Friday 15th February

Who should we hold responsible for the current Brexit debacle?

It’s not a secret that I believe Brexit presents serious risks to the jobs and livelihoods of people across Nottingham and the rest of the country. I hold this Prime Minister culpable for a catastrophic approach to negotiations – agreeing to defer the most important part regarding our ‘future relationship’ with the EU until after we leave; a recipe for a bad deal. If we want closure on this whole saga, we need to let the public have the opportunity to think again and stay in the EU if they wish. Otherwise we will be spending the next five years arguing over what sort of deal we want with Europe.

On Thursday the Commons debated this issue again – in which I spoke about the consequences for trade, public services, jobs and of time-limiting the Good Friday Agreement and open borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic. If you have time, you can watch my full speech at the link here.

I voted for the SNP amendment to extend the Article 50 exit date for three months, as did 40 other Labour MPs, but the Labour frontbench – frustratingly – decided to officially abstain. The Government motion was then defeated because 60 ERG Tory right-wing MPs wanted to send a message to Theresa May. But we are no nearer sorting this mess out.

Ideally, we should have had action this week to snap out of the delusion that the Prime Minister can get the Irish Government to stand back on the Good Friday Agreement. I am worried we simply don’t have adequate time left to legislate to instruct the PM to request an extension of Article 50. But because the Labour numbers against this outrageous situation are too weak, our fate now rests in the hopes of getting Tory Government Ministers to resign and stop us crashing out. This illustrates perfectly the problem with Labour’s lack of leadership against a Brexit disaster. There should be no equivocation. But the leadership have turned a blind-eye to frontbench shadow Ministers abstaining and allowing the Government to win the day. That is not what the Labour Party should be about – and I find it heart-breaking we are in this situation.

I have received much criticism for raising the alarm about Labour’s fence-sitting stance on Brexit. But at this eleventh-hour I feel a duty to put what I believe are the country’s interests and Nottingham’s interests ahead of party political calculations. It’s just too important – and I hope that very soon Labour will back the conference policy for a People’s Vote before it is too late.

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Friday 8th February

With Theresa May still chasing unicorns across Europe, pretending that she can get the EU & Irish Government to agree a Brexit deal giving no guarantees about freedom of movement between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the threat of a Brexit cliff edge continues to loom closer – with now fewer than 50 days to go.

There is deep frustration in Westminster that the Government are delaying and preventing a firm decision on how to proceed. My hope is that when we vote again on Thursday 14th February the Commons can put a grown-up process in place to get to a decision. If Parliament is still in deadlock, then it’s obvious the whole question must go back to the public in a referendum giving them the final say.

I was disappointed when on Wednesday Jeremy Corbyn wrote to the Prime Minister offering to enable a Brexit deal without a public vote. A ‘customs union’ might offer some protections, in the same way as an airbag might lessen injuries in a car crash. But it doesn’t stop the car crash from happening – and my own view is that Labour should be keeping the option to stay in the EU firmly open.

There is absolutely no such thing as a ‘jobs first Brexit’. Those who facilitate a Brexit in this way will share responsibility for the lost jobs, harm to livelihoods and the consequential fall in tax revenues that will see cuts to our public services.

Labour’s conference policy said by now we’d be pursuing a public vote option, it said ‘full participation in the Single Market’ was a minimum requirement and that MPs should vote against a deal that didn’t secure the ‘exact same benefits’ test set out. Those commitments can’t just be airbrushed away.

I haven’t given up the fight to let the British people think again about Brexit. I hope that all MPs – whether Conservative or Labour or otherwise – will put the country’s best interests ahead of their party political considerations.

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Nottingham College Meeting

Together with the other Nottingham MPs, I met with Nottingham College chief executive John van de Laarschot and his management team today – to discuss the urgent need to boost training and further education participation across the city.

If we fail to invest in skills – both vocational and academic – then our prosperity will suffer in the long-run. We pressed the College on their plans for staffing and contract changes, urging them to recognise the low morale and frozen pay levels that have hit the workforce for too many years.

The merger between NCN and Central College has been challenging, as has the consolidation of their various buildings and estate. We discussed the plans for the new build ‘City Hub’ campus and were then shown some of the facilities at the Highfields Campus which specialises in engineering, science and technology (pictured below).

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Rosehill School Assembly

This morning I was delighted to attend a celebration assembly at Rosehill School in St Ann’s, and present certificates to the children to celebrate the good attendance of pupils and those achieving their ASDAN qualifcations (pictured below).

