MP Update – 18th November

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 18th November 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

On Wednesday the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, will be delivering his first ‘mini Budget’ – the Autumn Statement. This could have big implications for public services with news about spending on local councils, the NHS and much more. It could also give us an indication of what will be happening to the taxes you pay.

The signals from the Treasury are that there will be a mild infrastructure uplift and a new fiscal framework replacing the fixed deadline for deficit eradication with a more malleable set of objectives. The failure of the Conservatives to fulfil their goal on public borrowing and the national debt is significant. Yet as the personnel have changed and the conversation shifted to Brexit, somehow the Tories have evaded criticism for this. Brexit has made people appreciate the value of public investment as a tool for offsetting market uncertainty and the Chancellor would be wise to pause deficit reduction for the two year period of Article 50 negotiations, instead reallocating that £30billion to investment in housing, skills and even a stimulus for businesses and consumers.

But I would expect more of a ‘steady-as-she-goes’ approach from Hammond who, like Theresa May, will want a contrast with what he regards as the rather gaudy tradition of headline-grabbing initiatives and rabbits-out-of-hats which characterised the Osborne & Cameron Budget traditions.

The truth is, Phillip Hammond doesn’t really know yet how to handle this Brexit scenario. Leavers are arguing that everything is fine with the economy because – apart from a 17% currency depreciation – they say that the sky hasn’t fallen in. But that’s because we haven’t actually left the European Union yet. I believe that there are grounds for a pre-emptive fiscal stimulus to counteract the growing anxieties, uncertainties and postponed investments that accumulate month by month, especially in some of our core industrial and service sectors.

I’ve written more about expectations for the Autumn Statement in a new pamphlet launched earlier today by the SMF at the link here

NOTTINGHAM

  • Last week I popped in to see the team at the Acorn Resource Centre in the Mary Potter Centre, which provides day services for people with physical and sensory impairments.  I met staff and service users there to talk about their work and see how this centre provides valuable respite and social interaction for many people with disabilities. I’m pleased to see that the Centre has adjusted to their new space within the Mary Potter Centre following the introduction of the Library last year.
  • The Government confirmed this week that there will be a station at Toton as part of the HS2 rail station. Journey times from the new station into Nottingham are expected to be 12 minutes, and journeys from Toton to London will take 52 minutes. All of this is a long way off, as HS2 is not expected to be completed until around 2032-33, but I would be interested to know your thoughts on the decision to have the HS2 hub at Toton.
  • Fine Art graduate Jon Burgerman is to be named Nottingham Trent University’s Alumnus of the Year for 2016.  He graduated from the School of Art & Design in 2001 and his work is now exhibited internationally and features in the permanent collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum and Science Museum.
  • The phone number at my Nottingham office is currently out of service. Our phone provider is currently working to resolve the issue, but in the meantime if you call the main House of Commons switchboard on 0207 219 3000 and ask to be put through to my office, you will be transferred to the Nottingham office.
  • There’s plenty going on in Sneinton in the coming weeks, including craft workshops, Christmas parties, markets and ‘Santa’s Coming to Sneinton’, as part of their Christmas Fair. The Sneinton Christmas Fair is taking place on Wednesday 7th December from 4pm at St Christopher’s Church on Colwick Road, and will include a Santa’s Grotto, carols, free food and prizes.

santas-coming-to-sneinton

 

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • Today I’m Parliament voting on a private member’s Bill by my colleague Pat Glass, who is arguing that there should still be 650 Members of Parliament when the constituency boundaries are redrawn – rather than a cut to just 600 MPs. If MPs are going to focus adequately on constituency casework, it’s vital we have the right ratio of representatives to the population, because otherwise it will be harder to respond to cases and issues effectively. As you will know, I am not in favour of the gerrymandering of constituencies by the current Government and we already have a large population in Nottingham not ‘counted’ on official registers; it is unfair if even more people are overlooked in our system for representing voices in Parliament.
  • On Monday the Commons debated the Technical and Further Education Bill. This legislation extends the role of ‘Institute for Apprenticeships’ and also establishes a legal insolvency framework for local colleges.
  • On Tuesday there was a debate on the remaining stages of the Charities and Childcare Payments Bill. This allowed for changes to government support on childcare regarding their tax-free allowance and the legislation also touched on gift aid for charities and community amateur sports clubs.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

I spent the early part of this week visiting China with the all party China group – specifically the cities of Beijing and Wuhan in Hubei province – to see first-hand the development of their economy and consider how this will shape our lives in the century ahead. This is a vast and powerful nation, essentially operating a quasi-market economy but under the strict rule of the Communist Party. I met with officials from their Government and the National People’s Council and raised issues relating to human rights and the death penalty, as well as the risks from inadequately regulated financial expansion and debt.

I’d be interested any views or opinions you have about UK relations with China. Are we right to be so welcoming of Chinese investment in our key infrastructure? Do we have adequate reciprocity when it comes to trade and visas? Is Britain doing enough to maximise new opportunities? All views welcome.

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MP Update – 11th November

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 11th November 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

The property billionaire and reality TV personality Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States, even though he didn’t win the popular vote. But the peculiarities of the US ‘electoral college’ saw him succeed in an extraordinary turn of events on Tuesday night, leaving many people across the world in a state of shock and concern about how unpredictable and radical his policies will be, especially with regards to Mexicans and Muslims. I am also nervous about what this seismic change means for the rest of the world and for the UK, with potentially serious consequences for NATO, in the Middle East, for international trade and much else besides.

I agree with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel who correctly reasserted the values which should characterise the nature of our engagement with the new US administration, when she said:

“Germany and America are connected by values of democracy, freedom, and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political views… I offer the next President of the United States close cooperation on the basis of these values. The partnership with the United States is and remains a foundation of German foreign policy.”

I hope our Government will learn from Mrs Merkel’s example. After an electoral shock like this it is natural to try and figure out the reasons behind the change. The election was extremely close – as I say, Hillary Clinton actually won the vote numerically by a couple of hundred thousand votes – and it should be noted that if just 1 person in 100 would have changed their vote from Trump to Clinton the polls would have been proved right and the electoral map would look completely different. This 2% swing would be enough to have given Clinton Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida, and 307 Electoral College votes. So before too many commentators on the extremes of politics take much satisfaction at defeat of the liberal democratic candidate, it is worth bearing in mind that only a tiny margin made the difference here.

Looking at the exit polls, there are some clues why Trump was victorious: a chunk of Americans on low incomes moved away from the Democrats towards the Republicans, and Clinton could not rely on the support of minorities or women, as pollsters expected. By contrast, men voted by 58% for Trump.

It has to be hoped that President Trump will moderate some of the views and language used in his campaign – and that the checks and balances in the US system will find a way for reason and decency to come through.

NOTTINGHAM

  • Child poverty levels across the country remain high – but the issue is brought into stark focus this week by the charity ‘Child Poverty Action Group’ who have released statistics for every parliamentary constituency. The data for Nottingham East (and each local council ward) are below and I thought you would be interested (and quite shocked) to see the specifics. This means that we have over 7,900 children living below the poverty line in Nottingham East, in other words, below the level of 60% of average household income for the UK. I am particularly worried about the changes coming to Universal Credit which will be quite harsh – and leaving some families where people are in-work still facing real pressures.
Percentage of children in poverty, Oct-Dec 2015 BEFORE HOUSING COSTS AFTER HOUSING COSTS
 
