MP Update – 24th April

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 24th April 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at
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Here’s a prediction: I think before long David Cameron and Education Secretary Nick Morgan will back down on their plan to force the remaining local authority ‘maintained’ schools to convert into freestanding academies. The reason? Conservative MPs themselves are starting to realise that bullying already OFSTED-rated ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools into a wholly changed governance structure is a distraction from the work they are already doing well as community maintained schools overseen by the elected local council.

It is one thing to make the case that schools who are inspected as ‘inadequate’ need a wholesale management shake-up. It’s quite another to upset the strong performance of good or outstanding schools with a lurch into new governing bodies, ownership changes to academy trusts and organisational upheaval. If the school head teachers and governors choose, of their own volition, to link up with another group of academies for sound educational reasons, then we should be pragmatic about that and weigh up the merits of that case based on the evidence. But when these things become driven by ideology and dogma – probably based on outdated prejudices of how local government works – then even Tory MPs and Conservative councillors know deep down that’s a step too far.

Talking with some Conservative MPs this week I get the sense they’re distinctly queasy about this move which has big costs (including financial costs) but no proven gains. Whether this is because Number 10 are distracted by the EU referendum or just getting complacent we don’t know. But my bet is they’ll wake up to the nonsense of their argument – and under pressure from MPs of all colours they’ll scale this back before too long. Structural reforms to public services that aren’t based on evidence but on doctrinal theory are usually destined to fail, as we already know from NHS reforms in recent years. And my suspicion is that even quite a few Tory MPs themselves don’t really want to repeat those errors, if they spend a moment reflecting on it.

NOTTINGHAM

  • This week I visited the Windmill Lane area of Sneinton with Nottingham City Homes to take a look at a new energy efficiency project for homes which is being rolled out across the neighbourhood. Using £3million of EU Smart City funding, the energy efficiency measures will be installed in houses in the Sneinton area by Nottingham City Homes supported by the City Council to help residents reduce their energy bills and reduce carbon emissions in the city (pictured below). Residents in the Windmill Lane area will also soon see a new residents’ parking scheme, which is being introduced to help tackle problems with commuters parking in the area. I’d be interested to hear any feedback about how this develops once it’s in place.

REMOURBAN

  • While I was in Sneinton I had a chance to visit St Stephen’s C of E Primary School where I met with Headteacher Kelly Lee and had a fantastic tour from their School Council (pictured below), and discussions with several classes who were all busy especially with Year 6 who are preparing for their SATs. It was nice to look around the nursery and playground facilities and a real privilege to join the school assembly for their end of week merit certificate and prize giving. The pupils and teachers have an obvious rapport and I was impressed with the overall ethos of the school.

SNEINTON

  • Thanks to a group of enthusiasts from the Nottingham & District Film Society, a short film about Nottingham from 1951 can now be watched online. The film was originally made for the Festival of Britain celebrations, and shows ordinary life in 1950s Nottingham focused around the Old Market Square. It is a fascinating glimpse into the history of Nottingham – if you would like to view the film you can do so at the link here.
  • HandMade Theatre, a Nottingham-based theatre company who specialise in making interactive performances, are seeking to ‘crowdfund’ their latest production. Cuts to Arts Council funding in recent years have meant that it is often difficult for small independent companies to fund their work, so HandMade Theatre are attempting to fund their latest production through small donations. If you are interested in finding out more about their project, or are able to help them achieve their goal, click here.
  • Robin Hood Chase in St Ann’s was officially reopened last week following a £4.8million transformation, marking the arrival of new local GP practices, Nottingham City Homes offices and a variety of council services. Robin Hood Chase has long been a focal point for the community in St Ann’s, but has suffered some neglect in recent years, so I am glad to see the area being transformed into a public space for local people to enjoy.
  • I am grateful to representatives of the various local NHS bodies including the clinical commissioning group, hospitals, and mental health services, for agreeing to meet me this week at a roundtable I hosted to discuss Nottingham’s social care services and the pressures that exist from the Emergency Department at QMC right through to discharging patients back to home. These aren’t problems exclusive to Nottingham but with a near 10% increase in patients coming into the hospital last year with emergencies we need to urgently think of ways to stop hospital beds getting blocked because social services aren’t able to cope with the numbers needing care assessments to return home. We have a lot of frail elderly people who need extra help and nursing homes with staffing pressures – and I worry about how the system is coping. I want to work up some new thinking about how we can prevent patients feeling that the Emergency Department is the only option they have, and to look at the opportunities offered by the new Urgent Care Centre at the Walk-In site on London Road when it is refurbished soon.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • There was a significant development for the Trade Union Bill in the House of Lords this week, as the Government backed down on plans to scrap ‘check-off’ – public sector employees having their union subscriptions automatically deducted from their wages. On the Minister stood up and said that when he ‘faces cannons to the right of them, cannons to the left of them, cannons in front of them—and maybe even behind them—it is usually best to pause and to ask the reason why’. He went on to announce that the Government will allow check-off to remain in place if the employer agrees. This a significant U-turn, and another example of the House of Lords playing an important role in the legislative process, scrutinising this deeply divisive Bill. While I welcome the Government’s change of heart on this, the rest of the Bill is just as punitive. Plans to prevent unions polling their members online and allowing employers to hire agency workers to replace striking employees are just two of the many damaging aspects of the Bill and I will continue to oppose it when it comes back to the Commons on Wednesday.
  • On Monday the Health Secretary responded to an Urgent Question in the Commons on the imposition of a new junior doctors’ contract, a dispute that continues to roll on and which by now the Government should have found a resolution for. We all want to see improvements in weekend services and appreciate that resources are finite, but the negotiation process has been crude and insensitive leaving many junior doctors feeling demoralised and fed up. Which is why I’m glad today that my colleague Heidi Alexander the shadow Health Secretary has joined forces with frontbenchers from the other political parties in the Commons to press Jeremy Hunt to think of some compromise way forward. She’s suggesting today that perhaps a ‘pilot’ of the new contract should be trialled in some Health Trusts and then evaluated to see if indeed this does make improvements in weekend service standards. That feels like a practical way forward and an offer of a route through the impasse that the Secretary of State shouldn’t just reject out of hand. Nobody should be against change for the sake of it, but reforms ought to be grounded in evidence and proven to be in the best interests of patients. I hope the Government will look at new ways through and get back into negotiations with the BMA and work to avoid further industrial action in the coming weeks.
  • On Tuesday the Foreign Secretary made a statement to update the House of Commons on the current situation in Libya and what the Government is doing to support the new Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). The Foreign Secretary reiterated the Government’s support for the GNA as the legitimate Government of Libya, which has the endorsement of the majority of members of the House of Representatives. He also confirmed that the UK will allocate £10 million for technical support to the GNA to support the strengthening of political participation, economic development, and the delivery of capacity in security, justice and defence. In addition, the Foreign Secretary clarified that the UK stood ready to provide assistance at the request of the GNA in training Libyan armed forces to improve their effectiveness against Daesh, but that he did not anticipate any requests for ground combat forces. My colleague the Shadow Foreign Secretary sought assurances that if this view were to change, the Government would put any proposals to deploy forces in a combat role to Libya before the House of Commons for a vote. The situation in Libya since Colonel Gaddafi’s brutal and violent response to protests in early 2011 has been bloody and dangerous and the people of Libya have suffered a great deal. We are at an enormously important moment for their future, and it is the responsibility of the world community to do all that it can to help the new Libyan Government succeed.
  • On Monday, I attended to a cross-party event to support the TUC’s ‘Dying to Work’ campaign. It seeks to change the law to provide additional employment protection for terminally ill workers. Currently workers with a terminal illness are covered by disability legislation which does not prevent dismissal on grounds of capability. The campaign aims to see terminal illness recognised as a ‘protected characteristic’ so that an employee with a terminal illness would enjoy a ‘protected period’ where they could not be dismissed as a result of their condition. Greater protection would give every person battling a terminal condition the choice of how to spend their final months. They would have the peace of mind to know their job is protected and the future financial security of their family is guaranteed.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

The EU referendum is just two months away. On Monday the Treasury published ‘HM Treasury analysis: the long-term economic impact of EU membership and the alternatives’. In this document Treasury officials make estimates of the UK’s economic condition in 2030 if we vote to leave in June. There are a number of different options available outside the EU, and they evaluate three of them. First is the ‘Norway Option’ of staying inside the European Economic Area, where we would still have to sign up to the EU’s ‘four freedoms’, ie, free movement of goods, persons, services and capital. Here, they estimate that GDP could be 3.8% lower per year by 2030 compared to if we had stayed in, or a cost of approximately £2,600 per household.

