NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Friday 19th October 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
With hundreds of thousands expected to march on Parliament tomorrow for a ‘People’s Vote’, the Government’s mishandling of Brexit negotiations is clearly making more and more people want to reverse out of the cul-de-sac altogether.
Even if Theresa May returns to Parliament with a second-rate trade agreement that downgrades our relationship with Europe to the status of Mexico, Colombia or Canada, the costs to our economy will be enormous. Outside the single market we can expect GDP growth to shrink by 4.8 per cent over the next 15 years, on the Treasury’s own estimates. That leaves a £50 billion-plus hole in tax revenue, meaning cuts to our NHS, schools, police.
The PM’s strategy to get such an agreement through the House of Commons is now coming into focus – convince enough MPs that we are forced to make a choice between her sub-standard ‘bad deal’, and the outright catastrophe of no deal at all, and thereby browbeat my colleagues into ushering in another decade of austerity. ‘Take it or leave it’ will be the Government’s strategy – and they are even trying to rig the parliamentary procedure and backtrack on their pledge to allow amendments from MPs as we debate what happens next.
But as I argued in the Evening Standard on Monday, that false choice is entirely a fabrication by the Prime Minister and does not need to be the choice MPs make. If the Government’s deal fails to deliver on Leave campaigners’ promises, we will have the right to send Ministers back to do better with an extended Article 50 period – or better still, give the public a final say on whether to ‘leave’ with her deal or remain in the European Union. That is the real alternative, and we mustn’t fall for Theresa May’s fake brinkmanship. It’s time for Parliament to do its jobs and protect the livelihoods and interests of the communities we represent.
- Rumours of a proposal to relocate Nottingham’s city centre main post office – currently at the branch on Queen Street – are growing, with the suggestion that the Post Office intend to move it into one of the WHSmith shops in town. If this is proposed formally, there will apparently be a six week consultation period and I’d be interested to know if you have any thoughts about this.
- I have written in previously about some of the important work being done at City Hospital Zephyr’s Centre which offers care and support to families who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy or the death of a baby or child. Zephyr’s has now been shortlisted to win an award for Best Support Organisation in the Butterfly Awards 2018, a national award scheme. You can find out more information and vote here. As October is Baby Loss awareness month, Nottingham Surface Gallery has an exhibition called “Remembering Baby” which Zephyr’s is also involved in.
- A jobs fair will be held next Wednesday (24th October) from 4pm to 7pm at St Ann’s Valley Centre. It forms part of a week-long initiative which has been set up by The Renewal Trust working closely with Nottingham City Council, City College Nottingham and Metropolitan Housing Association. Councillor Neghat Khan, portfolio holder for Education and Skills said: “Nottingham City Council is proud to support the Renewal Trust to deliver this activity in the St Ann’s, Sneinton and Mapperley areas of the city which will provide unemployed local residents with the support, advice and training they need to find employment.”
- Nottingham Citizens launched their School Hate Crime Report in Parliament earlier this week. The report which was compiled by asking almost 3000 schoolchildren about their experiences represents an important step in the fight against hate crime in our schools. I was pleased to see that, subsequent to a Prime Minister’s Question from my Colleague Alex Norris MP, the Home Secretary will be meeting with him and a delegation of young people from Nottingham to discuss what actions can be taken to help tackle the issue.
- Congratulations to Trent Barton Bus Driver Roy Kearney who is one of eight finalists in the Top National Driver category of the UK Bus Awards 2018. The awards ceremony will take place in in London on 20th Sharon Bailey, the operations manager who manages James, said: “He never has a bad day on the job. When driving he’s so friendly with the customers. You only have to meet him to feel that you instantly have a relationship with him.”
- Congratulations to the Sherwood Community Hoodwinked Fund who raised £6000 in six days to purchase two of the ‘Hoodwinked Robins’ as part of the £133,000 charity fundraising effort on behalf of the Nottinghamshire Hospice. The individually painted Robins have been part of the trail at various locations across the city this summer and many have commented on this successful campaign. It is hoped the Robins purchased by the Fund will be displayed at different locations in Sherwood.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- On Wednesday, Tory MPs defeated a Labour motion calling on the Government to release its assessments of the impact of Universal Credit, amid continuing chaos surrounding its rollout. Prospective recipients have a right to know what the changes will mean for their allowance – particularly after Esther McVey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, appeared this week to contradict the Government’s headline claim that no claimants will lose out – so it is disappointing that Ministers continue to resist transparency on this issue. The scheme was due for ‘roll-out’ in Nottingham starting this week.
Regional migrations to Universal Credit, which replaces six targeted benefits, have reportedly seen claimants wait several weeks for payments to resume, leading to localised spikes in food bank use, and also receive a smaller overall sum. Even a number of backbench Conservative MPs are now calling on the DWP to delay nationwide implementation, reflecting an increasingly widespread recognition that the system is incapable of delivering it. The Government’s handling of welfare changes are marred by mistakes. Only this week, the Government was forced to pay out nearly £1.7 billion in arrears to disabled ESA claimants whose allowances had been wrongly calculated in cases dating back to 2011. Some of these issues were reported as early as 2013, but an unwillingness to address problems has left vulnerable people waiting years to receive the support they need. Unless such mistakes are acknowledged and lessons demonstrably learned, few will have faith in this Government to manage such a sweeping change with either the competence or humanity required.
- Disturbing information has continued to emerge about the disappearance and probable murder of the Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul earlier this month. Credible reports indicate that the Turkish Government is in possession of an audio recording which proves a specialist ‘hit squad’ may be responsible. The key question is who authorised any order and if there is a connection to Mohammad bin-Salman, the Crown Prince. You can read Khashoggi’s poignant final column for the Washington Post, in which he calls for a free and flourishing press in the Arab world, at the link here. The policies of the Saudi administration have been widely criticised especially in relation to the conflict in Yemen and the lack of resolution which has now alerted widespread international concern about a massive famine in that country. How the United States and the rest of the world react to this situation will be critical.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Earlier today I visited the Citizens Advice Bureau office and met with representatives from Nottingham’s advice and advocacy agencies who together – as ‘Advice Nottingham’ – help hundreds of residents each week with their problems especially in relation to welfare benefit entitlements.
Together with the other MPs from the city (pictured below), we discussed not just specific case studies where the Department for Work & Pensions has failed – but also the need for fundamental reforms, so that people are treated like real human beings rather than treated like numbers in a system.
Obviously there are many constituents who contact me regularly for help with social security issues and so it was useful to share experiences and recognise that there are some reforms we should urge the Government to pursue. For instance, the medical assessors sent to examine claimants often don’t have the specialism to match the medical nature of the claimant. Also the very high number of claimants who lose their benefits unfairly – go without money for a long period – but then win that entitlement back at appeal is very high, perhaps as high as 70% of the time. Forcing claimants to go through a costly and stressful appeal process rather than spending adequate quality time at the outset assessing an application correctly is such a waste of money. If the Government are looking for savings, far better to get these by reforming this wasteful administrative process rather than unfairly taking money from those in need who desperately need financial support. Another ridiculous problem is the reluctance on some occasions of GPs or consultants to write letters of medical testimony to the welfare assessment teams, which means that professional judgements are not being shared as well as they could be.
I would be interested if you have suggestions for reforming the welfare benefit and claims system, not just for Nottingham but for the country at large. Universal Credit will, of course, mean further changes locally, as discussed earlier. Today at our Citizens Advice Bureau meeting all the city MPs committed to taking up ideas with Ministers and I’m convinced that we should modernise the welfare system so it is fairer and more effective at helping those in greatest need.
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East