Nottingham East 25.29% 39.49%
 
Arboretum 31.22% 47.31%
Berridge 25.34% 38.89%
Dales 24.31% 38.22%
Mapperley 21.62% 34.16%
St Ann’s 30.01% 46.91%
Sherwood 20.52% 32.66%
  • People might be understandably cautious following the tragic tram incident in Croydon this week.  Nottingham’s trams are extremely popular with passengers and (like trams in general) have an excellent safety record.  I have sought reassurances about safety on Nottingham’s trams and I am told that there are speed restrictions at bends in the track, points, cross-over points and hills; these are typically 10-15kph and a tram will not derail at this speed.  Nottingham’s drivers are trained to act defensively, which means to stop if there are any problems and call the Control Room.  Driver training takes place over 8 weeks and starts in the classroom, followed by simulators, training off the public line, and then training on the network with a trainer.  The press statement from Nottingham Express Transit  following the incident said “Clearly it is far too early to speculate on the Croydon accident whilst investigations into the cause are carried out.  The results of those investigations will be shared with all the UK’s light rail operators if any actions are required across the sector.”  Obviously, I will keep a close eye on the investigation and any implications for our tram network here in Nottingham.
  • Earlier today I called in to Framework’s Service User Forum, which is a regular discussion session where service users for this housing association helping homeless people come together to share ideas and gain a knowledge of how Framework operates.  It was good to hear the views and ideas of a number of Framework’s services users, some of whom are facing very severe challenges in terms of housing and benefits.
  • The Lloyds Bank in Hyson Green is actually one of the busiest bank branches in the city – so I was happy to visit staff and talk about their engagement with the local neighbourhood earlier today. It was really useful to meet Peter Mabbott, the Local Director of Lloyds Banking Group and to learn more about Lloyds’ role in the communities of Nottingham, as an employer and financial services provider.
  • On 19th of November, 7pm, Nottingham Liberal Synagogue is hosting their People’s Concert, featuring rising stars and artists from the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, refreshments and an art exhibition.  It promises to be a wonderful evening.  Tickets start at £7.50, and are available from robertscribe1@tiscali.co.uk.
  • I was informed this week that the Mappleton House care home in Mapperley Park has been rated Inadequate as the result of a recent Care Quality Commission inspection.  The full report is here : cqc.org.uk/location/1-157009594.  If you have any concerns about this, please let me know and I will make enquiries.
  • On Sunday from 10:30am the Nottingham Civic Service of Remembrance will take place at the War Memorial on Victoria Embankment (NG2 2LA). The Lord Mayor and other civic and armed forces representatives will be present.
  • Problem between telephone companies have resulted in my constituency office number being unavailable for parts this week – for which many apologies – but please continue to contact me by email at chris.leslie@parliament.uk.
  • Although it’s been open for about a year now, it was really nice to have a guided tour of the Hyson Green Library which has taken up new space within the Mary Potter Centre – and apparently quadrupled the number of visitors as a result! The Library Acting Manager Sandra Johnson (pictured with me at the Library below) showed me their facilities and it’s great to see the space being so well used and bringing life into the heart of the Centre generally.

mary-potter-library

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • Leaving the EU and abiding by the referendum result will mean triggering the ‘Article 50’ provision in the Treaty – and the courts have said Parliament must ratify this. Indeed, it is vital that Parliament gets into the detail and crucially makes sure we prepare thoroughly for these negotiations and have the time to get the decision right. With only 24 weeks to go before the end of March timetable set out by the Prime Minister, it is unclear what the Government is aiming for, and with French and German elections likely to make dialogue difficult, I now feel we would be foolish to rush this process on this timetable. Far better if we triggered Article 50 after the summer, not sooner than September, to give us a chance to get the complex plan in place and have a chance at a proper transitional agreement. This is entirely consistent with the outcome of the referendum – and getting a good deal. That’s why I hope any legislation to trigger Article 50 will tackle the issue of when that process starts – it is crucial to whether we have a successful negotiation or an ill-prepared rush to the exit door sacrificing jobs and prosperity along the way. I visited the European Commission, spoke with MEPs and UK civil servants about these issues when I visited Brussels earlier this week – and I also raised this question of the timing of Article 50 in the Commons with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union – click here to watch it.
  • Last week I mentioned that there were rumours about the shelving of the Midland Mainline train electrification On Monday night, Loughborough MP Nicky Morgan held an adjournment debate with the Transport Minister which I attended – and it soon became clear that, despite the excellent value-for-money case we have for this long overdue upgrade, the Government look set to backtrack on their promise for the works to be completed. This would be a major broken promise, having supposedly ‘unpaused’ the project after an earlier decision to shelve it. At the beginning of the week Ministers dropped a series of commitments to the Great Western rail electrification, so it makes me wonder about whether more bad news could be on the way here. To watch the debate in full, click here.
  • On Monday, the Defence Secretary made a statement in the House of Commons on the Government’s plans for the defence estate. People live, work and train on the defence estate, and it makes up almost 2% of the UK’s land mass. It is where equipment is maintained, major exercises are conducted and major operations launched.  The Defence Secretary announced that the Government would release 56 sites in the defence estate by 2040, in addition to 35 other sites which it had previously announced plans to dispose of. I will be watching to check that these changes do not cause undue challenges to our Forces families and that the housing built on the land released is genuinely affordable.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

The election of Donald Trump is the big news that will now reverberate across the globe for many months to come – but what do you expect will be the consequences that we should prepare for? Does this seem like a political change distant from our lives in Nottingham, or a major event that we will feel the impact from directly? I’d be interested to get your feedback – and any thoughts about how the UK should approach the new American administration. President Obama continues in office until mid January at which point President-elect Trump takes over. At that point there will have to be a relationship between Britain and the US, but what should be our priorities to press them on? All thoughts gratefully received!

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MP Update – 4th November

Brexit is totally dominating everything in Parliament and the national news – not surprisingly given the big implications for jobs, businesses and public services. Yesterday the High Court decided that withdrawing from the European Union (and triggering the so-called ‘Article 50’ provision in the Treaty) had to be formally agreed by Parliament, even though the referendum in June resulted in a ‘leave’ vote.

There are some big constitutional questions in play here. The court felt that leaving the EU would affect individual rights, and as such our constitution means that the Prime Minister cannot do this alone without the consent of MPs and the House of Lords.

I welcome the view that Parliament is sovereign over Ministers of the Crown. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that ‘Brexit’ will not take place. Most Members of Parliament are likely to believe that the referendum was clear about the need for Article 50 to be triggered. However, the referendum was not clear about when Article 50 should be triggered. Nor was it clear about safeguards surrounding this, such as the level of access to the single market. On these issues, I think it is reasonable for MPs to have input. For example, I think it would have been wrong to march out of the EU the day after the referendum in June which could have crippled businesses and our economy. We need to make this transition with great care, or the consequences could be severe. So my view is that we have to respect the British people’s judgement, but make sure that this process is undertaken in the right time and in the right way. The German and French elections next year make for bad timing if we’re to get the best negotiated outcome with the EU, so I think this should be considered far more carefully.

There will be a Government statement on Monday setting out their views on all this, and if they’re appealing to the Supreme Court. The detail of what Brexit looks like and what the Government are planning is not known, so it is in all our interests that we get proper clarity about the strategy being pursued.

