed reaction to the Budget measures and forecasts in my Commons speech at the link here. It was appalling that Philip Hammond didn’t mention social care, and he fell a long way short on housing and support for the vulnerable. But if MPs of all parties don’t take steps to stop this Brexit catastrophe from cutting our public services, they will have responsibility for the next wave of austerity on their shoulders.
- Lots of residents in St Ann’s have been contacting me (quite rightly!) about the worries expressed by the GPs at the Wellspring Surgery at the joint service centre. So I took time yesterday to meet with the doctors there to hear first hand about the situation they are facing. It turns out that the building is now managed by the nationwide ‘NHS Property Services’, a part of the NHS that then sub-lets space out to GP practices. But this arm of the NHS seems intent on billing the practice with increasingly exorbitant ‘service charge’ fees for the privilege of using the space. When Wellspring first moved in they paid £25,000 a year service charge. But this year they’ve been billed £250,000. Clearly this is unsustainable and, because GP Practices are run as independent companies within the NHS, the doctors need to make sure that they don’t rack up a massive loss like that. The solution is therefore for one arm of the NHS to give another arm (the GPs) a break and reduce these internal re-charges to something more realistic. Otherwise we are at risk of the Wellspring Practice concluding it’s uneconomical to continue in that location. I gather that the different players in this saga had a telephone conference meeting this week to try and find a way forward. It shouldn’t be beyond the wit of our NHS to iron this out. There’s no point NHS Property Services winning a big windfall if another bit of the NHS has to pick up the massive costs and inconvenience of providing alternative GP services in their wake. I’m going to press Ministers at the Department for Health and NHS England to sort this out asap.
- Nottingham Women’s Centre continues to do vital and important work and I met with their CEO Helen Voce this week to discuss their ongoing campaigns including on refuge funding and the campaign against misogynistic hate speech. As part of The ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign’ which runs from 25 November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to 10 December (Human Rights Day) the Women’s Centre will be running numerous events – some of which can be found here https://www.facebook.com/events/526152094413130/
- I also had the chance this week to witness the good work done by Notts County’s Football in the Community Programme working with one of their partners in Nottingham East. As part of the Premier League Primary stars session at Huntingdon Academy Primary School in St Ann’s, I watched the coaches combined football theory with a PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education) lesson. The different approach taken by the PLPS coaches really engaged children who otherwise might have been hard to reach and I was impressed by the enthusiasm from both pupils and staff about the programme.
- Some traders at Sneinton Market have expressed concern at plans for new developments nearby. These plans involve the conversion of three buildings, with two units becoming accommodation for students and one reserved for food and drink. Particular concerns have arisen that an increase in the percentage of homes occupied by students could lead to the area becoming empty during university holidays. If you have thoughts on this please also make your representations known to the City Council planning department and your local councillors.
- A local teacher has been recognised as part of the Booktrust awards for the organisation’s 25th Anniversary. Booktrust, a charity focused on getting children reading, is giving awards as a way of showcasing particularly amazing work done. Shamim Khan, Assistant Head Teacher at Forest Fields Primary School has been selected as the winner in the ‘Treasure Programme’ category where Shamin was judged to be the best from all of the 152 ‘top tier’ local authorities in the country.
- I had a chance to speak with local residents at my drop-in event in Sainsbury’s Perry Road yesterday afternoon – with a whole series of issues coming up including the need for better street lighting for safety during dark nights and worries about pensions and benefits. As ever constituents are always welcome to email or write to me at 12 Regent Street, Nottingham, NG1 5BQ or telephone 0115 956 9429
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- My amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill led the debate on Tuesday where the focus was very much on efforts to keep the Charter of Fundamental Rights as part of British law. The Charter exists to enshrine some of the most important protections we have – freedom of expression, the right to legal representation and a fair trial, the right to privacy, as well as a range of safeguards against workplace discrimination and unfair dismissal. We were told by UK Ministers that that this Bill was supposed to be a simple copy-and-paste exercise – in theory, its purpose is to insert EU law into the UK statute book. However, Ministers have snuck through some downgrades in our legislation and have used the Bill in part as a licence to leave out the bits they don’t like. The Government have explicitly singled out the Charter for deletion. My amendment sought some clarity from Ministers on what the impact of its removal will be. Although we forced the Government to promise to publish a fuller dossier of the impact of each of the rights in the Charter by 5th December, we didn’t manage to quite get the numbers to win the day.