Rosehill is an all-age, 110-place, special school in St Ann’s for pupils aged 4 to 19 with autism.These pupils have a wide range of associated learning needs and physical, sensory, medical and behavioural needs.

I also enjoyed hearing the school choir’s performances of ‘Good to be Me’ and ‘Something inside so Strong’.

The school also raises money for lots of local charities – and needs support itself with their own charity fundraising for new sensory equipment – if you can help or know others who can, please email them at admin@rosehill.nottingham.sch.uk

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Friday 1st February

Tuesday’s knife-edge votes in the House of Commons have given the Prime Minister a two-week window to cajole the European Union into re-opening the Brexit withdrawal agreement – and ditch the ‘backstop’ guarantees of an open Irish border, that she had previously agreed, in favour of some (as yet unspecified) ‘alternative arrangements’. That’s why I fully expect this next period of time between now and 14th February will be one big wild goose-chase.  

While I was glad to have the Commons majority reaffirm that there is not an appetite for a ‘no deal’ Brexit (the amendment from Caroline Spelman on this was successful), the idea that the Prime Minister is now going to throw away a fortnight chasing unicorns instead of the ‘backstop’ is the very definition of time-wasting. Theresa May has opted to pander to her right-wing ERG anti-EU MPs instead recognising this impasse and putting this issue back to the public. 

Having this backstop mechanism to safeguard against a hard border on the island of Ireland is important and I can understand the anxieties of the Irish Government; we should all want to preserve the peace established by the Good Friday Agreement 20 years ago and installing customs and inspection checks along a defended border would be a massively retrograde step.  

My suspicion is that the EU27 governments and the Irish will not want to turn a blind eye to the risks of a hard border and they will be deeply reluctant to water-down the backstop. Consequently, we will all be back to square one on 14th February when the Commons will vote again. 

Really, at that point, it will be necessary for MPs to face reality rather than fantasy, and set up a proper process for us to make real decisions. If there is no majority for a viable, realistic Brexit, then surely we have to put the question back to the British people?  

While Westminster prevaricates, today’s Guardian newspaper reports that the fear of a hard Brexit is pushing one in three firms to plan moving abroad, according to an Institute of Directors’ survey. 

There are real lives, real jobs and real consequences of a damaging Brexit occurring. I will not support a decision that damages the livelihoods and incomes of the people of Nottingham.

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Fire Station Vsit

While we are all getting on with everyday life, our emergency services are always on duty – ready to respond and sometimes putting their own lives on the line.

Earlier today I had a chance to speak with firefighters and officers at the London Road Fire Station in Nottingham (pictured below with Chief Fire Officer John Buckley and Fire Authority Chair Cllr Brian Grocock) about some of the incidents they’ve had to respond to, like the recent fire at the Cattle Market site and of course the railway station fire this time last year. They come to our rescue, so it’s important we help them too – preventing incidents by installing smoke alarms properly. But chiefly by arguing for the resources they need. They’ve reached the point where any more cutbacks could make the service unsustainable and unsafe – especially because their cost pressures aren’t going away.

I’ll be pressing Ministers to protect our Fire Service budget next year. This isn’t just something nice to have; it’s an absolute necessity.

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MP Update No.313 – Chancellor’s Budget Speech on Monday; People’s Vote on Brexit; Nottingham news; equal rights in Northern Ireland; climate change

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 27th October 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

Last Saturday’s march to Westminster saw an astonishing 700,000 people demand a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal the Government are planning to reach with the EU (see picture below). I fully support efforts by the growing cross-party group of MPs to make any future deal subject to the public’s consent, given the major ramifications of this decision (see today’s Guardian story about the People’s Vote amendment here https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/oct/27/jeremy-corbyn-second-brexit-vote-commons-amendment ).

If the Prime Minister gets her way, our country could end up with a basic trade deal with the EU similar to that of Mexico, Canada or Colombia. In other words, a ‘free trade agreement’ but still requiring extensive inspections at the border because we’d be outside the Customs Union. Just two minutes of delay to trucks going through Dover could multiply into a twenty mile tailback up the M20 as far as Ashford. HMRC are clearly unprepared for the potentially hundreds of millions of additional customs declarations that may need processing (see my questioning to customs experts at this week’s Trade Committee hearing at the link here ). And business services from finance to legal advice could be forbidden from trading across the border entirely as our regulations fail to match. This FTA-type scenario could knock over 6% off our national wealth with £36billion less to spend on public services (equivalent to a third of the NHS budget).