NOTTINGHAM

  • In significant local NHS news, the planned formal merger between Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust has been called off. The main reason cited for this change of decision was the need for each organisation to work on its own operational challenges, which for NUH includes improving the 4-hour performance for emergency patients and addressing its financial challenges. The Trusts say they will continue to work in partnership where it adds value to patient care. I will remain in close contact with NUH to ensure that the needs of patients are kept at the forefront of any decisions relating to the partnership in the future – and I am glad that some caution is being taken here, because Nottingham’s NHS has enough on its plate deserve the full attention of our local manag
  • There is a free Bonfire Night Fireworks Display event taking place at the Forest Recreation Ground on Saturday night. The festivities begin with the opening of the fairground at 5.30pm, followed by a children’s firework display at 7.15pm and the main firework display at 9.00pm. The event is likely to be busy and parking on site is limited to Blue Badge holders, so organisers are recommending that people take the tram or bus to the event. More generally, I hope that we will have a responsible fireworks season this year – I do have local residents contacting me with real concerns about the noise and upset for local pets, and I hope that everyone can be considerate of their neighbours while enjoying themselves.
  • One of Nottingham’s lesser known famous former residents, Herbert Kilpin, has had a bus named in his honour by Nottingham City Transport. Herbert was born in Nottingham East on Mansfield Road in 1870, but later emigrated to Italy where he founded Milan Football Club, today known as the world-famous AC Milan. The Yellow line number 68/69 bus named in Herbert’s honour was unveiled on the centenary of his death on 22nd October outside his childhood home by the Sheriff of Nottingham. A novel based on Herbert Kilpin’s life has also been published to coincide with the centenary. The book is called ‘The Lord of Milan’ and has been written by local author Robert Nieri.
  • An art installation has been placed on a wall in Station Street to celebrate Nottingham’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature. The installation is situated on the underside of the Karlsruhe Friendship Bridge which is part of the tram route, and features a line of poetry projected onto the wall with lines of light overhead that will pulse when a tram passes over. The poetry will change every day for a year, and will include poetry from Lord Byron, D H Lawrence and current Nottinghamshire residents. You can find out more about the project on the Nottingham City of Literature website here.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • Last week I mentioned that I was pleased that Nissan had decided to produce its new Qashqai and X-Trail models at its Sunderland plant, but that the Government had to be more transparent about their intentions for future trading relationships. On Monday the Secretary of State for the new Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) department, Greg Clark, made a statement confirming that the Government had offered Nissan reassurances in order to secure its investment in Britain.
  • On Monday, the Home Secretary announced in writing that the Government would not be instigating an inquiry into police actions at Orgreave in 1984. The Government was rightly pressed on this decision in an Urgent Question on Tuesday. It was disappointing that the Home Secretary did not appear in the House of Commons to respond to it herself. Five years before the deaths of 96 football fans at Hillsborough, the same police force, with many of the same police commanders, oversaw the events at Orgreave during the miner’s dispute. Those at Orgreave deserve justice and an inquiry into these events would have been entirely reasonable.
  • On Thursday I held a Commons debate on Brexit and financial services, and you can see my speech here. I’m glad that there was emerging cross party consensus about the need to protect the two million jobs in this sector, two-thirds of which are outside London. For example, there are 500 firms in Nottingham, and 80,000 financial services employees in the East Midlands. In addition, 11% of tax receipts come from this industry. In my speech I made the point that unless we get a transitional agreement with the EU in this area British firms will not be able to legally export a great swathe of services beyond April 2019. This would have major consequences for our economy – risking jobs and tax receipts that pay for vital public services – but also for the EU, who would lose access to our specialisation in this area. We must secure talks on transitional arrangements before the end of January, so we don’t get beyond the triggering of Article 50 without some prospect of a seamless transfer to a new permanent settlement. We need the British Government to propose the continuity of all existing practices while we reach a longer term agreement. We cannot allow this notion to continue that the two years until April 2019 are only focusing on our divorce proceedings with the EU, with no discussions on new arrangements starting until that time. Such a ‘cliff edge’ approach could terminate whole areas of financial services trade with the EU – perhaps more to their detriment than to our own. So a transitional arrangement has to be buttoned down, and ‘in principle’ agreement on this secured before we get beyond March next year.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

I’m getting increasingly concerned at rumours that the Midland Mainline electrification plans are going to be shelved yet again by Ministers – something that would be a major blow to residents and business on the East Midlands Train line from London through to Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield.

We need more reliable, more frequent and better journey times to improve opportunities for jobs & growth, and having shelved the £1billion upgrade several years ago, we all thought it was back ‘on’ again last year following the Budget. The news now that the Great Western line is way over budget suggests Ministers are scrabbling around to pull the plug on other projects to make up for that shortfall.

I’d be interested to know if you or those you know are affected by this train service quality. Would it make a difference to your family, to your business or to the city if we end up with the last mainline still using the old diesel trains for a generation? I think it is hard to have a ‘Midlands Engine’ without an electrified mainline, and that’s why I’m working with other local MPs across the parties to press for a positive result here.

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MP Update – 28th October

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 28th October 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

It was ‘Nottingham in Parliament Day’ on Tuesday – the first ever city ‘takeover’ at Westminster – and it was a real success! 45 different events and a thousand participants filled most corners and many meeting rooms in the Palace of Westminster, with Nottingham’s ideas and talents showcased before the country’s decision-makers. 100 partner organisations came together in a wide-ranging programme covering business, science and healthcare, culture, sport, education and much more. My thanks to the team at The University of Nottingham for bringing the concept to life and giving all of the local MPs, from across the parties, an opportunity to show our pride in Nottinghamshire.

We pressed Ministers to invest in the region, we had senior business leaders talk of their commitment to the city and it was great to see so many parliamentarians from across the UK focus on the priorities of the East Midlands for a change!

I’ve long believed that the dominance of London in parliamentary business puts other parts of the country at a structural disadvantage – and the Midlands often get overlooked because we haven’t got the ‘status’ of a nation like Scotland or Wales, nor have we governance arrangements like Greater London. This was a great experiment in pushing our local agenda onto the national stage and I’m glad the city came together to give it our best.

Click on the picture below (of the University Challenge event with the Speaker!) for a short video of some of the highlights of the day:

nipd

NOTTINGHAM

  • Today I visited Tuntum Housing Association’s Karibu Project in New Basford, which provides temporary accommodation primarily to single men and women with refugee status. The project offers residents support with training and employment, information about benefits and assists them in finding more permanent accommodation. We talked about their work with vulnerable BAME communities in Nottingham and I spoke to service users about their experiences with the projects (pictured below with the team and some of the residents):

tuntum

  • On Wednesday Nottingham had a royal visit from Prince Harry, who was in the city for the fifth time in the last three years. He was in Nottingham for a number of engagements, including the official opening of the new Central Police Station on Maid Marian Way, and a visit to the Full Effect youth project in St Ann’s which his charity has been supporting. The Full Effect project aims to improve opportunities for young people and reduce youth violence in St Ann’s. It’s fantastic to see such support this project, which improves opportunities and chances for children and young people in St Ann’s.
  • Small Steps Big Changes are seeking applications for their Innovations Fund. SSBC is a programme designed to support parents, families and local services in St Ann’s, Arboretum, Bulwell and Aspley to improve child outcomes and give every child the best start in life. They are looking for innovative and creative proposals that will help them to achieve their goals, helping local children (aged 0 to 3) to:
  1. Eat well and be healthy
  2. Talk and communicate effectively
  3. Be confident and friendly and understand their own and their peers’ emotions and behaviour

The fund is open to local groups, and offers individual awards between £1,000 and £5,000. For more information on the eligibility criteria and how to apply, please contact Nottinghamshire Community Foundation on 01623 620202 or email enquiries@nottscf.org.uk. Applications close on 10th November 2016.