In the same vein, my other amendment would have retained the so-called ‘Francovich judgement’ should Britain leave the EU. In European law, this is a legal precedent which enables citizens to claim damages when their government falls short of its legal obligations. It’s recently been used by asthma sufferers to seek compensation because the Government was in breach of the Clean Air Directive, for example. As with the Charter, the Government have sought to do away with the protections contained in ‘Francovich’, effectively granting themselves legal immunity if they do not comply with these laws either before or after we leave the EU. You can see the arguments I made for both amendments here.
- On Thursday the EU Commission announced that Britain’s turn to host the European Capital of Culture 2023 programme would be cancelled. Along with other MPs from cities who’ve bid for the title, I’ve written to EU President Jean-Claude Juncker and also Culture Secretary Karen Bradley highlighting our concerns about the way this has been handled and how, in our view it would be preferable to maintain our future close relationship with Europe by continuing with the UK’s eligibility. Nottingham had submitted a fantastic bid for Capital of Culture status, but in some ways this is hardly surprising given the ‘exit date’ that the UK has chosen. I’m very sad about this, not just because of the wasted energies involved but because the UK will always be a European country and the decision to leave the EU is going to have all sorts of consequences such as this.
- On Monday we debated the forthcoming Customs and Tariffs Bill, which tragically is paving the way for a ‘hard Brexit’ and giving Ministers the power to introduce tariffs at our borders on imports from the rest of the world. Tariffs will push up the price of goods and also lead to retaliation from the countries affected, who in turn will institute tariffs on goods we’d like to export.
I supported my colleague Ian Murray MP who attempted to amend the resolution about the Bill so that tariffs couldn’t be charged against our long-standing EU neighbours. In effect, this would force the Government to stay in the ‘Customs Union’. Sadly there were 18 Labour MPs who decided to vote with the Conservative Government in rejecting Ian Murray’s amendment. But I’m pleased that there were more Labour MPs including myself who tried to make a stand. Unfortunately we were defeated because the Government had more MPs voting against us.
- The awful news from Egypt of the attack and murder of hundreds of worshippers at a Mosque has appalled the whole world and reminded everyone of the twisted ideology of the self-styled ‘Islamic State’ terrorist groups. It is actually Muslims who have suffered the most at the hands of these warped extremists and I hope that the British Government will work with the international community to isolate and track down those responsible for these crimes.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I’ve had loads of emails this week about ‘animal sentience’, following the defeat by the Government of an amendment to the Brexit legislation this week that would have maintained wording from the Lisbon Treaty reiterating that in the UK henceforth we will have regard to the fact that animals are creatures that can perceive pain and feel emotion. I voted in favour of the New Clause 30 in question, but it was defeated by votes from the Government side of the chamber.
It’s created a heated debate this week (and also some confusion! See article here from the Independent). When I heard evidence at the Trade Select Committee this week from the National Farmers Union and the organisation ‘Compassion in World Farming’ I pressed them on this point and the need to maintain the existing animal welfare and farming standards protections if we leave the EU. My concern is that by turning away from EU standards and chasing after American lower regulated arrangements, our farmers will feel the need to be competitive with the cheaper, lower standard US products. The reason chickens are dunked in chlorine in the USA is because of the poorer hygiene and welfare standards in American chicken production.
Yet again, the risks to animal welfare are a potential unforeseen side-effect of Britain leaving the EU. I’d be interested to know whether you think this is something that should have been predicted? Do you there’s been enough information about this? Is this an issue you don’t particular care about? Or should we make sure we still with the higher EU standards and rules about these things?
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East