NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 10th March 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
The news that Nottingham Trent University student Rufaro Chisango suffered a tirade of racist abuse in her halls of residence at the city campus spread across the world on social media this week. There has been widespread shock expressed at the appalling footage of racist abuse. The police have arrested two 18 year old men in connection with the incident and the investigations are continuing. I have spoken with the Registrar at Nottingham Trent University and they have suspended the suspected students in question. Such intimidation and racist abuse must never be tolerated and it shouldn’t take social media anger to prompt a thorough response. Reporting of incidents at universities – as elsewhere – must be straightforward and always taken seriously.
NTU is a popular and well-respected university which in general has a good track record in welcoming a large number of students to our city from diverse backgrounds. I know that the staff and vast majority of students at NTU share in the shock and disgust at this incident and it would be deeply unfortunate if young people were in any way deterred from applying to the university or studying in Nottingham because of it. I have asked the team at NTU to let me know ways in which they can ensure students receive clear anti-racism guidance available. The NTU Students’ Union currently run a ‘Respect at NTU’ campaign aimed at promoting positive behaviours and the induction process for freshers includes messages about the university’s ‘dignity and respect policy’. I hope that further lessons will be learned from this episode.
- Thursday marked International Women’s Day and I was pleased to see that many organisations held events across Nottingham to celebrate. It was also the day of the Wollaton West city council by-election, and it was perhaps fitting that the election was won by the only woman on the ballot paper – Nottingham Labour’s Cate Woodward. I would like to congratulate Cate on winning the seat and wish her all the best in her duties as a councillor.
- Above inflationary increases in operating costs is forcing Nottingham City Transport to increase their bus fares across the board for the first time in several years. The changes to fare will start from 25th March, single cash fares will go up by 20p and the All-day Ticket by 30p. Nicola Tidy, NCT marketing and communications director, advised: “Customers who pay cash on the bus can minimise the impact of the fare review by switching to off-bus payment methods like the NCTX Buses App and Robin Hood Pay as You Go Card, where all day travel will be just 10p more than the current £3.70 cash price.”
- The Big Lottery Fund has announce almost a million pounds worth of funding for projects across Nottingham East. The £991,785 total will be split among 15 different projects in the area. These include many vital services such as work being done by various womens’ groups to provide bespoke mental health support for local women. Other projects include activities and workshops for children, providing equipment for an art gallery at Sneinton Market and several support services to combat isolation among the elderly.
- Children born this year in Sneinton, Bakersfield and Colwick will receive a free book through the post every month until they reach five years old, under a new children’s literacy scheme in partnership between the city council and the ‘Dolly Parton Imagination Library’ charity. It was a great pleasure to attend their launch on Friday at the Dales Centre Library hosted by Councillor David Mellen, early intervention and early years portfolio holder (pictured below with library staff, local health visitors and others at the event). Sadly, the average Nottingham five year old starts school with reading skills 14% behind those of other UK children – so this scheme is designed to help improve the reading, listening and talking habits of children from that early age. The scheme depends partly on donations so if you’d be interested in sponsoring a child’s book-gifting please visit dollybooksnottingham.org
- A survey carried out by NET has found that 98% of customers would recommend Nottingham’s tram network to friends and family. The results of the survey show that NET enjoys a 94% customer satisfaction rate and that 98% of customers were pleased with service frequency. The primary reason for using the tram cited in the survey was for its ease and convenience as reported by 42% of respondents.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- The week began with Theresa May’s set-piece speech on housing. And while she did go further than before – describing the shortage of affordable homes as a “national crisis,” and singling out the “perverse incentives” created by property developers offering bonuses on the basis of profitability rather than the number of houses built – the Prime Minister failed to follow through on this rhetoric with real policy solutions. The headline proposal – taking planning powers away from local authorities which fail to use them – was actually announced months ago, and came a day after it was revealed that the parallel crackdown on empty homes promised in the Budget last Autumn still hasn’t been enacted.
In any case, the shortage of new homes isn’t primarily because councils are unwilling to build but because they don’t have the resources to meet local need. While I agree that developers shouldn’t be allowed to get away with dodging their obligations on affordability, I’ve seen no announcement at all on how this will actually be achieved. We’re told that the Government wants to make solving the housing crisis its signature achievement, but on the evidence of this week they still have their work cut out.