  • Work is due to begin on a new £2m Lidl store, which is being built on a piece of derelict land in St Ann’s. The site, near the junction of Carlton Road and Seymour Street, has been empty for at least a decade. I’d be interested in any feedback or thoughts you might have about this.
  • The Green Flag award-winning Arboretum in Nottingham East has been nominated for the UK’s Best Park Award for 2016. It’s an honour for Nottingham’s oldest public park to be nominated and it is a reflection of the great work done by Nottingham City Council and the Friends of The Arboretum in maintaining the park. The awards are decided by the public, so if you’d like to vote you can do so online here.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Monday, the Prime Minister made a statement on her first European Council meeting. The meeting discussed Russian bombing in Syria, the migration crisis affecting Europe and free trade.  There is increasing concern in Parliament and the business community about the Prime Minister’s lack of a plan for our negotiation. After her statement, I tried to get some clarity by asking her whether she planned for the UK to leave the customs union (which you can watch here), but her answer was vague and unsatisfactory. While I appreciate that she does not want to show her hand, business needs some assurances on trade relationships – they need to begin planning now for two or three years’ time. While I was very pleased that Nissan decided to boost production in the UK, other businesses will only follow if the Government starts to make clear intentions about our future trading relationships.
  • I’m very pleased to have been appointed to sit on the newly formed International Trade Select Committee of the House of Commons, which will allow me to champion all the sectors of our economy that need help as our relationships change with the rest of the world – and to keep track of what Ministers are doing on trade policy.
  • In Treasury Questions on Nottingham in Parliament Day I pressed the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, to prioritise rail, road and skills infrastructure investment in the East Midlands, and to make sure that all government departments live up to the ambitions stated in the ‘Midlands Engine’ programme now chaired by Sir John Peace. You can watch our exchange here. As Chair of the East Midlands All-Party Parliamentary Group I am bringing together East Midlands MPs to push the Government for greater investment in the region.
  • I have written a number of times about forced academisation in previous MP Updates. So I was very pleased in May when the Government was forced to u-turn on its plan to turn all schools into academies, following protests from councils. However, at the time I was worried that the small print suggested that they still wanted all schools to become academies by 2022. I was therefore relieved on Thursday this week when the Education Secretary announced that the ‘Education for All Bill’ will not go ahead this year. While this is good news, the Government is still not addressing the serious problems facing schools: teacher shortages, declining school budgets, problems with exams and a lack of good school places. I will continue to urge the Government to address these problems instead of announcing massive restructuring.
  • On Monday, the Home Secretary made a statement in the House of Commons following the commencement of the clearance and demolition of the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp. The Home Secretary announced that almost 200 unaccompanied children had been transferred from the camp to the UK under the Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act 2016, and that hundreds more would follow in the coming weeks. While the Home Office has accelerated the processing of child refugees in recent weeks, the Government has known for months that the Calais camp was due to close. Men, women and children have been living in this camp in appalling conditions, and in the absence of proactive action by either the UK or French governments, those people were at the mercy of people smugglers and criminal gangs. I pay tribute to the volunteers and UK staff who have worked in the Calais camp in difficult and dangerous conditions. The Calais camp may now be being closed, but more could have been done sooner, and there is an urgent need for a more considered and cooperative strategy to deal with refugees moving across Europe.
  • On Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Transport made a statement on airport capacity and announced the Government’s decision to accept the proposal to build a new north-west runway at Heathrow, as recommended by the Airports Commission. I welcome that a decision on a third runway at Heathrow has now been made. However, this is not the end, but another step in the process. There are now formal consultation procedures and a Commons vote sometime next year. I’ve long been convinced that the UK’s infrastructure needs a radical overhaul and if East Midlands passengers, business and freight are to reach destinations across the world and compete sufficiently, we have to do this through the hub airport of Heathrow predominantly.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Earlier today I gave evidence to the Parliamentary Boundary Commission hearing about the importance of keeping some of our local neighbourhoods linked together in the Nottingham East constituency.

For example, the Commission are proposing to draw an artificial line dividing Forest Fields neighbourhood from the Recreation Ground, which would have two separate MPs. They are suggesting that Radford Road should be split be the boundary line between a larger ‘Nottingham North’ and ‘Nottingham East & Carlton’ constituency. And they are saying that Sherwood & Carrington should be split from Mapperley & Mapperley Park – two communities that have shared important links for many decades.

I feel strongly that the existing six local wards in Nottingham East should remain together for historic and community reasons – and if you feel the same I’d strongly urge you to say so directly to the Boundary Commissioners, simply by emailing them your views to information@boundarycommissionengland.gov.uk.

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MP Update – 23rd October

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP –  23rd October 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

At yesterday’s ‘MP Question Time’ at the Nottinghamshire Deaf Society, the focus was very much on welfare rights issues – and my thanks to Irene Andrew the chief executive at the Deaf Society for chairing the event. In the updates we heard from Becky Ramsden from the Nottingham Citizens Advice Bureau and from the teams at St Ann’s Advice Centre and the Law Centre, it’s clear that many disabled people and some of the least well-off across the city are finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet. The Universal Credit roll-out contains more restrictions, the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) shift from the DLA is proving difficult and the changes to Employment & Support Allowance are penalising those trying to work. There are also now more problems with people’s tax credit claims being suspended while organisations like Concentrix are investigating entitlements. The new Secretary of State, Damian Green, is a different character from Iain Duncan-Smith, but the jury is still out whether they have really changed direction – or just the tone.

Many other issues came up at the public meeting yesterday, ranging from local to national and international concerns. As the local MP it’s helpful to hear views face-to-face (including forceful points!), but as always you can contact me by email or get in touch at my offices at 12 Regent Street, NG1 5BQ or telephone 0115 711 7666.

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NOTTINGHAM

  • I was concerned to hear last weekend about the evacuation of the Victoria Centre and surrounding streets due to a suspect package being found. Following a similar incident a few months ago, my primary concern was for residents living in the Victoria Centre flats, who felt that they were not kept informed during the previous incident. Since the previous incident, Nottingham City Homes have met with and written to residents informing them of emergency procedures. On Saturday, I received assurances at that time from Nottingham City Homes that residents were kept fully informed throughout the incident, with Community Protection Officers stationed in the flats and updates on social media. Installation is to begin on a new intercom system later this month which will enable NCH and other authorities to communication with all residents at once, which will help if there are any similar incidents in future. If you live in the Victoria Centre flats, I’d be interested to know how you felt the incident was handled on this occasion.
  • It is vital in the aftermath of the EU referendum that the UK asserts itself as a world leader on the environment. Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust asked me to support them and a number of environmental organisations with their Pledge for the Environment, which calls on the government to ensure strong environmental standards and that the UK leads on climate change. I am pleased to have added my support to this pledge – you can view the full text of the pledge along with a list of supporting MPs on the Green Alliance website here.
  • The Department for Education is due to carry out an area review into post-16 education provision in Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. The aims of the review are to move towards larger, more financial resilient post-16 institutions, and to offer high quality education and training based on the needs of learners and employers in the area. The review will be launched next month with outcomes expected by April. A steering group with representatives from colleges, local authorities and the local enterprise partnership will oversee the work of the review, and there will also be an opportunity for other interested parties and individuals locally to input into the review. I would be interested to know your thoughts – do you think post-16 institutions in the area need to be reviewed?
  • It was useful to meet with Nottinghamshire Police Chief Constable Susannah Fish and Police Commissioner Paddy Tipping this week to talk about local law and order issues. I raised the question of the city division structure change and also the need for good communications between local officers, MPs and councillors to pass on public concerns. While overall crime levels may be stable and the police are doing their best with limited resources, there is still too much anti-social behaviour and violent crime.
  • Tuesday is ‘Nottingham In Parliament’ day, thanks to the idea from the team at the University of Nottingham and now dozens of other local companies, charities and organisations from across the county. There are a massive 45 separate events planned – it’s a great way to bring the best of the city and fresh ideas in front of the country’s decision-makers. More about the programme at the link here http://www.nottinghaminparliamentday.uk/npd/documents/nipd-programme-guide.pdf

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • With the news focusing heavily on Brexit, lots of other Government policies can go by unnoticed. This week I urged the Minister to think about the impact his decision would have on pensioners and savers following the u-turn on letting retired people get out of annuity schemes and shop around. Pensions are baffling enough as things stand, and taken together with the poor rates available for those retiring, I’m worried that lots of people will be put off saving for their old age. The exchange in the Commons is at the link here
  • On Wednesday, there was a debate on reforming the House of Lords and the size of the House of Commons. I believe that having two legislative chambers, the Lords and Commons, is important to ensuring new laws are scrutinised properly. But fundamental reform of the House of Lords is essential and I am concerned at the rate of expansion of the House of Lords, which now has over 800 members. I voted in favour of the motion which called on the Government to make plans to reduce the number of Peers; called for a review of the House of Lords; and called on the Government to abandon plans to reduce the number of Members of Parliament until the issue of the size of the House of Lords is resolved.
  • The Commons also debated the concerns about Brexit and the rights of EU nationals on Wednesday. It is very important that the Government make it clear that a future deal should reassure all existing EU nationals in the UK that their rights to be in the UK are respected, just as the rights of British citizens living and working across Europe should also have their rights respected. Sadly this will be an issue likely to come up again during the negotiation process.
  • On Tuesday, the Defence Secretary responded to an urgent question in the House of Commons about the operation to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from Daesh. Daesh has inflicted unimaginable horror on the people of Mosul since it captured the city in 2014. I fully support the operation to liberate the city, not only to protect the people of Iraq, who have suffered such a great deal, but also to protect British citizens here from the global threat posed by Daesh. The UN has, however, calculated that over a million people could be affected by the operations in Mosul. The Defence Secretary recognised the significant humanitarian implications of the operation and assured MPs that the aim is to drive out Daesh in a way that protects civilians.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

You may have heard recently about the new proposals from the Boundary Commission for Parliamentary constituencies. The Commission are aiming to reduce the number of UK constituencies from 650 to 600. Call me cynical, but I’m sure it’s a mere coincidence that it’s Labour seats disproportionally affected by the proposed changes.