I think the most likely option is a negotiated bilateral WTO agreement, or the ‘Canada Option’, where the four freedoms do not apply. If this were the case, GDP could be approximately 6.2% lower per year than it would have been if we had stayed, or £4,300 per household. If we were unable to negotiate a specific trade agreement with the EU, the cost might be around 7.5% of GDP per year by 2030, or £5,200 for every household.

The reaction from the Out campaigners to this report was not unsurprising; John Redwood on the Radio 4 Today Programme said that: ‘It’s an absurd claim from the Treasury’, while Arron Banks (co-founder of Leave.EU) called £4,300 was (hold your breath) ‘a bargain basement price’ to leave. In their eyes, the Treasury document was another addition to the conspiracy to keep us in Europe. But other studies have estimated the costs as even greater – analysis by the LSE suggest that the cost could be equivalent to the 2008/09 Banking Crisis.

As you know, I am particularly worried about the impact of ‘Brexit’ on working people. Not only has the EU contributed towards important developments in workers’ rights – paid leave, maternity rights, the Working Time Directive – but the Treasury document estimates that 1 in 10 jobs are linked to exporting to the EU. As I argued in Treasury Questions on Tuesday (link here), we need to consider the implications for the number and quality of UK jobs.

As you can see, in my view the economic arguments are crystal clear: the EU brings us significant economic benefits. Do you agree? Or will you have other priorities when you vote? Do studies like this help you make up your mind? Let me know.

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MP Update – 16th April

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 16th April 2016

Parliament returned from the Easter recess this week – with plenty of controversy to discuss. On Monday the Prime Minister made a statement on the leak of the so-called ‘Panama Papers’ and his own entanglement with the scrutiny of offshore tax issues. Decisive action against global tax avoidance is something I’ve discussed many times in the Commons and in previous MP Updates – and Britain has a significant role to play here. More than half of the companies named in the Panama Papers were registered in UK- governed tax havens. While the Prime Minister announced that the UK’s crown dependencies and overseas territories will provide UK authorities with full access to information on the beneficial ownership of companies – and announced a new criminal offence to apply to corporations colluding in tax evasion – many colleagues felt more was needed. Clearly, HMRC should be properly resourced to investigate aggressive tax avoidance and Ministers should be leading the global campaign to fight against evasion. The simple fact is that there are many legitimate democratic countries suffering a shortfall of resources for their public services because too many of the very wealthy can swerve obligations to contribute. I hope that this window of concern will be used to finally gain a global consensus on this before it closes and the issue falls down the priority list again of governments across the world.

NOTTINGHAM

  • You may have seen in the news recently that East Midlands Ambulance Service was rumoured to be considering a merger with West Midlands Ambulance Service. EMAS have now ruled out this option, but both Trusts are in talks to discuss various options for ways the West Midlands service may be able to offer assistance to EMAS to tackle response times and other issues. I’m supportive of the two trusts working more closely with the aim of improving response times, but it is important that any changes do not impact negatively on services for either area.
  • On Friday I visited Nottinghamshire Deaf Society to catch up on their work and also find out more about their ‘Hearing Deaf Voices Project’. Nottinghamshire Deaf Society were awarded £60,000 from the Heritage Lottery fund for the project, which seeks to celebrate the history and culture of the deaf community by capturing and displaying memories of members of the community (pictured below with the team as they start to sort through old photographs, records and equipment!). I look forward to following this project as it progresses and if you or others might have memorabilia or records that could be useful for the project, do get in touch and email at nds@nottsdeaf.org.uk

IMG_1880

  • On Friday I attended the Service Users Forum at Framework to hear from the housing charity’s service users and answer their questions. We discussed the resources available for health and social care rehabilitation, the challenges facing local authorities and homelessness organisations in the city and how to continue a dialogue with policy makers in the future. It’s great that Framework involve service users in this way and I learned a lot from the conversations with the tenants (pictured).

FrameworkSUF

  • This is an important time in the future of skills and further education in the city, which is why all local MPs met with representatives from Central College and New College Nottingham this week – and also with staff representatives from the trades unions – to discuss how the proposed merger of these two organisations will proceed, with the most likely name of the new body being Nottingham College. The consultation on the merger has now closed and it is likely that there will be an aim for any new unified college to open at the beginning of the new educational year in September. There are 40,000 students and around 8000 staff affected by this merger with 17 different college sites involved – so we will keep a close eye on how the proposal develops.
  • The campaign on the European referendum began officially this week with a series of activities from both sides of the debate. I will be taking part in a Question Time event on the EU Referendum on Friday 20th May hosted by Nottingham Professional Services. I will be leading the argument for Britain to remain in the EU, against a ‘leave’ case led by North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen. The debate is primarily aimed at the professional services and wider business community. If you are interested in finding out more about the debate, you can read about it on the Nottingham Post website here.
  • Last week I paid a visit to Stonebridge City Farm in St Ann’s to catch up with staff and volunteers and to meet some of their new arrivals, including some new born lambs and baby rabbits which they have for children to pet (always nice to include cute animal pictures – below!). Stonebridge City Farm is open daily 10am-4pm and entrance is free – I would highly recommend it for a family day out.

 Stonebridge

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Monday the Secretary of State for Business made a statement in the Commons on Britain’s steel industry and on Tuesday there was an emergency debate on Tata Steel’s decision to sell its UK steel operations and the action the Government is taking. Since Easter, the challenges facing the UK steel industry have escalated into a crisis, and the Government have been found wanting. Labour MPs including myself have raised steel issues no fewer than 200 times in the past year and we have seen no effective action month after month. There are 15,000 jobs directly at stake in the industry and a further 25,000 jobs at stake in the wider supply chain. These are the kind of high-skill, high-paid jobs of which we need to see more. Steel is a foundation industry which is vital for our manufacturing sector and fundamental for our defence. There are big challenges facing UK steel, but I believe that it can have a strong and sustainable future, and decisions made by this Government now will ultimately determine whether it does. The most significant cause of the crisis facing the steel industry is the dumping of huge amounts of cheap, state-subsidised Chinese steel on the market. I support calls for action to protect UK producers and level the playing field. On procurement, the Government should take action to ensure that UK steel producers are able to compete fairly for large public sector contracts. The Government have ignored the warning signs for far too long, and now they must act to find a suitable buyer at Port Talbot, and to work with the steel producers, the work force, and the clients and customers to ensure that the industry is placed on an even keel.
  • On Monday the Europe Minister made a statement on the upcoming European Union referendum on 23 June and public information. This statement came as households in England began to receive a leaflet explaining why the Government believe that remaining in the European Union is in the best interests of the British people. Households in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive the leaflet from 9 May. In my view, it is reasonable for the Government of the day to set out its position and the facts about our membership of the EU, just as the Labour Government did prior to the 1975 referendum. This is the biggest political choice the British people have faced for more than 40 years, and the public expect an informed debate that is backed up by information. It is my belief that the country would be better off remaining in the EU because of the jobs, growth, investment and protection for British workers and consumers that depend on it. In my view, were the country to leave the EU, this would put that at risk and diminish our influence in the world.
  • On Wednesday there was an Opposition Day debate on the Government’s Schools White Paper. The White Paper sets out plans for all schools to become academies by 2022. It also proposes that schools should no longer be required to reserve places on their governing boards for elected parent governors. I believe that these plans are deeply flawed. The debate provided an opportunity to air the concerns of parents, communities, heads, teachers and others and to call on the Government to put the proposals on hold. I am concerned that the Government’s plans for all schools to become academies constitute a costly and unnecessary reorganisation of the school system. We need to build a school system that provides an excellent education for all children regardless of school type and there is no conclusive evidence that academisation in and of itself leads to school improvement. There are outstanding academies and excellent community schools, but also poor examples of both. Furthermore, the vast majority of schools affected by this policy will be primary schools, over 80 per cent of which are already rated good and outstanding. The Government’s plans will not solve the serious problems facing schools today, such as teacher shortages, real-terms cuts to school budgets and major overhauls of curriculums, exams and assessment, and will take time, money and effort away from raising standards. In addition, I believe that the removal of parent governors from school governing bodies will reduce the genuine involvement of parents and communities in local schools. Labour’s motion noted these concerns. Unfortunately, the Government opposed the motion and though I voted against their amendment, it passed with the support of Government MPs.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