This is why I believe the public should have a final say on whether we depart the EU on these inferior terms or whether we remain a member of the European Union. I sincerely hope that the Labour Party will back giving the public this say – which is why I have been fighting hard this week to ensure that the Government’s attempts to rig the ‘meaningful vote’ motion on any deal are rebutted. I gave evidence also this week to the Commons Procedure Committee explaining why it is vital MPs debate and decide the approval motion in the normal way, and not the way Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab wants where amendments are demoted to votes after the main motion is determined (which would in effect render those subsequent ‘amendments’ redundant). See my evidence at the link here.

This is a complex process – but I am determined to do everything I can to get this right – given that so many consequences will flow if it goes wrong. I am concerned that some MPs are (like the general public!) getting weary of the whole thing, but frankly we are facing maybe five to seven years of additional negotiations on our future trading relationship if Brexit proceeds in March, so perhaps a quicker way of finalising things would be to hold a People’s Vote!

People's March

NOTTINGHAM

  • Last week I wrote about rumours that the post office planned to relocate Nottingham’s city centre main post office – currently at the branch on Queen Street into one of the WHSmith shops in town. The Post Office has now released its proposals and started a formal consultation, with the basic plan being to move Nottingham Post Office into the WHSmith in Victoria Shopping Centre where it would be run by WHSmith High Street Ltd. I know that several residents have raised concerns about this plan already and will be keen to have their voices heard. You can find further details of how to take part in the consultation here and materials should be available in branch and I would encourage you to write in. I think the existing Post Office is convenient and well-used so I am doubtful that the service could be improved inside the WHSmith.
  • Nottingham City Council is taking action to bring some of the 742 unused private homes in Nottingham back into use. In the last two years it has brought 134 properties back into use with some providing accommodation for homeless people. Some of the actions being taken by the Council to address the issue include a buying back some ex-council built properties in order to bring them back into stock and a leasing scheme to be run by Nottingham City Homes. Councillor Jane Urquhart, portfolio holder for Housing and Planning, said ‘We do all we can within our powers to bring private homes back into use that have been left empty and deteriorating by their owners.’ She also urged neighbours and owners of unused and deteriorating properties to get in touch with the council.
  • Earlier this week a cross party group of Nottinghamshire MPs, of which I was part, wrote to the Home Secretary regarding the ’40 Days of Life’ protests which take place outside Nottingham’s main abortion clinic at QMC every year. The letter noted the importance of the right to protest but we argued that there are sufficient opportunities to do so without intimidating women and causing distress at what is often an incredibly difficult time. Our joint letter to the Home Secretary also noted that the failure of the Home Office to take action has put further pressure on the City Council and Hospital Trust, who despite taking all available actions have been unable to resolve this issue in the past. I hope the Home Secretary will look closely into this and consider taking appropriate action to stop constituents being intimidated when trying to access healthcare.
  • There will be a jobs fair on Friday 16th November 2018 at the Motorpoint Arena from 10am to 2pm run by the National Jobs Fair Network and open to all sectors/industries. There are currently over 20 local businesses registered to attend looking for local jobseekers. You can find out further information about the event here.
  • I had a useful catch-up meeting with the management at Intu shopping centres in Nottingham yesterday – they manage both the Victoria Centre and the redevelopment due in the Broadmarsh. It is long overdue, but I am told that works look set to commence on Broadmarsh around January time and will take two years, but the designs look as though they could make a significant improvement to the retail and leisure facilities available in the city centre. The ownership of Intu is potentially going to change shortly but it is not thought that the Nottingham plans will be adversely affected by this.
  • Several local GPs have contacted me with concerns that stricter data control regulations are affecting their ability to work and costing local practices a lot more. In particular, insurance companies are asking patients to use ‘subject access request’ applications as a route to obtaining information, which soaks up a lot of GP Practice time and cost. I met with Nottinghamshire’s Local Medical Committee to discuss the situation on Friday and will be working with other MPs to see if the Department for Health can find a common sense solution.
  • Thank you to the many local residents who came to talk with me yesterday in the city centre at the Nottinghamshire People’s Vote stall, where we were doing a survey about local attitudes towards Brexit, the impact on the NHS and jobs and what people want to see happen next (see picture below). I was struck by the strength of feeling expressed – especially among younger people – about the prospects for the future of the country, and I will continue to campaign as best I can on this issue.