There will be counter-proposals from the various political parties submitted during the consultation period.  But individuals can also comment on the proposals too – you can find out more about the changes on the Commission’s website here.

Basically, the Boundary Commission are proposing that Sherwood and Berridge wards move into Nottingham North to boost numbers there. Which leaves Arboretum, Mapperley, St Ann’s and Dales wards having a series of wards from Gedling and Carlton added into Nottingham East to make this constituency the right ‘size’. This would be a radical change and divide the existing Nottingham East constituency, which I think could be very disruptive.

If you think that the existing Nottingham East constituency works well – covering as it does one local authority area and containing many residents who haven’t made it onto the electoral register but who nevertheless need representation – then I’d encourage you to send comments in saying so. Just click on this link to go to their ‘comments’ page here:

https://www.bce2018.org.uk/node/add/informed-representation/6483

Members of the public can also make oral contributions at public hearings that are taking place across the country, the nearest of which are taking place at the Cathedral Quarter Hotel in Derby on Thursday 27th and Friday 28th October (details here).

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MP Update – 14th October

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 14th October 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

Parliament returned this week after the Party conference season and we are straight into the massive questions about how the UK leaves the European Union. Some people might think “what’s this got to do with me?” Unfortunately it’s an issue that will absolutely dominate the local and national news for the next few years. Take as an example the shrinking purchasing power of the pound sterling, now nearly 20% down in value relative to other currencies such as the US dollar. It will make anything we buy as imports from other countries that much more expensive – so expect that your petrol prices will start rising soon, the cost of white goods such as TVs, phones, fridges etc also going up. We’ve even seen this week a price war between Tesco and its suppliers threaten to withdraw products containing foreign-sourced ingredients such as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and so on!

I’m quite clear that we have to respect the outcome of the referendum and that Britain’s membership of the EU needs to end. But I think it’s a mistake for Theresa May to say she’ll trigger the process no later than the end of March, because the EU will now just wait for the clock to tick by, in order to strengthen their bargaining hand. Instead we should have extracted some conditions in exchange for a firm date on triggering – such as some transitional access to their markets to smooth the process. If you have any issues or questions on this ‘Brexit’ process please do let me know. I have a horrible feeling that if companies can’t trade their goods and services into Europe based in the UK, we’ll lose those firms, and in turn lose billions of revenues for the Exchequer, which means more cuts for the NHS and public services in Nottingham.

NOTTINGHAM

MP Annual Public Question Time: Saturday 22nd October from 4pm until 5:30pm.

This year we will focus initial discussion on the theme of ‘Welfare and disability rights issues in Nottingham’ with discussion chaired by Irene Andrews from Nottinghamshire Deaf Society. We will also be hearing from local advice agencies including Nottingham Citizens Advice Bureau, Nottingham Law Centre and St Ann’s Advice Centre. Conversation will then broaden into any other issues: local, national or international! If you are interested in attending please email by reply – so we can get a sense of numbers for the venue. The event is being held at Nottinghamshire Deaf Society, 22 Forest Road West, Nottingham, NG7 4EQ (nearest tram stop is High School).

  • Recently I met with Carillion workers and trade union representatives to discuss ongoing issues staff at both City Hospital and Queen’s Medical Centre are experiencing. Carillion are contracted by Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust for cleaning services, and issues raised by staff include a shortage of equipment and staff meaning they are unable to carry out their roles to the required standard. These issues have been highlighted by press reports of overflowing bins, dirty dishes and a rat sighting in one of the hospital kitchens. A Carillion representative was also at the meeting, and said that improvements had been made. As a result, earlier today I met with management at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, where I called on them to scrap their contract with Carillion if standards were not improved. Trying to cut budgets by outsourcing or underfunding ancillary services was never the best option, and sadly the fears voiced at the time have materialised. Carillion are going to have to radically and immediately transform this situation if they are to regain confidence in running these services.
  • On Friday 21st October, the Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team (DAST) are launching their Asbestos in Schools Awareness Project in Nottingham. The event is open to teachers, school staff, governors and parents of school age children to learn about the risks posed by asbestos in school buildings and the action that can be taken to reduce risk. The event is taking place from 10.30am to 12.30pm at the New Art Exchange on Gregory Boulevard (near The Forest tram stop), and anyone wanting to book a place at the event should contact Joanne Gordon on 01246 380415 or email gordon@asbestossupport.co.uk.
  • In just over a week’s time on Tuesday 25th October, Nottingham in Parliament Day will be marked by a wide range of events in Westminster. Across the whole day, 45 events will take place in conjunction with nearly 100 partners – including a live science experiment outside Parliament, a mock University Challenge event and a number of sporting events including archery and table tennis. I am pleased to be able to support this initiative; it helps put Nottingham on the map, brings fresh ideas in front of MPs, and gives us the chance to press Ministers for extra resources and investment in our communities. You can find out more about events taking place on the day here.
  • Earlier today I held a street surgery in St Ann’s with local councillors to talk to members of the public about local issues, including education, housing and welfare issues. People are often very busy out shopping and getting around the city, but thank you to those who stopped for a chat!

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • The Labour leadership contest has concluded with Jeremy Corbyn re-elected. He has appointed his frontbench team and now has a big responsibility to inspire the wider public, listen to the concerns raised during the contest, unite the Party and show eagerness that Labour wants to be a party winning seats and government in Parliament. I hope that deeply held principles and differences of belief on national security, humanitarian intervention and economic responsibility can be respected and I will continue to chair the Treasury Committee of the Parliamentary Party as a constructive contribution from the backbenches. Locally we are continuing our regular street by street door-knocking sessions – and not waiting just for the pre-election periods – and I hope to see you in your area before too long.
  • On Monday the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union came to the Commons to answer questions about the Government’s approach to ‘Brexit’. This was debated further on Wednesday in an Opposition Day debate where MPs from across all parties voiced anxieties about how prepared Ministers really are – and importantly whether Parliament can have a proper say about the objectives and approach the UK will be taking. I asked the Secretary of State about the impact that their policies were having on the value of the pound – and called for him to apologise to the public who did not vote to make themselves poorer in this process. Watch my question at the link here.
  • On Tuesday there was an emergency debate in the House of Commons on the unfolding humanitarian situation in Aleppo and across Syria. Some 275,000 people are currently besieged in eastern Aleppo, facing constant bombardment from the Syrian government regime assisted by Russian forces. Innocent civilians are trapped, impoverished and desperately in need of food, clean water and medical care. Those responsible for this suffering are guilty of crimes against humanity and must be held to account. I support efforts by the British and French to enforce a tougher approach at the UN Security Council against violations of international humanitarian law – and we should consider options for safe havens, no-fly-zones and intervention if this is feasible.
  • On Monday the Home Secretary was asked to make a statement on the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp and children living there in light of its imminent demolition. The Home Secretary stated that she had made clear to the French Government the need to ensure children are kept safe during any clearances. She also stated that she expected to receive a list from French authorities of children that the UK can help, and that the Government would take action within “a matter of days or a week at the most” once it had received it. People in the ‘Jungle’ camp are sleeping in sub-zero temperatures. There is violence, lack of sanitation, and threats of assault. These conditions are indefensible. Leading charities believe there are hundreds of unaccompanied children in the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp that should be immediately resettled. The Government must ensure we fulfil our moral responsibilities by resettling those unaccompanied children in desperate conditions, particularly those that have family links in the UK.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

I met earlier today with the management team at our local NHS Trust – and mentioned earlier the points I raised about their contract with Carillion. I’d be interested in any views you have about other issues in our NHS at present, including the pressures they’re facing in acute services and the Emergency Department (before we even get into the difficult winter season).

