NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 24th March 2018
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While Theresa May will claim this weekend that progress is being made on Brexit, the Government are still putting off the decisions on what exactly will happen after ‘exit day’. It is a bad joke for the Prime Minister to be claiming that an ‘implementation period’ has been agreed – because there is still nothing implement! All that has happened is that the Government has agreed to 21 months of Britain as a ruler-taker that pays into the EU but has no substantive say on its decisions.
A transition period will simply kick the can down the road on the questions of the Irish border, future trade, security and all the other major decisions that Brexit has thrown up about the future of our country. The Prime Minister knows the promises made in the referendum are never going to be honoured, so she now seems prepared to take us out whatever the cost to keep the Brexiteers in her party at bay, and then simply hope for the best.
I believe that this is a huge and reckless gamble with our country’s future. It is not just our economy that is at stake – the Irish border question is a serious one and the agreement on firm action against Russia shows why the EU matters in defence and security too. We should not leave the EU until we know where we are going, and we should keep an open mind as to whether it is the right path for our country.
The views expressed yesterday by my colleague Owen Smith, who was removed from Labour’s Shadow Cabinet yesterday for sticking with his principles on this, are very much in line with my own. This Brexit ‘deal’ is shaping up to be one of the most serious economic and security challenges for the UK in my lifetime. As a minimum we need to participate in the Customs Union & Single Market – and ideally give people the chance to have a say on the whole proposed deal. Simply ‘toeing the Party line’ without question is no longer the appropriate thing to do, because there is just too much at stake.
- I reported last week on the tragic death of St Ann’s 18 year old Mariam Moustafa following an alleged assault outside the Victoria Centre in February. I have continued to liaise with representatives from her family and on Thursday I convened a meeting involving Nottinghamshire Police and representatives from the Egyptian and Italian governments, both countries where there has been a considerable level of public concern expressed about ensuring that justice is done. It is difficult for the Police to share full information while the investigation is ongoing in case it might prejudice any future prosecutions. But I am working as closely as I can with the relevant authorities and urging the Coroner to ensure that there is a full investigation of the facts and circumstances, to ensure justice is achieved for Mariam but also to make sure all lessons can be learned.
- Some operations between 19th March and 29th March have been postponed at Nottingham University Hospitals in an effort to increase to increase bed space. This is connected to the greater Nottingham system being placed on the highest level of ‘black’ alert, called OPEL (Operational Pressures Escalation Level) 4. NUH has said that it will contact patients directly if their operation or appointment is affected by the OPEL Four status. The pressures on hospitals are tremendous and I am urging Ministers and NHS officials to focus on system improvements and investment because this should not be allowed to become a ‘normal’ situation.
- I was greatly saddened to hear the news of the death of Ken Williams, former Labour city councillor for Greenwood and then Dales ward. Ken was a dedicated and conscientious community champion and was a lecturer at South Notts College, and husband to Steph and father to Jen, Alison and Zoe. His former co-councillor David Mellen paid tribute to Ken saying ‘A privilege to know and work with Ken Williams, former South Notts College lecturer and Nottingham City Councillor for Dales Ward, who has passed away. Kind, witty, committed, hard-working and loyal. Our city is a better place because of his service’.
- Nottingham East’s very own Rosehill School was visited by the Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds MP earlier this week, who over the course of two hours went on a tour of the entire school. This visit comes after a number of exceptional Ofsted reports, and I am pleased that the Secretary of State has recognised the excellent work being done at Rosehill which is a credit to the entire school community.
- Although the new parliamentary boundaries are going to be proposed on the basis of old head-count data, it turns out that the 2016 referendum saw a massive boost in registrations of local citizens. As a result, Nottingham East has had the 7th greatest increase percentage increase in parliamentary electors between 2016 and 2017 of the 650 Parliamentary constituencies. These figures were released by the Office for National Statistics on Thursday and showed a 7.5% increase between December 2016 and December 2017, as compared to 0.8% nationally – which means that over 4,400 people were missing from that earlier register. Nottingham East is a large constituency, but because we have high levels of change in the population many often go unregistered. It comes as little consolation that our boundaries will be redrawn on the basis of outdated and false data.
- It was great to have a chance to speak with the East Midlands ‘CBI Young Leaders’ event at BioCity yesterday afternoon. Talking with up-and-coming business voices from our region about how politics and public policy can interact with employers and the private sector is really important and we have some great companies in our area who do care about doing the right thing for the wider community.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- On Wednesday, the National Association of Head Teachers’ annual survey made for deeply dispiriting reading, with more than a third of Heads reporting that they’ve already had to cut teacher numbers and teaching hours, and almost nine in ten having had to cut hours for teaching assistants. Three quarters of respondents anticipate that their budgets this year will be in the red, and only eight percent said they don’t expect an ‘untenable deficit’ at some point in the coming years. I know resources are tight but it’s clearly of the greatest importance that the Government finds a funding solution which avoids putting schools in this position. Ministers claim that spending on education continues to increase, but headline figures can be misleading and how this money is spent will matter almost as much. Leaving our children without basic items like exercise books or whiteboards in the classroom is unacceptable in any situation, and I’ll do all I can to press the Government to focus on security long term educational investment.
- I was pleased to note that on Thursday evening, the European Council joined the UK in its statement on the Salisbury attack following Theresa May’s briefing of Presidents Merkel and Macron. The EU Council reaffirmed Russia’s culpability stating that there is ‘no plausible alternative explanation’, and the EU has since recalled its ambassador to Moscow. The Europe-wide solidarity with Britain on this issue, which has been in evidence in recent weeks, is most welcome, and demonstrates the importance of standing united especially when a chemical attack occurs in Europe in this way.
- The news reports about the alleged misuse of Facebook data by the company Cambridge Analytica have reverberated across the world, not least because of the potential impact that improper data targeting may have had on the outcome of the American Presidential election and potentially the Brexit referendum in 2016 as well. It is important to stay focused on the facts in the case and I am glad that the UK Information Commissioner appears to be pursuing the issue rigorously (although the delay in obtaining a search warrant did seem unusual). The debate being sparked about data protection, permissions and usage is an important one and it is telling that $58 billion dollars has been wiped off the value of Facebook as investors realise the complexities of this. While there are good reasons to allow data sharing, particularly in the public interest, we need clearer rules on privacy and I will take a closer interest as this policy discussion evolves.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Are local playgrounds and open spaces really as good as they should be? I strongly believe that decent outdoor recreation and exercise opportunities for children can make a real difference to the health and learning prospects for young people – which is why I am campaigning for the Government to improve provision of children’s playground facilities across the UK. In a debate I called in Parliament this week (which you can read at the Hansard link here) I raised the financial pressures facing local authorities such as Nottingham, who are trying their best – but with 214 playgrounds closed and a further 234 playgrounds earmarked for closure by local authorities I am worried about the health and wellbeing detriment this could cause. £100million would provide 1,600 new playgrounds and transform this provision. But I particularly urged the Minister to commission a study into the link between child health and the proximity of play facilities – which I believe would deliver the evidence needed to show this investment would be well spent.
Nottingham’s playground facilities rank reasonably well against those of other local authorities, although clearly there are pressures on resources which make it difficult for the city council to invest further. I have been liaising with city council officers about ‘playgrounds policy’ and was pleased to visit the new playground installed on Shipstone Street next to the tram stop where I discussed plans with Martin Harris, Parks Technical Officer at Nottingham City Council (pictured below):
I’d be interested if you have any thoughts on the quality or availability of playgrounds, parks and open spaces across Nottingham. It’s an important issue and one I felt needed taking up with Ministers.
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East