I had a useful catch-up with the Chair and Chief Executive of Nottingham Hospitals NHS Trust on Friday – the team managing City Hospital and QMC – to discuss a series of local NHS issues. The pressures on the Emergency Department have been particularly great this winter and performance against the four hour wait target has been under strain. When I visited the Emergency Department recent it was clearly getting quite crowded at times and I hope that decisions to rebuild and remodel into a bigger facility can be made as soon as possible – and I will be lobbying the Department for Health for the capital resources needed to do this. Other issues came up too, including the performance of Carillion as the contractor for cleaning and portering, and of course the ongoing Junior Doctors’ dispute with Ministers concerning the proposed change in contract.

What has your experience been of our local hospitals recently? The NHS is a large organisation and the hospitals are run separately from GPs (‘secondary’ health care as opposed to ‘primary’ healthcare) and I would welcome any observations you might have. Do you think services are improving? Have you been affected by the Junior Doctors’ dispute? I am keen to raise issues continually with the Government and would be grateful for any feedback you have.

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MP Update – 26th March

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 26th March 2016

The whole world was shocked this week by the multiple terrorist attacks launched by ISIL Daesh on the people of Brussels. This is the fourteenth attack in Europe since the start of 2015, killing at least 31 people and injuring hundreds more. On Wednesday the Home Secretary made a statement in the Commons about the threat that we face from terrorism in the United Kingdom. She confirmed that the UK’s terror threat level remains at ‘severe’, meaning that an attack is highly likely, and stated that seven plots linked to, or inspired by, Daesh to attack the UK have been disrupted by the police and the security services over the last 18 months. The Government have intensified Border Force checks at border controls in Belgium and France, increased numbers of officers present at ports and introduced enhanced searching of inbound tourist vehicles.

Whilst all our thoughts will be with the people of Brussels, we also remember that there are many victims of attacks by Daesh around the world. In my view we have to do everything we can to combat such evil and root out those responsible.

NOTTINGHAM

  • Last week saw the launch of the Nottingham Centre for Children, Young People and Families. Experts at Nottingham Trent University are seeking to address inequalities in health and life chances of children, young people and families in Nottinghamshire – and nationally. The Centre will bring together over 80 researchers from the university, along with organisations working in the sector, and the affected children and families themselves. With Nottingham ranking highly on the national deprivation scale, and with 36% of the city’s children living in poverty, it is hugely welcome to see Nottingham Trent University taking this bold step to tackle inequality and improve the everyday experiences and outcomes of children, young people and families.
  • A neglected space in St Ann’s is going to be transformed thanks to a grant awarded to Groundwork Greater Nottingham (a regeneration organisation that aims to improve lives of people in the area) by The Veolia Environmental Trust. The grant will be used to transform Britten Gardens into a wildlife area, and to also install seating and lay footpaths. A start date for the project has yet to be finalised, but I look forward to hearing more about the project as it progresses.
  • If you are looking for activities over this Easter weekend or over the school holidays, there are a range of events taking place across the city in the coming weeks. The City Council has a list of Easter events on their website, which you can find by clicking here.
  • Nottingham Hospitals Charity has given over £1.4m to support projects across Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust that have been deemed ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission. The projects supported by the charity include Pocket Midwife, an app for mums-to-be developed at NUH which has been nominated for several awards, and the Playlist for Life project which works to improve services for dementia patients. It was great to meet with the charity a few weeks ago to discuss their work, and I look forward to following their continued work supporting projects at NUH.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • It has been quite an eventful final week in the Commons before the Easter recess (and as usual these MP Update bulletins will return when Parliament is back). The fall-out from Iain Duncan-Smith’s resignation played out throughout the week, starting on Monday when a Treasury Minister (David Gauke) was forced to come to the chamber and explain the tangled web engulfing the Chancellor’s Budget. With the former Work and Pensions Secretary sayig that the cuts to disability benefits were “not defensible in the way they were placed within a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers”, it was inevitable that the Government would have to abandon their planned cuts to disability benefits, however, now leaving a £4.4 billion funding gap in the Budget. Ministers have not yet outlined how this hole in the Budget will be filled, delaying any announcement on public finances and the compliance with the welfare cap until the Autumn Statement. Stephen Crabb, the new Work and Pensions Secretary, then made a statement to the House of Commons on welfare. He confirmed that the Government would now not be going ahead with the changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIP). I was very concerned about these changes which could have seen 370,000 disabled people lose £3,500 a year, which is why I asked the new Minister to apologise. I also pressed the Prime Minister on Monday to justify the near £3billion giveaway to the very wealthiest in society through his decision to cut Capital Gains Tax. That issue is also, I believe, an example of the Government making the wrong priorities. When the Chancellor eventually came to the Commons on Tuesday, I intervened in his speech asking if he’d confirm he had made a mistake – and whether he would say sorry. You can see from the excerpt of film from that debate (at 13:01:40 in this clip) that he just couldn’t bring himself to do so: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/d32599c4-5705-46f1-be88-ed2a40dd319e?in=12:58:01
  • On Wednesday the High Speed Rail Bill returned to the House of Commons for its Report Stage and Third Reading. I support High Speed Two (HS2) because it will address the severe capacity constraints on our rail network and improve connections between cities in the Midlands and the North, although there should be no blank cheque for this or any other project. Two amendments from the Opposition were made to the Bill on Wednesday. One imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare an annual report on vocational qualifications obtained in each financial year in connection with HS2 construction. The other amendment requires the Secretary of State to have regard to the relevant development plans when considering compulsory acquisition of land for regeneration or development. I voted for an amendment to the Bill that would have allowed but not required phase 1 of High Speed 2 passenger services to be run by a public sector operator and an amendment on the construction of an integrated Euston Station. Disappointingly, the Government opposed both amendments and they were defeated. HS2 is essential for meeting our capacity challenge and rebalancing the economic geography of the UK. The project has been improved by the parliamentary scrutiny it has received, which will continue as the Bill progresses. I voted for the Bill and it passed its Third Reading.
  • This week we saw a landmark war crimes trial at the United Nations court in the Hague pass the verdict that Radovan Karadžić, former President of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (now the Republika Srpska) has been found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica in 1995. Karadžić is the most senior figure convicted of genocide since World War Two. Karadžić was also found guilty of ten of the eleven counts against him, including persecution, extermination, murder as a crime against humanity and murder as a violation of the customs of war, terror and unlawful acts and the taking of UN hostages. I am glad that the international court has patiently and methodically brought this man to justice and it is an example of the sort of international cooperation we must uphold worldwide in pursuit of justice beyond our borders.
  • The Government snuck out a little-noticed announcement of a further attempt to privatise the Land Registry on Thursday, which would obviously have ramifications for their staff in Nottingham and elsewhere. There are serious questions to be asked about this – the Land Registry isn’t unprofitable for the Treasury, making a £100m surplus in 2012/13. That may be why appetite was so small in the 2014 consultation when they last floated the idea of a sale. I’ll certainly be trying to scrutinise the value for money basis of what appears an ideologically driven move.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

There were some pretty significant changes to the pensions and savings rules announced in the Budget. Public service worker like teachers, police officers and medical staff will be made to contribute more from their wages from 2019 to fill a £2billion cut.