I took the opportunity to raise the issue of treatment and rehabilitation of stroke patients in Health Questions in the Commons this week. There are a million people living in England who have suffered a stroke – yet it is the fourth biggest cause of death and the Government aren’t yet renewing the national stroke strategy. I’m not convinced that in Nottingham we have adequate follow-up services once patients are discharged. Sometimes rehab and physio packages expire too soon.

Have you or friends and relatives experienced difficulties with post-hospital treatment for stroke or other conditions? Are you satisfied with the level of community care available once patients are discharged and recuperating at home? I’d be interested in your views.

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MP Update – 16th September

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 16th September 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

Brexit continues to dominate the news, with some economists concluding that the impact of leaving the European Union is having less of a discernibly adverse impact on the economy than expected. But we must remember that we haven’t actually left the EU yet and that the referendum was just the start of what could be a long transitional process. Thousands of employees across Nottingham depend in some way or another on trade or investment to and from Europe. That’s why this week I led a debate on how Ministers intend to disentangle Britain from the EU and what relationships they plan in its place. For example, there are over 500 companies in Nottingham working in the financial services field, including Experian, Capital One and Ikano. Yet we do not know whether all of their products will be tradeable with the rest of Europe. I’m determined to keep raising these issues with the Government because our local jobs and growth and future prosperity are on the line. We’ve got to have an orderly transition and my job is to ask the questions and propose ways forward to minimise disruption. If you would like to hear more from my debate this week, please click here. I’ll also be appearing on this Sunday’s Daily Politics programme to discuss this and other issues facing the East Midlands, BBC2 at 11am.

NOTTINGHAM

  • A number of constituents have contacted me recently with concerns about the temporary closure of Mapperley Park Medical Centre. The practice was put in special measures in June 2015 after a Care Quality Commission inspection rated it ‘inadequate’. There were a number of areas of concern relating to record keeping, systems and processes. A further CQC inspection found that there has been insufficient improvement and has closed the practice while changes are made. I know from emails I have received that many constituents feel that the surgery offers a high level of care, and disagree with the CQC’s assessment. The CQC has an important job to do in ensuring patient safety, but I would hope that there would be flexibility to take account of good practice and patients’ views. I will continue to follow this closely and listen to the views of constituents on this matter.
  • The Nottingham Crime and Drugs Partnership have commissioned a new service on behalf of the Nottingham Domestic Violence and Abuse Joint Commissioning Group. The new domestic violence service launched earlier this year, and will be holding a listening event for survivors of historic and institutional sexual violence and abuse on Thursday 29th September from 1pm in a central Nottingham location. Places for the event are limited, so if you would like to attend or find out further information about the event, please email Glen Jarvis, Involvement Officer at the Crime and Drugs Partnership, on jarvis@nottinghamcity.gov.uk.
  • Work will start on Monday to transform the Britten Gardens public space in St Ann’s. The project is being led by Groundwork Greater Nottingham with funding from Veolia Environmental Trust and Nottingham City Homes, and will involve replacing uneven and broken paving to create an accessible space which will include seating areas, planting and an informal play area. The project will turn the neglected open space into a pleasant and practical place for all to use and enjoy, and is due to be completed in early November.
  • The Aviva Community Fund has just launched for this year, and the fund is inviting applications from community groups in the area. The Aviva Community Fund awards funding of up to £25,000 for local community projects across a range of categories such as supporting the elderly, health & wellbeing and community sport. If you’re involved in a local community group and are interested in applying for funding, applications can be made until 11th October via this link.
  • The Boundary Commission for England published their first proposals for cutting the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and reducing the size of the House of Commons by creating larger parliamentary constituencies. They propose that Nottingham East would lose Sherwood and Berridge in a transfer to the new Nottingham North constituency, and that Carlton & Colwick would be added into Nottingham East from Gedling constituency. It’s difficult to see these changes as little more than political gerrymandering by the Tory government, because by sheer chance it would hit Labour held constituencies far more than Conservative ones. This is also because they are using a drastically undersized electoral register rather than basing on either on the most recent register for the EU referendum or on actual resident numbers. City centre urban areas have far higher populations than the old electoral registers suggest because of the rate of change and temporary residencies that exist. I’ll be opposing these changes – especially when Theresa May proposes adding dozens of new peers into the unelected House of Lords at a cost far higher than anything saved by shrinking the elected Commons.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Monday, the Education Secretary Justine Greening gave a statement in the House of Commons on the Government’s new consultation “Schools that work for everyone”, where most attention focused on their plans to relax the rules on expanding selective schools and allow new ones to open and non-selective schools to become selective where there is a demand. I am deeply sceptical of the Government’s plans to expand selective schools. Evidence suggests educational attainment in grammar areas for those who fail to get into grammar schools is below the national average. Given the overwhelming evidence that grammars fail to improve standards for the majority of children, the Education Secretary was rightly pressed on Monday to reveal on what research she is basing her decision. I believe that instead of adopting this flawed approach, the Government should be improving schools for all children.
  • Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport made a statement following publication of the draft BBC The BBC’s Royal Charter forms the constitutional basis of the BBC and the current Charter is due to expire at the end of 2016. The BBC is one of Britain’s greatest treasures, which I believe must be protected and sustained in both its independence and its funding. There are still some concerns about Government plans for the BBC.  For example, it is proposed that the BBC’s new board will have a number of Government appointees, including the Chair. I am concerned this could weaken the BBC’s editorial independence and that the Government could seek to influence the BBC’s editorial decision-making, putting the broadcaster under undue political interference.  There are also concerns that the BBC’s financial security will be affected, now that the cost of TV licences for the over-75s has been transferred to the BBC. I believe the Government must listen to the public, who value the BBC’s independence and want it to carry on making the programmes we all enjoy.
  • On Wednesday, the House of Commons debated a motion on NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs). The debate was an opportunity to hold the Government to account for these plans, which could have big consequences for frontline services across England. STPs are intended to show how local services will develop and become sustainable over the next five years. However, the concern is that the plans will be used to force through cuts and close hospitals and could make it harder for patients to access face-to-face consultations with their GPs. The process for STPs lacks transparency and the timeline is insufficient to allow for adequate public or Parliamentary engagement in their formulation, or to finalise such a major restructure of the NHS. The Minister said that the proposals remain at a draft stage, but that the Government has made it clear to local leaders that they are responsible for ensuring that plans engage with all local stakeholders when they are ready, and that proposed changes will be subject to local consultation.
  • Parliament now enters a recess during the Party Conference season and returns in October – and these MP Update bulletins will return then with news from the House of Commons.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Tackling climate change while also continuing the secure supply of energy is a dilemma most countries are facing – and the announcement this week that Theresa May is proceeding with the construction of the Hinkley Point nuclear power station has thrown the spotlight on this question.

While I would personally prefer us to rapidly develop renewable energy sources on a more localised basis (which Nottingham city is doing quite well), using the latest storage technologies rather than losing generated energy through the national grid – I do recognise that we need to balanced mix of provision.

What do you think about the best approach to energy policy going forward? How can we keep electricity bills down for the hard-pressed consumer, which also avoiding over-reliance on carbon emitting sources, especially coal. Is Hinkley Point’s ‘strike price’ for electricity too high? Or is it only high because compared to coal and gas it includes the cost of cleaning up waste and the consequences of production? What are your views on nuclear power and is it justified because we have to take a low carbon option rather than the bigger risk of climate change?