 

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • On Monday a short debate took place in Westminster Hall on the need for greater autism and learning disability training in the NHS. This was especially relevant to the circumstances surrounding the tragic death in 2014 of four-year-old Harry Procko from St Ann’s. Harry’s family have been actively campaigning for Emergency Departments to have greater awareness of the behaviours and characteristics of autism so that a more appropriate assessment of medical symptoms can take place, which can be communicated differently than for patients without the condition. I have pressed the Government to review autism awareness training in the past, and the fact that other MPs have voiced similar concerns means that Ministers are now more aware of changes that should be considered.
  • On Wednesday, MPs voted convincingly in favour of an amendment tabled by my colleagues Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn, which takes a small but significant step towards equality on abortion and marriage rights in Northern Ireland. Their proposal gives the Northern Ireland Secretary additional responsibilities to address “the incompatibility [between] the human rights of the people of Northern Ireland” and current province-wide prohibitions on abortion and same-sex marriage. While the law on these issues remains a devolved matter, the amendment – which passed with the support of 45 Conservative MPs – is a symbolically important statement of intent on Parliament’s part. It follows a majority vote earlier this week in favour of a bill to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland altogether, although this will not take effect in the absence of Government support. I would like to see British citizens in Northern Ireland enjoy the same civil rights available in the rest of the UK, and it’s clear that a substantial majority of MPs take the same view. The absence of a functioning government at Stormont has left the ball in Parliament’s court for now, and this was a well-crafted amendment which I was happy to support. I have always made my support both for a woman’s right to choose and equal marriage clear. Whilst I accept that the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland is of vital importance to maintaining peace, Parliament also has a responsibility to legislate on behalf of the people there.
  • This week a new report from the Committee on Climate Change – the Government’s official advisory body on climate science – offered stark warnings about the impact of rising seas on Britain’s coastline. Their key finding: it is now looking inevitable that sea levels around Britain will rise by at least one metre, and potentially reach this level by the year 2100. This will put more than 1.2 million homes at risk of severe damage or destruction, alongside a combined 2,200 kilometres of roads and railway lines and 92 train stations. This damage imposes a huge economic as well as human cost, with current coastal protection policies – described in the report as “not fit for purpose” – forecast to require up to £30 billion. These warnings are squarely in line with the scientific consensus, and time is running out to take action on reducing emissions.

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK?  

You’d be forgiven for not noticing it, but amidst the Brexit turbulence the Chancellor of the Exchequer will present his Budget on Monday at 3:30pm. Normally this is a major political occasions, but with everything else going on (and the Government lacking a sturdy majority in the Commons) it is widely expected to be a ‘treading water’ event, with very little controversy or difficult decisions being taken.

The British economy is in a state of limbo because of Brexit, with business investment and even consumer spending in abeyance before Parliament decides on whatever ‘deal’ the Prime Minister and the EU reach, if indeed they do reach a deal. If we are out of the Single Market, then British trade prospects may be weaker in the medium term, certain industrial sectors more adversely affected than others and potentially the strength of sterling could affect inflation rates and real wages too.

Rumours are that the Chancellor will give some discount to small retailers on business rates to help the High Street economy, and that the Office for Budget Responsibility have become more optimistic about tax revenues giving the Treasury some breathing space so taxes may not need to rise to match the Government’s promises on NHS spending.

So it is likely to be a story of big issues kicked into the long grass – which is particularly worrying for long term problems such as elderly social care funding, UK productivity and pensions reforms.

I’d love to know what you think the Chancellor should prioritise? I’m hoping to speak in response to the Budget and if you’ve particular suggestions I will try to raise them. Universal Credit has been a major concern recently so I’d expect the Chancellor to ease that transition and scale back some of the unfair cuts involved. Personally I think we should prioritise education and training far more, so that future skills are developed for the longer term. Let me know what your thoughts are?

 

Regards

 

Chris Leslie

Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East

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MP Update – 19th October

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.

NOTTINGHAM

  • 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.

Citizens Advice

Regards

 

Chris Leslie
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East

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MP Update – 12th October

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Friday 12th October 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

Parliament is back after the Party conference season this week. Among many other news items, you’ll have seen that the media spotlight has begun to focus on the impact of ‘Universal Credit’, which is due to be rolled out at Nottingham Central Jobcentre from 17th October next week. It is a much-delayed initiative of the current Conservative Government whose aim was to replace the six separate welfare benefits (Income related Jobseeker’s Allowance; Income Support; Income related Employment and Support Allowance; Working Tax Credit; Child Tax Credits; Housing Benefit) and instead make a combined single monthly payment covering all these elements.