Savings levels are at a very low level across households in general – and the Budget predicted that savings will be depleted even more for the next four year period. That might be because interest rates are so low, but also because people are finding that it’s too much of a luxury to be putting money aside.

I’d be interested to know what your view is of the savings and pensions situation at the moment. Are there enough incentives to save? If you’re under 40 this new ‘Lifetime ISA’ looks interesting with a significant government contribution for every pound saved – and pensioners of course were able to benefit from the ‘pensioner bond’. But what about those between 40 and 65? Will the flexibility in pension withdrawals be useful? Or could it leave us wondering in 20 years’ time why we have so many pensioners unprovided for in old age?

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MP Update – 19th March

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – 19th March 2016

Is it really fair for the Chancellor to cut disability independence payments and use that same sum of money to give a Capital Gains Tax cut to the very wealthiest? Absolutely not! And it appears even Cabinet Minister Iain Duncan Smith couldn’t stomach it either!

Wednesday’s Budget has well and truly unravelled as the small print beneath the ‘sugar tax’ headline starts to be noticed.  The switch from disability payments to tax-cuts for the wealthy was particularly crass. Two hours after the Chancellor sat down I gave my reaction in a Commons speech (click here to watch) where I pointed this out – and also that on the key tests set by Osborne himself he was falling short: growth revised sharply down, debt higher, an implausible surplus target and productivity faltering.

As I set out in my article with the website LabourList (click the link here to read), the ‘Tycoon Tax Cut’ to capital gains tax was just one example of warped priorities pursued by the Government at the moment. Other changes in the Budget that caught by eye include:

  • the transport budget falling 10 per cent from this year to the end of the Parliament
  • Council services hit by an astronomical fall of a third from £10.8bn today to £6.2bn in 2020
  • a £2bn raid on public service pensions of nurses, teachers, police officers and armed forces

The Office for Budget Responsibility cast doubt on the Chancellor’s record in the first page of their assessment, commenting that “the public finances look materially weaker”, that “the growth in average earnings has slowed again” and that optimism on productivity “was another false dawn”.

While I welcome the announcement of a soft drinks industry levy because of growing levels of childhood obesity, and there are also some worthwhile savings incentives in the Budget too, overall this was a missed opportunity and an approach that the Chancellor should not be proud of.

Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation probably says more about his anti-EU stance and desire to see Boris Johnson replace George Osborne – hence the attempt to damage the Chancellor at this moment of vulnerability. I hope that the Government may well back down on some of the disability proposals in the coming days, but the Tory Party tectonic plates are definitely on the move.

NOTTINGHAM

  • This week I continued my visits to schools in the constituency and popped in to Scotholme Primary School in Hyson Green. I met with Headteacher Kate Hall, and we discussed a series of issues affecting the school, including the national announcement about forced ‘academisation’ and teacher recruitment pressures. We talked about the need for stability in the education system, and also about the particular challenges facing inner-city schools. The school have a really interesting approach – including a great outdoor classroom in the shape of a converted double-decker bus! (pictured below with Ms. Hall).

Scotholme

  • A £100 million project to develop a hotel and conference centre on the site of the Guildhall on Burton Street has taken another step forward this week. The plans include the development of the adjoining police and fire stations, and Nottingham City Council have now finalised plans to acquire these sites once the police and fire services have relocated to their new premises (the fire service to a new site on London Road, and the police to Byron House on Maid Marian Way). The development will also include office space and student accommodation. Large parts of the Guildhall building have been unused for a few years now, so I am pleased to see a project that should offer a welcome boost and bring additional jobs and business to this area of Nottingham.
  • I have discussed Nottingham University Hospitals’ long-term partnership with Sherwood Forest Hospitals in previous MP Update emails. Nottingham University Hospitals have recognised that many members of the public will have questions or concerns about how the partnership will affect care in the city, so they have organised a public Q&A session on Tuesday 5th April 2-3.30pm at the Postgraduate Education Centre at QMC. Senior members of the Nottingham University Hospitals team will lead the session. I would encourage anyone who has questions about the long-term partnership to go along to the meeting.
  • I was sorry to hear that pupils and staff at Claremont Primary in Carrington were sent home on Thursday with the school remaining shut on Friday because of an outbreak of norovirus leaving 80 children absent and unwell. Public Health England have been advising how to tackle the virus and my very best wishes for a speedy recovery to those affected by this horrible bug. I hope things can get back to normal in the week ahead.
  • This week I was invited by the Chair of Nottingham High School’s Politics Society to speak to pupils. We discussed a range of topics, including the EU and specific issues in Nottingham East constituency.

HighSchool

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • At Prime Minister’s Questions this week I asked David Cameron whether, on reflection, it was wise of the Chancellor to bank on the theory of a £27billion ‘windfall’ in his pre-Christmas Spending Review, when it appears to have vanished over the course of the past three months. In many ways, Osborne’s hubris with that statistical opportunity has landed him into today’s Budget hot water – and it goes to show that sometimes caution is appropriate in forecasting the economy.
  • On Tuesday I asked a question to the Business Secretary Sajid Javid during Business, Innovation and Skills Questions, urging him to highlight the risk to productivity that deciding not to remain in the European Union would bring for small and medium-sized businesses (a link to the question is here). A lot of discussion in the EU referendum debate has surrounded trade and the benefits our partnership brings in terms of exports. One benefit of trade that I feel has not been emphasised enough is the boost it brings for productivity (particularly relevant after the OBR revised down UK productivity growth on Wednesday). Healthy competition pushed firms to become more productive and to match the price of those competitors; a 2013 Government study showed that exporting firms achieve 59 per cent faster productivity growth than non-exporters.
  • On Tuesday the Government’s Investigatory Powers Bill had its Second Reading debate in the House of Commons. It seeks to update and consolidate the country’s investigatory powers in a ‘clear and comprehensive’ new law. Our police and security services do need an up-to-date and effective legal framework to help prevent and investigate serious crimes such as terrorism, murder, child exploitation and locating missing people. But legislation like this must be subject to robust safeguards and independent scrutiny, and be transparent, necessary and proportionate. I have a few concerns with this Bill and I hope the Government can make a stronger case for the extensive powers with a better definition of what can and cannot be included in ‘Internet Connection Records’ (ICRs). There are also important arguments for improving judicial oversight. To have opposed this Bill at Second Reading would have risked leaving interim laws in place and left us with weaker safeguards. I therefore did not oppose the Bill on Monday and hope it will be improved as it progresses through Parliament.
  • On Thursday the Education Secretary outlined the Government’s White Paper for Schools in the House of Commons, as part of the debate on the Budget. The White Paper sets out proposals for all schools to become academies by the end of 2022. However, only last week the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education highlighting “serious weaknesses” in academy chains. Academisation on its own is not a panacea for some of the challenges in our school system, but the Government is pressing forward with it. I think that choices on structure should be for the schools, governors and parents themselves to initiate and not be forced into a particular model. Analysis of the Budget shows that the academisation of the schools system could cost around £700 million, yet the Chancellor has only allocated £140 million. I also disagree with the abolition of parent-governor posts which will now be voluntary. Parent-governors are an important connection between families and the school management team and it is a sad day when this link is put in jeopardy, in my view.
  • On Monday the Government’s Energy Bill returned to the House of Commons. I support elements of this Bill that are about protecting jobs and investment in the oil and gas industries in the North Sea. I did not, therefore, oppose it. I also welcome the Government’s acceptance that we must ultimately build a carbon-neutral economy. However, I am concerned about how the Government plans to honour this commitment when it is dismantling the clean energy schemes that could help address climate change. I voted for a number of amendments on this Bill, including one for the Government to adopt a new Carbon Capture and Storage strategy and others aimed at attracting investment in new energy projects, creating jobs and improving energy security.
  • On Monday the House of Commons voted on the draft Tax Credits (Income Thresholds and Determination of Rates) (Amendment) Regulations 2016. At the Spending Review in November the Government stated that it would abandon the proposed cuts to tax credits, however, the cut to the ‘income rise disregard’ is still going ahead. These Regulations will reduce the ‘income rise disregard’ in tax credits from £5000 to £2500 from April 2016. The Government has not produced an Impact or Equality Impact Assessment for these Regulations, which could potentially affect 800,000 working families across Britain. I am concerned that these changes will have a huge impact on low paid workers – especially those on zero hours contracts and in other forms of insecure work. I therefore voted against the Regulations, which unfortunately passed by 272 votes to 228.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