None of these are easy choices – plus there are additional energy security questions involved. I’d welcome any views you might have.

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MP Update – 9th September

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 9th September 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

Parliament has now returned following the summer recess and perhaps the most controversial proposal Theresa May wants to pursue is an extension of the selective school system currently limited to grammar schools in other parts of the country with selection at age 11.

Whether by opening new grammar schools or allowing existing schools to pick children by ability, my worry is for the educational chances taken away from those not selected and left behind. There’s no evidence that selection at 11 helps social mobility, quite the contrary. Only about 3% of poor pupils go to selective grammar schools at present in the counties where they currently operate, much lower than the 17% who qualify for free school meals in those schools that aren’t selective. When OFSTED’s own chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw voices his serious doubts about the divisive and limited nature of an extended selective system, it’s clear that the evidence about boosting attainment is not the driving force behind these proposals.

Just as I would want intensive support for pupils who are struggling academically, I’m not opposed to extra assistance for high achieving children to nurture their abilities. But to separate off children on the basis of a snapshot test doesn’t give those excluded a chance to access that help and limits their potential. It’s natural for parents to want to chase excellent teaching in excellent schools – but the priority of government must be to boost that excellence for young people who don’t have that helping hand at home and who haven’t got parental advantages. Far better to focus on boosting the quality of teaching each pupil can receive in the classroom and tailoring teaching to the needs and abilities of each child. Forcing more children to confront a fork in the road at age 11 isn’t fair. Nor was this in the Tory manifesto at the election last year.

NOTTINGHAM

  • It was great to have a chance to walk around the Skylarks nature reserve near Holme Pierrepont, which is run by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. I met with Erin McDaid and Ian Johnston from the Trust (pictured below), as well as local volunteers who help out with maintaining the reserve. Skylarks prides itself on being accessible to all – there is good information at the site on walks for all levels of ability. The nature reserve is aiming to attract people of all ages, including children and young people, the Trust are doing incredibly important work opening up access to beautiful Nottinghamshire countryside, and I would certainly encourage people to visit this lovely nature reserve.

skylarks

  • A few people have contacted me over the summer raising concerns about the future of the Old School House in Sneinton. The building was in a poor state of repair, so the City Council closed it earlier this month. Local councillors are keen to allow time for local groups to come forward with ideas for the building, including ideas for future funding. In light of this, Sneinton Neighbourhood Forum are holding a public meeting next Monday 12th September at 6.30pm – meeting outside the Old School Hall on Windmill Lane and then continuing the meeting at 7pm in a local venue. Representatives from the council and the Renewal Trust will be in attendance.
  • Blood Pressure UK are running ‘Know Your Numbers Week’ from 12-18 September, to encourage people to take up a free and potentially life-saving blood pressure check. High blood pressure is known as the ‘silent killer’ as it has no obvious symptoms so the only way for people to know if they have the condition is to get their blood pressure checked.  Once diagnosed, high blood pressure can be successfully managed. If you’d like to get your blood pressure checked, you can find your nearest ‘Pressure Station’ here. Many community pharmacies also offer free blood pressure checks all year round.
  • Many residents in Nottingham who have relatives and friends in Pakistan and Kashmir have raised concerns with me about the ongoing situation in the Indian-controlled areas of Kashmir, with reports of an increase in violence and serious abuses of human rights. As part of the All Party Parliamentary Kashmir Group, I have signed a joint letter to the new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, asking him to give assurances about UK nationals visiting Kashmir, and to support the self-determination of the Kashmiri people.
  • So sorry to hear that the excellent Stonebridge City Farm in St Ann’s has suffered a spate of vandalism in recent weeks, including chicken houses overturned and their lovely Star Wars themed shed smashed. If anyone has any information about this please contact the 101 non-emergency number for Nottinghamshire Police.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • It’s a reminder that when a Prime Minister changes, in effect there is a change of Government. As a result there are a whole series of policy changes from the old Cameron / Osborne regime that are ditched or changed or that rear up again. For example, just today Ministers have dropped their plans to legislate for the National Infrastructure Commission, which would have cracked through delays and politicking on the big projects we need for economic improvement. That’s a backward step and has the hallmarks of a centralising Number 10 under Theresa May to come.
  • On Monday, the Government was asked to make a statement on any assessments it had made of alleged breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) in Yemen. This was the first opportunity in Parliament to press the Government on the clarifications that it has made to parliamentary answers on this issue. Earlier this year, the Government stated on a number of occasions that it had “assessed that there has not been a breach of IHL by the coalition” in Yemen. However, on the day the House of Commons rose for the summer recess, the Government corrected these statements to say that it had “been unable to assess that there has been a breach of IHL by the Saudi-led coalition.” It is unacceptable for the Government to provide incorrect answers and to take so long to correct them. If the Government does not know whether British-made weapons or planes have been used to commit breaches of IHL, then there are clearly questions about whether such equipment should be traded.
  • At the beginning of the week Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt made a statement about the British Medical Association’s announcement that it was initiating further industrial action over the junior doctors’ contract. The prospect of a five-day strike by junior doctors next week was extremely serious and while many had thought a resolution had been reached, it is welcome that junior doctors have suspended the strike, even though the remaining programme of industrial action stays in place. If it eventually goes ahead, it will be the first such strike by medics in the entire history of the National Health Service. Lots of people have sympathy with the staff involved and it would be better if Ministers and BMA reps got around the table to sort this out without risking disruption or the good health of patients.
  • We debated the Finance Bill this week in the Commons and I voted to strengthen anti-avoidance rules, I voted against cuts in corporation tax and capital gains tax and (for the many people who wrote via 38 degrees on the ‘Mayfair tax loophole’) I’m glad that the Government accepted the case for capital gains tax to apply to carried interest gains. Importantly, my colleague Caroline Flint MP persuaded Ministers to accept new powers to introduce country-by-country corporate account reporting which will boost tax transparency rules.


WHAT DO YOU THINK?

David Davis, the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, this week gave his first report to the House of Commons on the working of his department following the referendum on 23 June. It’s obviously going to be one of the biggest political challenges of our generation. Yet despite working on it through the summer, we are still to hear what deal the Government is working towards and how it plans to achieve it.

There are lots of Nottingham businesses – and employees – potentially left in limbo which solutions are found. That’s why I called for assurances that we can get on with negotiating new trading deals and relationships at the same time as tackling the Brexit divorce proceedings, doing these in parallel not one after the other (click here for a link to the Facebook video of my exchange with the Minister).

At the G20 summit Theresa May was faced with problems from the US administration who are prioritising the EU trade talks first of all, Japanese Ministers issuing warnings about investment in the UK and Australian Ministers saying the UK may have to wait a couple of years before negotiations begin on new trading relationships.

These things may seem remote from Nottingham’s economy right now – but they are crucial. I’d be interested in your thoughts on the current state of play on ‘Brexit’ and the sorts of issues you’d like me to raise in the Commons on this in the coming weeks and months.

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MP Update – 24th July

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – 24th July 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

In a crucial Parliamentary debate this week, the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Damian Green was questioned about the Government’s plans to reduce the level of housing benefit for those in ‘supported’ accommodation – affecting people living in sheltered housing, where warden assistance can be needed, or where there are extra needs including some of the most vulnerable whether they are drug or alcohol dependency issues or people fleeing domestic violence.

In Nottingham we are fortunate to have some good organisations like Framework coordinating some of the sheltered housing for those in greatest need – but Framework and others already face financial pressures as it is, and are worried that in two years’ time many of our local properties and hostels could be forced to close if this squeeze on additional elements in housing benefit proceeds.

The background is this: last November, the Government announced proposals to set a new cap on housing benefit for social tenants, equivalent to the local housing allowance rate for private rented tenants. The Government had planned to introduce this cap for new tenants from April this year, but pressure from housing and community groups forced the Government to delay implementation until April 2017. However, the Government plans to apply these cuts to all tenants in supported housing from April 2018.