While most people would agree the old system was complex and disjointed, there have been a series of unacceptable implementation flaws with Universal Credit in the areas where it has been piloted so far.

Two problems stand out. First, the shift to paying monthly in arrears (the theory being that operating like a monthly pay packet aligns better with the world of work) is a difficult transition for many who are not used to this, leaving a gap for some with very little money. There are reports that foodbank usage grew in the trial areas partly because individuals found this change difficult.

Second, if this was a straight aggregation of multiple benefits then it would just be an administrative headache – but it’s been made worse because George Osborne years ago decided to salami-slice funding from different elements of Universal Credit, meaning that new applications will be comparatively worse off than on the existing array of benefits. Some estimates say that very many claimants could be as much as £180 per month worse off – something the former Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and John Major have warned about this week. Concerns have been raised, not least by the Child Poverty Action Group about the lack of transitional funds and support and the disastrous effect this can have.

I will be closely monitoring the effects of the roll-out in Nottingham, so if you or someone you know is being adversely affected by the implementation of this new system please do let me know – and it may also be worth getting in touch with the Welfare Right Service at Nottingham City Council (details here) or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (details here) as they can give immediate advice and support.

NOTTINGHAM

  • On Wednesday with Nottingham’s other MPs I met with Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak to press the importance of continuing government funding for the Priority Families Programme across the city. The programme underpins a significant part of Nottingham’s early intervention and preventative support for families, sometimes where children are on the edge of care or in need of intensive support finding work, helping avoid evictions and other multiple needs. Nottingham’s work has helped cut the number of children in families without work and cut the numbers in the programme affected by crime, cautions or convictions. This sort of cross-cutting action is really important and it was useful to secure the Ministers continued support for the programme in principle – though we need to keep up pressure for funding from the Treasury.

Trouble Familes Rishi Sunak

  • Earlier this week my colleague Lilian Greenwood and I (pictured below) I attended an event in Parliament Square on the need for better funding for schools. The event was organised by parents with children currently at school who were experiencing the results of a funding shortfall first-hand, whether it be a reduction in SEN support or losing favourite subjects from the curriculum. It is so important we remember that for every pound spent on high quality teaching and education, the whole community generates a manifold benefit in the longer run.

SOS Event - Parliament Square

  • Against the backdrop of a national shortage of affordable housing, Nottingham City Council is working on its homeless prevention strategy for 2018–2023. They will be consulting with residents, charities and organisations on how to tackle the growing problem aim of the new strategy being that all residents should have a home. Councillor Jane Urquhart, portfolio holder for planning and housing, said: “Like the rest of the UK, Nottingham has seen an unprecedented rise in homelessness over the last eight years, with welfare reform, cuts to Government funding and the housing market all contributing factors. You can have your say the draft strategy here.”
  • It was privilege to attend a presentation on First World War history by local GP Dr Irfan Malik on Thursday at the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Sneinton, in remembrance of the soldiers who fought and died a hundred years ago. Dr Malik’s family come from a small village in Pakistan from where more than half the male population at the time were inducted into the army. Over the past four years he has collected a wide array of memorabilia from the First World War (picture below with the display). It is right that at this centenary period we remember not only those who fought in the Western Front, but also over one million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs from the Indian sub-continent who fought in the war, 75,000 of whom were killed in the conflict.

Indian WW1

  • Congratulations to the University of Nottingham on being named one of the top 200 universities in the world in the latest annual Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings. The university came 149th, 18 places above the University of Leicester which was the only other university in the East Midlands to make the list. However there was concern as to the general health of the Higher Education sector in the UK with Phil Baty, editorial director of the THE global rankings, saying: “We see some individual stars in the UK this year, but the broader national data story is really one of stagnation and modest decline, with the UK taking a minor hit to its research reputation”. He added “We can only speculate at this stage as to any connection with Brexit, the risk, however, to the UK’s reputation and research capabilities from its separation with Europe is very real”.
  • As part of the City Council’s environment plan Hackney Carriage drivers will be able to trial new electric taxis, built by built by the London Electric Vehicle Company, as part of a ‘try before you buy’ scheme. As part of the council’s Taxi Strategy, hackney carriages licensed from 2020 must reach certain standards regarding emissions. Councillor Sally Longford, Portfolio Holder for Energy and Environment, said: “We have ambitions to have the cleanest, greenest fleet in the country. For some visitors, their taxi service is among their first impressions of Nottingham, and we want to provide a modern, zero emission welcome to our city”.
  • This year’s Aviva Community Fund is now open for entries, and I would encourage local projects in Nottingham East to apply. The Fund is intended to finance over 500 local projects in communities across the UK, and awards range from under £1,000 up to £25,000. Projects can be entered into one of three categories: Environment, Health & Wellbeing or Skills for Life. Applications can be made until midday on 9 October 2018 and you can find out more information about the fund and how to apply here.