With the political news moving so quickly this weekend, I’d be interested to know what you think about the Budget, the state of the Government and Cabinet, and whether you agree with my view that it is dangerous for the forthcoming EU referendum to be hijacked by Cabinet Ministers squabbling over who should become the next Tory leader.

What were your initial reactions to the contents of the Chancellor’s Budget statement? Will you be better or worse off? Were there elements you welcomed and other aspects you didn’t like? I set out my own feelings at the beginning of this email – but there was a lot of detail in the Budget including news about regeneration and devolution in the East Midlands. I’ll cover some of these specifics in future email MP Updates but if you’re interested in knowing more – do take a look through the official Budget ‘Red Book’ document which lists everything at the Treasury website link here.

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MP Update – 13th March

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – 13th March 2016

There was a surprise defeat for the Government on the issue of Sunday trading this week, after Labour MPs joined with some Tory rebels to remove the proposal for longer trading hours for large retail if local authorities wanted it. Thank you to those of you who emailed in reply to my ‘what do you think?’ consultation about this a few weeks ago – it was helpful to hear some of the arguments on both sides.

On the one hand, like many others, I have been known to go shopping on a Sunday and of course it is reasonable to have some availability of retail for convenience sake. But on the other hand, those who work in retail do need a measure of protection to keep Sunday as a special day with some respite in distinction from the rest of the week.

So my judgement was that the existing arrangements work well enough and strike a sensible balance. I therefore opposed the Government’s proposed changes, voting in favour of an amendment to remove these provisions from the Bill. The Government was defeated by 317 votes to 286. While I am open to arguments about these things as society changes over time, for now I felt it was better to keep the current rules as they are.

NOTTINGHAM

  • The Care Quality Commission have this week published their latest inspection report of the services at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, which they have rated as Good following an inspection in September. While the report found areas in need of improvement, the Trust are already seeking to address these concerns. The report also found examples of outstanding practice, particularly within the emergency department, critical care and surgery. I am pleased to see that Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust is performing well, particularly in light of their long-term partnership with the struggling Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust. If you would like to read the full report, you can do so on the CQC website here.
  • You may be aware that Central College Nottingham and New College Nottingham have agreed in principle to merge on 1st August 2016. While there are no doubt benefits to the two colleges merging, in terms of efficiency and pooled facilities, I know that concerns have been raised about the merger. In light of this, the two colleges have agreed to hold a public consultation on the proposed merger, which runs until 15th The consultation document is available to view on both the Central College Nottingham and New College Nottingham websites, where you can also offer feedback on the proposed merger. I will also be meeting with key parties involved in the proposed merger in the coming weeks to listen to concerns and ensure any transition is handled as smoothly as possible.
  • The Times newspaper ran a story yesterday on its front page raising concerns about inappropriate text messaging in schools and worries about child exploitation. Nottingham Academy was mentioned in that article along with several other schools from other parts of the country. At this stage it is not clear on what evidence the Times based that particular story, but I will be asking the school for their response and also liaising with the City Council education officials to ensure that the right measures – and the right sort of education to protect children – are in place.
  • This week marked International Women’s Day, with events held across Nottingham and the UK. On Wednesday, Nottinghamshire Police & Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping held a ‘Chance for Change’ Conference, which focused on violence against women and girls. The conference showcased best practice from Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, as well as considering the impact of the new coercive control offence which came into force as part of the Serious Crime Act 2015. Police & Crime Commissioner elections are taking place on Thursday 5th May, and Paddy Tipping is seeking election once again in Nottinghamshire.
  • I’m glad that the protest against the Government’s Housing Bill changes went well this morning with a protest march to Speaker’s Corner arranged by Nottingham City Homes highlighting the concerns of many tenants. Ultimately we need to work harder in Parliament to ensure that a diversity of affordable housing remains available in this country – there’s a lot at stake.
  • It was great to meet local residents at my surgery in Tesco Metro at the Victoria Centre recently. Issues raised included the forthcoming European referendum and housing in the area. It is always useful to hear from local residents, so if you see me out and about in the constituency, please do come and say hello.

 TescoSurgery

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Monday the Government’s Policing and Crime Bill was debated in the House of Commons for the first time. There are a number of measures in this Bill that I welcome, such as proposals to ban the use of police cells for children in mental health crisis and to limit the time for which people can be held. I also support measures relating to child exploitation, firearms and alcohol licensing. It is encouraging that there now appears to be consensus for reform of police complaints, accountability, and police bail, although I do not think the Government has gone far enough. There are concerns expressed about the proposal to put the fire service under the control of Police and Crime Commissioners. Collaboration between the services is important, but it must be led by local need and with local agreement from all parties concerned. The Bill passed Second Reading on Monday and will now be considered in Public Bill Committee where I hope that the Government will work with my colleagues in the Shadow Home Office team to address some of these concerns.
  • On Tuesday and Wednesday the House of Commons considered the Enterprise Bill at Report Stage and Third Reading. This Bill mostly contains a hotchpotch of minor and underwhelming measures, rather than the outline of an ambitious and active industrial strategy which businesses, industry and workers in this country need. I voted for a number of amendments to strengthen it, included retaining the Green Investment Bank’s green focus.
  • International Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate the achievements of women and to recognise the progress made on women’s rights and freedoms to date. On Tuesday there was a wide-ranging debate in the House of Commons in which some of the economic, social, cultural and political successes of women were noted. It was also an opportunity to recognise how much further we have to go, both in the UK and internationally, to achieve equality for women. This Government are turning back the clock on economic equality. Of the £82bn in tax increases and cuts in social security spending since 2010 that will be implemented over the course of this Parliament, 81% will come from women, but the Government still refuses to publish a cumulative impact assessment of their policies on women, despite calls from the Opposition.
  • On Wednesday the Government responded to an Urgent Question on the agreement reached in principle at the EU-Turkey summit on Monday. The Foreign Office Minister outlined what the agreement entailed. It provided a basis on which all migrants who arrive in Greece in the future could be returned to Turkey. It does not impose any new resettlement or relocation obligations on the UK, and Turkish citizens visiting the UK will still require visas as we are not a member of the Schengen area. It will also ensure the proper disbursement of the €3 billion commitment agreed in November last year to provide humanitarian support, and to fund the schools, hospitals and housing required to support refugees. The UK has already agreed to pay a £250 million share of this. I welcome that European nations are working together to find a solution to the refugee crisis, and I think it this cooperation shows why we need to work together internationally.
  • Quite a few local residents contacted me about Green Party MP Caroline Lucas’s NHS Reinstatement Bill which was due on Friday. As expected, the Bill was ‘talked out’ and got only 17 minutes of debate with no vote. This is the usual pattern for private members’ bills that are contentious – because serious legislation needs the support of the government of the day to secure ‘prime time’ legislative space in the parliamentary calendar. As I explained in my reply to those who wrote, there’s no shortcut to saving the NHS; only a change of government can achieve this.
  • It’s Budget day on Wednesday – and there is much speculation about how it will shape up. I wrote an article on the PoliticsHome website with my thoughts about this and how the Opposition should approach the issue: there’s a link to the piece here.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