While the Minister announced that his ‘review’ of this situation will be completed in the autumn, I intervened to call for all MPs across all parties to recognise that those in our constituencies with most vulnerability needed a positive resolution here. We have real needs for decent housing specialist services in Nottingham. I will continue to work with other local MPs to press the Government to get this one right.

NOTTINGHAM

  • It was great to have the opportunity to visit the Children’s Hospital School at QMC on Friday to meet Headteacher Eleanor Tweedie and some of the pupils (pictured below). The school does great work teaching children who are unable to attend their usual school due to illness, and they place emphasis on making sure children are being taught the same programme of study as their peers at their home school where possible. The school serves 12 children’s wards at QMC and is incredibly impressive – all the more so for being such an unsung facility helping sick children continue their education and to cope with significant disruption to their lives.

QMChosp

  • The Co-op food store on Costock Avenue in Sherwood is one of 298 stores due to be sold to McColl’s later this year. I’ve been assured that the store will continue to trade under the McColl’s name and all existing staff will be ‘TUPE’ transferred so there will be no redundancies. It’s disappointing to hear that yet another Co-op store in Sherwood is to be sold to a rival retailer – as a Co-operative MP I think the ethics and values of Co-op stores bring great benefit to our communities. If you live near the Costock Avenue store, I would be interested to know what you think of the sale – do get in touch.
  • On Friday I paid a visit to Nottingham Contemporary to see their Garcia School Programme Celebration. The exhibition features creative work from 350 pupils at some of Nottingham’s schools, including five schools in Nottingham East. It was great to see all of their work – and as with music education, I feel it’s important to also support the wider creative arts in the curriculum including through to secondary school level too.
  • The Sneinton Festival 2016 is taking place this month, with 26 free events taking place across the month, concluding with the main day event on Saturday 30th July at Trickett’s Park. You can find out more information about the festival on the Sneinton Festival Facebook page here. The festival are also looking for volunteers for the main event on 30th July – if you’re able to help please get in touch with Stacey on sneintonfestival2016@gmail.com or call 07979 105706.
  • An independent report published this month by Nottingham Business School found that the construction project to extend the city’s tram network boosted the local economy by as much as £100million. The report also found that nearly 400 people who were previously unemployed or in education were employed on the construction project, and that 700 young people took part in work experience courses on the project via the National Citizenship Scheme and the Princes Trust. It’s great to see the positive benefit to the local economy from the tram extension, and in particular the benefits to local people in terms of employment and skills.
  • There’s a Jobs Fair taking place at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham on Wednesday 10th August from 10am-2pm. For more information, visit the Jobs Fair website here.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • The consequences of ‘Brexit’ and Britain leaving the EU are now starting to become clear, especially with the impact on the British economy. With a new Secretary of State for ‘Brexit’ (David Davis) now appointed, I argued this week we also need the whole of Parliament to take on the role of scrutinising and delving into the detail here too – which is why I proposed establishing a Brexit Select Committee specifically tasked with helping shape negotiations over the two year process (see my article here https://www.politicshome.com/news/europe/eu-policy-agenda/brexit/opinion/house-commons/77518/chris-leslie-mp-brexit-must-not-pass ). I am pleased that Ministers responded positively to the idea, and we may have some movement to establish such a committee in September.
  • On Tuesday the House of Commons considered the Higher Education and Research Bill which proposes to allow ‘high-performing’ universities to raise tuition fees. I voted against the Bill at Second Reading. I am concerned that the best universities will become more expensive and therefore less accessible, at a time when the proportion of low-income students at many top universities is already falling. Students have already been hit in the past 12 months by the scrapping of maintenance grants for loans, freezing the student loan threshold and removing NHS bursaries. This has damaged social mobility for the most disadvantaged students. The Bill will also reform the research council and funding system, which I believe is poorly timed and likely to be ineffective. The vote to leave the EU has already put the funding of academic research in the UK into a prolonged period of uncertainty. There are some elements of the Bill I support on introducing a transparency duty for university admissions and an alternative student finance method. However, overall the Bill is a missed opportunity that will set back the cause of equal access rather than advance it.
  • On Monday the House of Commons debated and voted on a motion on the UK’s nuclear deterrent. The motion supported the assessment that the UK’s independent minimum credible nuclear deterrent, based on a continuous at-sea deterrence posture, remained essential to the UK’s security. It expressed support for the maintenance of this current posture by replacing the existing Vanguard class submarines with four Successor submarines, and recognised the importance of this programme to the UK’s defence industrial base, supporting thousands of highly skilled engineering jobs. The motion also noted that the UK remains committed to reducing its overall nuclear weapons stockpile by the mid-2020s. As I committed in the manifesto on which I was elected, I believe that a multilateral rather than unilateral approach to disarmament is the best way forward, and that for the UK to choose this moment of uncertainty to dispose of our deterrent would be unwise and reduce our leverage in disarmament terms with others in the longer run. I supported the motion, which was carried with a majority of support on the Labour benches.
  • On Thursday the new Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening was asked to make a statement on school funding. The Government announced that the implementation of a new national funding formula for schools will be delayed by a year. It will publish its response to a consultation on this and set out further proposals once Parliament returns in the autumn. The Secretary of State said that no local council will see a reduction from their 2016-17 funding for schools or for high needs next year. I am concerned that the Government has delivered a real-terms cuts to school budgets across the country. Schools are struggling to cope with a 5% funding shortfall as a result of the decision to increase national insurance and teachers’ pension contributions. In my view the Government should recognise that pupil numbers are rising and that the shortage of teachers is growing and consider how it can help schools.

Parliament goes into the summer recess period now and returns in September, so as usual these MP Update email bulletins will also take a break and return then. As ever, do get in touch with any issues on your mind in the meantime and I will try my best to reply.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Many thanks to those who filled in last week’s e-survey. I’m still working my way through the results and it is very helpful to get views on local and national issues in this way.

It occurs to me, however, that I don’t often ask your views on international issues – and I know there are plenty of opinions and views you will have on what is happening in the wider world. Just look at a few (and by no means all!) of the issues currently in the news which I find of concern:

  • the dreadful terrorist attack in Nice in which at least 84 people were killed when a heavy goods lorry was driven deliberately into crowds, is the third in 18 months to have killed large numbers of people in France. The Home Secretary confirmed on Monday that consular staff were assisting British nationals caught up in the attacks and that the threat from international terrorism in the UK remained severe. The rampage of the gunman in Germany has also heightened anxieties on security too.
  • the attempted coup in Turkey resulted in a reported 260 people being killed and 1,400 injured. Turkey is of pivotal cultural, political and strategic importance to the world and a vital NATO ally. It is important that we work together to ensure that Turkey has a secure foundation of democracy, freedom of speech and human rights into the future.
  • There are many local people of Kashmiri and Pakistani origin concerned with the news from Kashmir of hundreds of civilians reported injured in the past fortnight in the long-running dispute. Here there is a case for Britain and the EU to make efforts to encourage all sides to demilitarise and enter into a thorough peace process so that a settlement can be achieved. I spoke to the new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson about Kashmir this week.
  • The collapse of peace talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities in 2014 has seen sporadic attacks and continued Israeli settlement expansion in occupied territory. Since October, Palestinian street attacks have killed at least 33 Israelis and two visiting Americans and Israeli forces have killed at least 204 Palestinians, 138 of whom it said were assailants. The renewal of a peace process continues to be clearly necessary.
  • The US Presidential election offers a real fork-in-the-road choice, between Hillary Clinton and the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency. This election in November will have real ramifications for us in the UK and the wider world, simply because of the massive impact that US foreign and economic policy has globally.

There are of course plenty other examples of international controversy and concern – so I wanted to know where you thought I should be focusing and on what aspects of foreign policy I should take the time to consider. As ever, I look forward to reading your views. In the meantime, do have a pleasant summer.

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