 

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • On Monday, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the world’s leading consortium of climate scientists – released a landmark report which warned that the window in which we can realistically hope to avert catastrophic temperature rises is closing quickly. Its central finding: policymakers have twelve years to scale back greenhouse gas emissions if global warming is to be kept below 1.5 degrees – the tipping point beyond which devastating droughts, flooding and extreme weather events will become routine. In sobering news, the report estimates “with high confidence” that if emissions continue at their current trajectory, the 1.5-degree threshold will be met between 2030 and 2052, with a cataclysmic 3 degree rise possible by the end of this century. The human and geopolitical costs of failure here are colossal, and concerted international action beyond the levels envisaged in the Paris Accords will be necessary to avert them. While the Trump Administration is dragging its heels, the UK and other key players must push ahead. You can read the full report at the link here, and the Guardian’s useful breakdown of its findings and recommendations here.
  • On Tuesday the ‘Campaign to End Loneliness’ held its conference in London ahead of next week’s publication of the Government’s cross-departmental ‘Loneliness Strategy’ commissioned last year. The responsible Minister, Tracey Crouch, told attendees that problems around social disconnectedness were far more widespread than previously understood and now represent a serious public health threat, and also acknowledged that in some cases, cutbacks in local service provision have worked to exacerbate isolation in the community. It is heartening to hear the Government signal that it takes this issue seriously, although as ever the proof will be in the Strategy’s fine print, and I will carefully study its recommendations.
  • You may have read in the news about the recent ‘vote of no confidence’ passed by the local Labour Party a couple of weeks ago – accusing me of ‘deceit’ and not supporting Jeremy Corbyn. The motion was not a surprise, because it was the latest in a line of similar efforts attacking other Labour MPs, for instance censuring my colleague Joan Ryan MP in Enfield because of her efforts to stand up to antisemitism in the Labour Party.

In my case, the censure motion criticised me for disagreeing with Jeremy Corbyn. It is true I do disagree with him on several issues, such as the importance of a responsible economic policy, on national security, and on Europe. I gave a fuller response in the Guardian article which you can read at the link here. It has become sadly apparent that differing views are not tolerated by some parts of the Party and every opinion is judged on whether it is acceptable to the leadership. It’s not a good thing to have such internal party intolerance, especially given how many other more important issues there are to focus on in the world right now. I have had lots of advice over the past two years urging me to keep my head down, not to be so vocal and then I would “be all right”. But that is not what I came into politics to do.

I have been overwhelmed by the positive messages of support from many local residents since this happened. While Momentum activists may disagree with me, I have one message for all my constituents, whether Labour members or not: I am proud to serve you and I promise that no amount of deselection threats or political expediency will deter me from acting in what I believe are the best interests of you all.

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK?  

It was a fantastic turnout at the Nottingham European Movement event to discuss Brexit and the People’s Vote a couple of weeks ago (pictured below) and it was an honour to be asked to speak on the cross-party panel alongside LibDem Tom Brake, Green Natalie Bennett and Conservative Ken Clarke. Many local residents have urged me to speak out about the threat to jobs, trade, tax revenues and shared alliances we have with Europe if we end up with a bad Brexit deal.

I’d be interested in your views on the latest developments. Theresa May is dancing to the tune of her hard Brexiteer right-wing MPs, refusing to commit to a Customs Union or the Single Market for the UK even though these are the only way we could possibly proceed with Brexit and keep some of the more harmful effects to a minimum. Why does Theresa May think she can keep a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland while simultaneously pretending we can have separate trade policies than the rest of the EU? Will we see further Cabinet resignations in the coming days?

Just yesterday the Office for Budget Responsibility published their assessment saying: “under any Brexit scenario, the UK will face greater non-tariff barriers on its trade with the EU”. We look set then for slower and inhibited trade if Brexit continues. That’s why like a growing number of people I am calling for the public to have a final say on any deal reached in a People’s Vote.

What are your thoughts on how this situation is developing? If you’re not sure about whether a ‘deal’ will work, shouldn’t we let the public resolve this and give their final consent?