This week Education Secretary Nicky Morgan started her official consultation on ending the current schools funding formula – perhaps moving to a system which spreads resources on a more ‘per capita’ basis rather than emphasising factors such as disadvantage or community need. I’d be interested to know what you think about this consultation – and would encourage you to contact the Government directly about this (follow this link here for the full consultation paper https://consult.education.gov.uk/funding-policy-unit/schools-national-funding-formula/supporting_documents/Schools_NFF_consultation.pdf )

In my opinion, we need to demand Ministers recognise that some communities face additional challenges more than others, not only because of higher levels of English as an additional language, but because disadvantaged households can find it harder to put the same resources into learning than those in more affluent areas. This isn’t to say that children from poorer households are inevitably going to have relatively lower academic performance. But there is ample evidence to suggest that, in aggregate, poorer communities can catch up if schools have those additional resources to offset some of those obstacles with high quality teaching and facilities.

So I would worry if these national formulae are being changed – to the detriment of education in Nottingham. I am a great believer in the power of excellent teaching to overcome even the most difficult circumstances children can face. But we have to will the means to deliver that excellent environment.

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MP Update – 5th March

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – 5th March 2016

For those of us fortunate enough to live in decent housing, technical changes in the housing benefit rules may go unnoticed. But for those who are homeless relying on hostels, for young people with mental health needs or elderly people in sheltered accommodation, the Government’s changes to housing benefit in the coming months will determine where they live over the coming months.

I visited some local sheltered housing schemes in the city this week, including Ashiana Housing on Sneinton Road with have twenty flats for elderly residents from predominantly Asian heritage, managed by Nottingham Community Housing Association. The residents – some of whom have lived in their homes for over 22 years (pictured below accompanied by our local councillors) – face uncertainty because the extra costs of staffing and caretaking will not be covered if the ‘cap’ on housing benefit is instituted. I mentioned this change in my MP Update email back in January, since when Ministers have delayed the ‘axe’ by a further year to April 2017 while they ‘review’ the impact on supported and sheltered specialist accommodation.

I hope that the Government recognise the false economy of potentially closing down some of these schemes and making them uneconomic. Many residents would simply end up in hospital long term, costly the NHS far more than the current arrangements. There are more vulnerable people needing this support in our community than many realise – so for me this is a priority I want to see addressed by the Chancellor in the March Budget, I hope they change their minds and if so it would be a u-turn I would be happy to welcome.

Ashiana

NOTTINGHAM

  • This week I continued my focus on education by visiting two more of the constituency’s primary schools – Forest Fields Primary & Nursery School and Haydn Primary School. At Forest Fields, I was shown around the school by Headteacher Sue Hoyland, and had lunch with some enthusiastic members of their School Council. There have been some extensive refurbishments to the building in recent years and with over 600 pupils this is a really important local school making great strides forward. At Haydn Primary I also had the chance to discuss recent curriculum and testing changes with headteacher Sarah Fielding – who also undertakes the role of Director of Education at the city council. Haydn is a popular local school well known to residents in Sherwood and I am hoping that over the coming weeks I can take some of the lessons I learn and convey my conclusions on education policy to Ministers at the Department for Education.
  • According to new figures Nottingham City Council will have lost £474.91 per household in what the government call ‘spending power’ (ie, grants plus council tax and rates etc) by 2020 – just short of a 20% cut since 2011-12. After these years of shrinking resources, I am deeply concerned that Nottingham City Council will be forced to implement even further cutbacks over the next few years while other councils in more affluent southern counties are given extra assistance. I realise that times are tough but fairness is essential in the distribution of limited money and I am joining with the leadership of the city council pressing for a fairer funding settlement based on need and not just based on political preferences.
  • More than £3 million is being spent improving the energy efficiency of homes in Sneinton as part of an EU project designed to create ‘smart cities’. More than 400 Nottingham City Homes properties and private houses in the Windmill Lane area will benefit from the scheme, and will be fitted with LED lighting, insulation and an extended district heating system. The project is still in its early stages, but I will be visiting Windmill Lane next month to see the transformation in action.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • The only major legislation that was discussed on the floor of the House of Commons this week was the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. On Wednesday amendments to the Bill from the Lords were again considered. While the Government conceded last week on child poverty measures, they still refuse to accept that their cuts to Employment & Support Allowance work-related activity group – and Universal Credit – risk being punitive. I voted to support the amendments tabled by the House of Lords that would have meant that the cuts would not take effect until the Government has undertaken a more thorough analysis of the impact on disabled people, but the Government voted against these amendments and the Bill has now returned to the Lords for further consideration.
  • On Monday, Yvette Cooper, chair of Labour’s Refugee Taskforce, asked an Urgent Question on child refugees in Calais. The Government was asked to make a statement as French authorities started to move people out of the southern part of the Calais refugee camp and, in theory, into ‘container shelters’ and reception centres elsewhere. This comes amid reports from charities that there is not enough alternative accommodation for 2,300 people, including over 400 children and teenagers with nowhere to go and no one to look after them. Unaccompanied children are not allowed into the new container shelters, and I have serious concerns that these children are at risk of disappearing into the hands of traffickers, criminal gangs or prostitution. Europol have estimated that over 10,000 migrant children may have already disappeared since arriving in Europe. There is a reality gap between what the Government is saying and what is happening on the ground. There is inadequate process on the ground to ensure these children are kept safe, no meaningful advice for them and it is clear that the family reunification rules are not working. The situation is now urgent and I would urge the Government to look at this issue again and consider what practical support can be given in the immediate term to these desperate children, who until now have not had the support they need.
  • On Monday there was an Opposition Day debate on the steel industry. Recent job losses in the steel industry across the country point to an industry in crisis – over 5,000 jobs have been lost over the last twelve months, with Tata Steel announcing the loss of 1,050 jobs this year alone. China has a surplus of steel which has pushed down the price in world markets. The Government has previously stated that it will support China being granted Market Economy Status (MES) which, without safeguards in place, could diminish the capacity of the EU’s anti-dumping measures to protect jobs in the steel industry. Although the Government has made some belated progress on the industry’s key ‘asks’, their response to the steel crisis has been ineffective to date. There are worrying signs that the entire industry in the UK is hanging by a thread.
  • Thanks to all of you last week who replied to me regarding Britain’s place in the European Union. I am convinced that leaving is a huge risk at a time of such economic insecurity, which will seriously affect our trade, at least in the short-term, and probably for much longer. At Treasury Questions on Tuesday, I posed the Chancellor a question to this effect, arguing that there could be a ‘double whammy’ impact on firms upon Brexit: depreciation of the pound, which could bring higher interest rates, and higher tariffs for exporters. You can see the question in full here. I also met with the Chinese Ambassador on Wednesday to discuss a number of issues including the impact of the UK leaving the EU. And on Monday at Defence Questions I raised the issue of the impact on the UK’s longer term security if we were not part of EU alliances able to coordinate sanctions and other responses to threats that might be posed in the future.
  • On Tuesday there was an Urgent Question in the House of Commons about the cessation of hostilities in Syria which came into force on 27th February. The conflict is now almost in its sixth year. It has cost more than 250,000 lives, half of Syria’s population has been displaced, and over 13.5 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance. The longer this ceasefire holds, the more humanitarian aid can reach those areas blighted by the conflict, and the more peace talks are boosted. My frontbench colleague Jo Cox pressed the Government for an explanation on what steps have been taken to establish the geographical demarcation of the ceasefire, which is crucial to allow access to address the humanitarian situation. In the context of alleged breaches of the ceasefire by Assad and Russia, she also questioned the Government on what special provisions are in place to investigate chemical weapons attacks, what powers the International Syria Support Group have to make rulings on breaches of the ceasefire and any discussions that have taken place with our allies in the EU to put pressure on Russia to abide by the ceasefire.
  • On Wednesday the Opposition asked the Government to make a statement on their review of the state pension age, which a number of constituents have emailed me about. This week the Government announced that John Cridland is to lead an independent review of the future of the state pension age, under section 27(5) of the Pensions Act 2014. The Government has stated that this review will not cover the existing state pension age timetable up to April 2028. The review is due to report by May 2017. The Government must be clear with the electorate what their long-term plans are for pensioners, so that people can plan appropriately. Given the mishandling of the acceleration of the state pension age for women born in the 1950s, which has already caused huge financial worries for 2.6 million women across the country, I believe that the Government should also consider this review as an opportunity to look again at what more can be done to help those women born in the 1950s who are set to lose out.
  • On Wednesday the Government was asked an Urgent Question to make a statement on the developing humanitarian crisis in Greece. Approximately 10,000 people are reported to be at the border between Greece and Macedonia, and the UNHCR reports that around 24,000 people are stranded across Greece. The UK is providing nearly £55 million to the Mediterranean migration crisis response, and a new refugee children fund for Europe has been established. The Government confirmed that a team was being sent to Greece to assess the situation. I fear that Greece is at risk of being overwhelmed because of the absence of a strategic and humanitarian approach to this issue from all EU nations, including the UK.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Want to know what the Chancellor will announce in his Budget on March 16th? When you realise that this is a sensitive time for George Osborne in his race to take over as Prime Minister, you can probably make some reasonable guesses at what he’ll do – or more likely what he’ll avoid doing.