- On Tuesday the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson took questions from MPs on the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury over the weekend. While of course we have to await official findings before rushing to judgement, I’m encouraged by the Foreign Secretary’s promise to act “appropriately and robustly” if for any reason the Russian government is ultimately implicated as it was in the Litvinenko case. The notion of deployed nerve agents on the streets of Britain, potentially a hostile chemical attack by a foreign power, cannot be ignored.
- Heaven only knows where the relationship between Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will end up. While it is a positive step that the South Korean’s have made some diplomatic headway, around the occasion of the Winter Olympics, we have got to hope that this high-stakes bilateral meeting ‘some time before May’ will take place in a calm and conciliatory manner. It must not be used by the North Korean’s to cement their place as a nuclear power in the world. Having attacked his own Secretary of State for making diplomatic efforts with the North Koreans in the past, let’s hope this is a genuine change of heart by Trump and an authentic attempt at de-escalating by Mr Kim.
- On Monday afternoon I pressed Theresa May on the admission in her ‘Road to Brexit’ speech last week that Britain’s access to vital European markets will be reduced should we leave the EU. This may seem obvious, but the Prime Minister has spent the last year promising that we can preserve ‘all the benefits’ of Single Market participation without any of the responsibilities of membership – so this is a significant concession. I think it’s a bit rich that in the same speech, she called on the rest of us to face up to ‘hard facts’ on Brexit! The PM also committed to be ‘straight with the public’ from now on – so I asked her whether she now regrets making the original, undeliverable promise. You can watch the exchange here.
- The evidence is now pouring in: leaving the Single Market will make this country much poorer – and it is deeply frustrating that more politicians in the UK are not alive to this substantial risk. You may remember that in January, MPs voted to compel the Government to release its internal analysis of how different Brexit scenarios will affect our economic performance. This week MPs finally had the opportunity to see this analysis (some of which the Brexit Select Committee has since made available at the link here) – and on Wednesday afternoon I had the chance to ask the Trade Minister Greg Hands about some of its findings. Specifically it identified a measly 0.2 percent benefit to the economy if the Government negotiates a free-trade agreement with the US (the centrepiece of their post-Brexit economic strategy), set against a 4.8 percent loss as a result of leaving the EU. This strikes me as a pretty bad deal – but you can hear the Minister’s thoughts here.
- On Wednesday morning the International Trade Select Committee, on which I sit, published its report on Britain’s trading arrangements post-Brexit. You can read the whole thing here if you’re so minded, but I was particularly pleased with the cross-party committee’s finding that our “continued participation in a customs union and the single market with the EU would be the approach least likely to risk a return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.” The Irish border issue is the first of many reasons why it’s in our clear national interest to stay both in the Customs Union and the Single Market – not least, as I’ve been arguing, to avoid a decade-plus of austerity – and I’ll continue fighting for that outcome.
The report also outlines the significant difficulties in the Government’s approach to “rolling over” the EU’s 40 bilateral free-trade agreements into fresh ones with Britain and calls on Ministers to provide “a legally watertight and practically viable strategy” to avoid significant economic damage. We need greater clarity now.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
We take it for granted that local firms and customers can buy and sell products from around the world. But with Donald Trump’s unilateral imposition of a 25% tariff (tax) on imported steel coming into the USA, his effort to ‘protect’ American steel manufacturers will in the end be self-defeating. This is because other nations cannot blithely allow American steel to flow merrily into their countries without a reciprocal tariff-free approach to their steel entering the USA. So what always happens with protectionist trade wars like this is a tit-for-tat countervailing response.
If Britain was on its own, we wouldn’t stand much of a chance of rebutting aggressive tariffs from bigger players like Trump. But because of our participation in the Customs Union, our joint ‘muscle’ with the rest of Europe – even bigger than the USA when combined – gives us a chance of being able to stand up to such bullying. Tariffs and protectionism create a spiral of declining trade volumes and when fewer goods are traded and costs rise, the living standards of the public suffer – as this diagram of the cycle from the 1920s and 1930s below shows (known as ‘Kindleberger’s cobweb’):
Do you think there is much awareness of what is happening in world trade policy? Is it too remote or do you feel this is likely to affect you? Are you aware that the World Trade Organisation is the international body supposed to police and arbitrate between countries, preventing them entering a spiralling trade war? I’d be interested to hear your views.
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East