There will be a march in London next weekend on Sunday 20th October and hundreds of thousands are expected. Will you be there? Get more details at the link here https://www.peoples-vote.uk/march

 

Brexit What Next

Regards

 

Chris Leslie

Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East

 

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Mr Update – 15th September

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 15th September 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

This week’s revelations about the Russian GRU military intelligence agents suspected of the Salisbury novichok attack on the Skripals – and the death of Dawn Sturgess – have hit the headlines because of the farfetched excuses offered up in the face of the meticulous evidence unearthed by British security professionals. We take for granted that foreign operatives cannot walk into Britain and attempt to assassinate UK citizens but the overwhelming body of evidence now suggests this is what happened.

There are several lessons to take from this. First, we need a firm response to Putin’s behaviour including stringent financial sanctions against his associates, tighter controls on Russian intelligence officers posing as diplomats and also more rigorous checks on Russians entering the UK. Second, we need the wider international community to keep up the pressure on Putin’s regime and show that collectively such flouting of rules-based international rules is unacceptable. Third, we should recognise that Russia’s use of chemical-based attacks extends not just to the UK but most intensely in Syria where Putin’s allegiance with the Assad regime has seen the use of chemicals against civilians. And fourth, here in the UK our first instinct should be to give the benefit of the doubt to British security and police forces, not to sow seeds of doubt about them.

I am glad that Europe-wide arrest warrants have been issued for the two individuals under suspicion and their implausible story about tourist weekend visit called off because of the snow would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. The time has come for Russia to drop the propaganda and extradite these individuals so justice can be done.

This issue came up during the filming of this week’s BBC1 Question Time programme from Oxfordshire where I was a guest on the panel. You can watch the full episode here. We were asked also about Brexit, a People’s Vote which I support, the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the debate about the ‘gig economy’, and the state of the prison service – where I discussed the situation at Nottingham Prison.

NOTTINGHAM

  • Following the arrest of five boys allegedly connected to the appalling murder in Hyson Green of 20 year old Esrom Ghide, I have been in discussion with the police and city council about the urgent need to address the incidence of knife crime and the underlying causes which in general may be contributing to the higher number of offences in recent months. I hope that the criminal justice system will ensure that the specific cases we know about are brought to justice and that any evidence is presented to the police. More widely and in respect of other recent incidents, it is clear that two things in particular could make a real difference. First, we need to divert young boys off the streets and into more productive, positive activities such as music and sport – which means a rethink and investment in youth services locally. Second, we have to send a firm message to deter fights, attacks and skirmishes in our neighbourhoods. While it is harder to prevent pre-meditated criminal acts, if we have tougher sentencing for those found carrying knives without just cause, then maybe we can reduce the chances of the opportunistic lashing out with knifes which can have such devastating consequences. I will be pursuing these issues locally and nationally with the Government and there are further meetings and discussions taking place in the weeks ahead to try to progress some of the response we need.
  • According to figures published by the National Infrastructure Commission, Nottingham is the 5th most congested city in the UK. The National Infrastructure Commission, a body which advises the government on national infrastructure strategy, obtained this data by using a number of factors to work out the ease with which people could drive from one part of an area to different times. Councillor Dave Liversidge, portfolio holder for transport pointed out ‘these figures cover a wider region than just Nottingham, including Gedling, Broxtowe and Erewash’ and noted ‘figures released just this week by the Department for Transport showed Nottingham achieved the biggest reduction in per capita car traffic of any English local authority outside London’.
  • Voting is open for the Green Flag Award scheme’s People’s choice award, this means you can vote for your favourite park amongst those that have been recognised with a Green Flag Award. These include a number in Nottingham East which I hope you will consider supporting before the deadline at the end of the month. You can cast your vote here by finding your favourite on the winners map, opening the park description and clicking the voting button on the right.
  • Congratulations to Nottingham Business School which has been shortlisted for Business School of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards. Professor Baback Yazdani, Dean of Nottingham Business School, said: “Being shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Business School of the Year Award is a recognition and an endorsement of this great work and will encourage our team and students along this journey.” The winners will be announced on the 29th November at the Grosvenor House Hotel.