It’s all because his arch competitor – Boris Johnson – is championing the ‘leave the EU’ cause (and appealing effectively to the 100,000 Tory Party members who are also predominantly against Britain’s membership of the EU) and George Osborne will not want to do anything to offend those Tory activists.

Seen through that political prism, it’s not hard to understand why Osborne has dropped the idea of a single ‘flat rate’ pensions’ tax relief reform this weekend. While this could boost savings for lower and middle earners, it would cut tax relief for the most well-off. Likely to happen in the Budget? Not when those small number of Tory activists in the Home Counties are going to frown on it! It is rarely a good thing for a political party to put these internal priorities ahead of the interests of the wider public.

I’d be interested to know what you think is likely to come up in the Budget – will Osborne cut the top rate of income tax to please these activists? Will he kick tough decisions into the long grass? Will it be the poorer areas of the country whose services are cut at the expense of protecting the shire counties? Obviously this is speculation – but I’d be interested in any predictions you might have!

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MP Update – 27th February

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 27th February 2016

The starting gun on the European Union referendum has been fired; David Cameron announced that the vote will take place on Thursday 23rd June. The PM set out the ‘deal’ agreed by the other 27 members of the EU including a commitment to no longer sign up to ‘ever closer union’, safeguards for single market access and limits on EU migrants’ benefits. The Government are recommending that the UK remains part of the European Union on this basis.

Of course, there is already a strong case for Britain to remain ‘in’ and on Monday the Prime Minister made a statement in the Commons on the agreement that was reached. I raised the point with the Prime Minister (which you can see here, or by clicking on the picture below) that major economic upheaval could follow a so-called ‘Brexit’, as evidenced by the impact the risk is already having on the value of the pound in global markets.

Our membership of the EU has brought investment and jobs, as well as protection for workers, consumers and the environment. The short-term economic impact of leaving could be catastrophic. In my view, the EU does need reform, but we can only get the change we want if we are there negotiating for it. In the face of global economic uncertainty and threats to security, now is the time to work closely with our European partners to secure our joint prosperity, not to abandon them and go it alone. The overall period in which the UK has been in the EU has been an era of growth and prosperity, a choice we now must make to secure this for future generations.

ParlEU

NOTTINGHAM

  • You may have seen last week that Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust has been chosen as the preferred long-term partner for Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, after the latter Trust was rated ‘inadequate’ in a recent Care Quality Commission inspection. As I stated previously, I am seeking assurances from the Government that Nottingham’s NHS Trust wouldn’t be saddled with the financial issues facing the Sherwood Forest Trust. So assurances have been received on this but I will continue to keep a close eye on the merger and press for the best financial deal possible – and I will be maintaining close contact with NUH Trust management as the merger progresses.
  • From 15th February, the rollout of Universal Credit was extended to Jobcentre Plus offices in Nottingham City. All jobseekers aged 18 – 60 years and six months who are single, have no children and are making a new claim will receive Universal Credit. From April 2016, other changes will come into effect including the benefits freeze and the National Living Wage. Yet more changes to welfare payments could result from the Welfare Reform & Work Bill and the Housing and Planning Bill, both of which are currently going through Parliament. To help explain these changes and how they might affect city residents, Nottingham City Council have produced a guide to the welfare changes, which also includes contact details for advice agencies. You can download the guide from the City Council website here.
  • Nottingham’s Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall have been successful in securing £1.5 million from the Arts Council England for a £3.3 million transformation project. Nottingham City Council will be providing the remainder of the funding needed to complete the works, which will seek to increase the daytime use of the spaces by improving meeting rooms, foyer spaces, the café bar and roof terraces. I welcome plans for the venue to expand their community and education programme by creating a new accessible, multi-purpose rehearsal space. I have previously discussed the importance of music education, and I hope this will be a step to improving access to music education in Nottingham. You can read more about the plans for the venue here.
  • I went over to meet with the students at Bilborough Sixth Form College yesterday to speak to their Politics Society about current events and answer their questions about Parliament, what’s happening in the political parties at present and much more besides. Although the college isn’t in Nottingham East I know there are lots of young people locally studying there and it was good to see such enthusiastic interest in debate and current affairs!