 

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • On Monday the Boundary Commission for England unveiled their final proposals for redrawn Parliamentary constituencies, which pending MPs’ approval will be in place for the next General Election, due in 2022. The Commission continues to suggest significant changes in Nottingham East, which would see Berridge and Sherwood wards reallocated into an expanded Nottingham North seat, and the remaining city areas combined with parts of Gedling to form ‘Nottingham East and Carlton’ – details are at the link here (on page 56). I’m disappointed that in spite of less disruptive alternatives raised during the consultation process, the Commission have not reconsidered their plans for Nottingham. The bigger issue for me, though, is that the Government are going about this review in entirely the wrong way, on the basis of incomplete population data which effectively dilutes the votes of students, private renters and others in the community not counted properly on the register. The effect is to – surprise surprise – advantage the Conservatives, and for as long the perception of partisanship hangs over the process it will be very unlikely that a cross-party majority of MPs will back the legislation. It’s so important that this process is – and is seen to be – above party politics, and as we’re still four years from an election I think the Government should go back to the drawing board and go about this in a collaborative way.
  • On Tuesday, when Treasury Ministers took MPs’ questions on infrastructure investment, I felt I had to draw attention to the elephant in the room – that a huge chunk of the finance on which these projects depend could disappear in the event of a no-deal Brexit. This is both because schemes such as the Midlands Engine rely on direct EU funding, and because if our economy is pushed over a cliff with a ‘hard Brexit’ perhaps with no deal, investment will plunge across the board. We all stand to lose out if this happens, but the Prime Minister, held hostage by the Rees Mogg / Boris ERG group, is too frightened to ignore them. That’s why – as I argued – we need to put this issue back in the hands of the people. You can watch my question this week in the Commons at the link here.
  • This week the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, led calls for police services around the country to be properly resourced, following a worrying report from the National Audit Office which criticised the Home Office for making cuts in an uneven and arbitrary way and failing to plan for the resulting negative impact on frontline policing. There are now nearly 20 percent fewer police staff than in 2010, and senior officers have long-warned that this belt-tightening attitude is seriously reducing their ability to combat crime. The NAO report, which you can read at the link here, highlights a persistent failure by Ministers to get to grips with the consequences of investment decisions on a local level and an unwillingness to engage constructively with forces around the country. There’s a broad political consensus that the current funding formula is unfit for purpose, and it is three years since Theresa May as Home Secretary promised to reform it – but we’ve still had no detail on how this will be achieved. And for the second year in a row, the Government has chosen to give officers a smaller pay award than the one recommended by the independent pay review body, itself set up to take these issues out of politics. Nottinghamshire Police are disadvantaged by the current funding formula and we need this to better reflect local needs now.
  • With the Commons now going back into recess while each political party has a party conference, I will be taking up the chance to lead a delegation from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir (which I chair) to the Pakistan-administered side of the line of control next week. There are very many local residents in Nottingham of Kashmiri heritage who frequently tell me about the long-standing partition of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, despite the United Nations resolving 70 years ago that there should be an opportunity for a referendum on self-governance. Sadly despite contacting the Indian High Commission in the UK on numerous occasions, our group of MPs has been unable to get any significant engagement with the situation on the Indian-side of the dividing line, where there are many reports of human rights violations, curfews and disappearances with legal repression and laws which exempt the military from redress. The Pakistan authorities have agreed to facilitate our visit to Azad Kashmir and I hope to see for myself the conditions near the disputed border and speak with refugees and those living in this area. Britain has a historic obligation to the communities in this region given our role in the partitioning process, and I hope that the recent United Nations Human Rights Council report will be an opportunity for some movement towards a more peaceful and stable path for the future.

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK?  

I think Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury was entirely right to voice his worries about the erosion of employment security and standards in the ‘gig economy’ in his recent remarks. But I’d be keen to know whether you or those you know have any experiences of short-term contracts, ‘freelancing’ or zero-hours commitments.

While there are some people for whom short term temporary work is what they are looking for, perhaps students at weekends or out of term time, I don’t think it is fair for the system to allow employers to pass off staff as ‘freelance contractors’ when in reality they have a dependent relationship sometimes year after year. In those circumstances, workers need to be given their rights to decent holiday and sick pay and we cannot turn a blind eye to those missing out on pension contributions or other rights. I hope that there will be an opportunity in Parliament soon to discuss the shifting balance of employment rights for the so-called ‘casual’ and temporary workforce.

I had a constituent case just this week of a man who a decade ago had an employer insisting that payments were made via an atypical loan arrangements – which only now HMRC are clamping down on and chasing those affected. If employers cut corners it is sadly the workforce who end up losing out, and we need to modernise the labour market to avoid injustices and exploitative practices.

These MP Update newsletters, as ever, will return when the Commons resumes for business after the Party conference season ends in October. In the meantime do get in touch if you have any comments, observations or questions I can help with.

Regards

Chris Leslie

Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East

 

 

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