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • At Foreign and Commonwealth Office Questions on Tuesday I raised the ongoing dispute in Kashmir with Hugo Swire MP, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I am very worried that this conflict has been now ongoing for decades with continued militarisation. In my question I urged the Government to use the UK’s expertise and capability to try and encourage confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan as a means towards a diplomatic solution. It is distressing to hear about human rights abuses and civilian deaths in the area and it is vital that a way forward is found for Kashmir’s people. You can see my question and the Minister’s answer here.
  • On Tuesday the Government was asked to make a statement on their response to the final report of the independent Mental Health Taskforce. The Mental Health Taskforce was launched by NHS England last year, and its remit is to explore the variation in the availability of mental health services across England, to look at the outcomes for people who are using services, and to identify key priorities for improvement. Its report, published last week, provides a frank assessment of the state of mental health care. It contains a number of recommendations which, if implemented in full, could make a significant difference to services that have had to contend with funding cuts and staff shortages at a time of rising demand, leaving too many vulnerable people without the right care and support. For the thousands of patients who have been left to struggle without the right support, the Government must keep their promises and deliver these long overdue reforms.
  • On Tuesday the House of Commons considered amendments to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill made by the House of Lords. During the passage of the Bill the Opposition has secured significant concessions and defeated the Government on a number of occasions to exempt carers from the benefit cap; exempt Guardian’s Allowance from the benefit cap; exempt kinship carers from the two child limit on tax credits; and to defer the 1% rent reduction in social housing by a year for supported accommodation. The House of Lords also voted overwhelmingly to reinstate income as a measure of child poverty and prevent cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) which could see disabled people £1500 a year worse off. I was delighted to see on Friday that the Government have backed down and tabled amendments to the Bill that reinstate a statutory duty to monitor income related child poverty against the existing four criteria.
  • The Education and Adoption Bill and amendments from the House of Lords were discussed in the Commons this week, where the Government did accept, at least in part, some of the arguments made by Labour peers. Whilst I support many of the measures on adoption that are contained in the Bill, it fails to address the fundamental challenges in our education system. I know that parents are concerned about the crisis in school places, teacher supply and changes to the school assessment system. However, there are no answers in this Bill. Instead, the Bill is concerned with structures, and giving more powers to the Secretary of State for Education. I believe that partnership with parents is key to a strong education system and when their child’s school is to ‘academise’ or the academy’s sponsor is to be changed, parents should be consulted. I also believe that all schools should be treated equally with no preferential treatment of schools that are academies compared with maintained schools when either are failing or coasting. Unfortunately, amendments tabled on both these fronts were opposed by the Government.
  • On Wednesday there was an Opposition Day debate on transitional state pension arrangements for women born in the 1950s, something I mentioned in a January MP Update, and which a number of constituents have emailed me about. The Government are accelerating the rise in women’s state pension age, which means some women seeing a rapid increase of up to 18 months in the time they are expected to work before becoming eligible for their state pension, even though they had spent the vast majority of their working lives planning for retirement at 60. As a result, there are some who got just two years’ notice that their pension age had jumped from 60 to 66. The issue is growing in prominence as women affected by both the 1995 and 2011 Pension Acts begin to retire in July this year, with 2.6 million women standing to lose out. This has now been debated four times since December, and an e-petition on the subject has attracted more than 154,000 signatures. It is disgraceful that the Government is maintaining that it will not revisit the issue. I support the repeated calls on the Government to bring forward proposals for transitional arrangements for women adversely affected by the speeding up of the state pension age.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Over the coming weeks I’m intending to focus specifically on Nottingham education and schools, with a series of visits to hopefully give me a better insight into the current issues teachers, parents and governors are grappling with. I will be raising some of my findings with Ministers in Parliament.

On Friday I visited two local primary schools – Edale Rise Primary School in Sneinton Dale and Sycamore Primary Academy in St Ann’s. It was great to meet the headteachers at both schools to talk about their recent achievements. At Edale Rise, which is now making real progress, I got to sit in on their weekly Sunrise Award school assembly, where pupils are encouraged to celebrate each other’s achievements (pictured). At Sycamore Academy I was shown around Head of School James Colvin and saw their rigorous approach to learning (also pictured below in the classroom).

There are significant pressures on schools to raise performance and at primary level a new curriculum which has a strong focus on maths and literacy. I’d be interested to know your general thoughts on the current state of education and Nottingham schools: where do you think improvements could be made? Are there obstacles that the Department for Education should be tackling? Do we have too much testing and bureaucracy, or is it positive that parents have information about relative performance from school to school? Are we doing enough to emphasise teaching of values, behaviour and social interaction as well as academic topics? As I visit more schools in the coming weeks it would help to have any thoughts you might have.

Edale
Sycamore

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MP Update – 14th February

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 14th February 2016

I don’t want to bore you with the finer administrative details of how local government services are funded (partly from central government, partly from council tax & business rates), but this week Conservative Ministers took the funding for our council services to shocking new heights of partisan ‘pork-barrel’ politicking.

With George Osborne giving the Secretary of State for Local Government a smaller overall allocation, he in turn tried to devise a new formula for distributing that shrunken pot to the hundreds of councils across the country. Losing the grant will be tough for local authorities that are already stretched including ours in Nottingham; the new settlement means further cuts to council funding – according to the Local Government Association, core funding will fall by 24 per cent in real terms by 2020. This is on top of cuts in excess of 40 per cent that have already been imposed. In the forthcoming financial year Nottingham City Council needs to make savings of £20 million, on top of the £152 million cut since 2010.

The Minister’s decision means that over the next four years, councils will lose completely the central government grant, and will instead have to rely on keeping business rates, and raising 2% additional council tax to fund social care. Not unsurprisingly, even Conservative MPs have been getting a hard time about this – so a few of them threaten to revolt.

And that’s when the most brazen ‘solution’ was found; the Secretary of State came up with a device to buy-off these internal Tory Party detractors with a “transitional relief grant” of £300 million over the next two years, of which 83% will go to Tory local authorities. That means £5.3 million to the five wealthiest councils, and £0 for the five most deprived. So while wealthier Surrey receives £24.1m, Nottingham City Council gets nothing at all. That’s right; a ‘transitional grant’ to ease the pain in vocal Conservative districts. So astonishingly and blatantly biased. So while I know these issues of grant allocation can seem dull on the surface, when you look at why they matter – the elderly services they fund, the parks and housing and environmental services they should support – I feel it’s important people should know that the money is dished out now on a party political basis that is unfair and unworthy of government departments that should not behave in this way.

NOTTINGHAM

  • On Friday, Nottingham City Homes held an event for tenants to explore changes to housing legislation brought about by the Housing & Planning Bill and the Welfare Reform & Work Bill (pictured). Changes such as an end to longer term tenancies and the forced sale of higher-value council homes could have a massive impact on council house tenants in the city. I was pleased to see Nottingham City Homes host this consultation and lots of the tenants I spoke to found it worthwhile that the city council landlords were taking the changes seriously and involving people in helping plan for the future and find ways to make local concerns known to decision-makers.

NottmCityHomesTenants

  • I was delighted to speak to politics students at the University of Nottingham as part of the Centre for British Politics Guest Speaker Series on Friday. The session reflected on last year’s General Election, asking the questions ‘why Labour lost?’ and ‘can Labour win again?’ As you might imagine, we had a lively discussion and I’m grateful to the team at the Politics Department and students for making the event so worthwhile.
  • This week I visited St Augustine’s Catholic Primary School and met with Headteacher Caroline Caille to catch up on the excellent progress the school is making and some of the local issues to pursue. The school has 370 pupils from a great diversity of backgrounds and a strong ethos which stands them in good stead. Constraints on land around the school site make it challenging to travel to sports fields and it would be ideal of the former Elms field nearby could be brought back into use.
  • On Friday, I met with the Elmswood Surgery Patient Group in Sherwood (pictured below) to discuss concerns about local healthcare provision. We discussed a range of issues including the future of NHS services, the commissioning process for local health and staff recruitment. It’s important to hear about the impact that NHS policy changes are having locally, and I will remain in close contact with healthcare providers across the city to follow up on some of the points raised.

 Elmswood

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • The clash between the Government and junior doctors this week saw more industrial action and Jeremy Hunt imposing a contract that had been subject to years of drawn out discussion. This whole dispute could have been handled so differently. A negotiated settlement was possible in Scotland and Wales and ought to have been possible in England too. Everyone, including the BMA, agrees with the need to reform the current contract. But imposing a new contract which doesn’t enjoy the confidence of junior doctors is a sign of failure and should have been avoided.
  • As our population ages, so our NHS will face new challenges. A number of you wrote to me about dementia care, in light of a recent report by the Alzheimer’s Society, in which Chief Executive Jeremy Hughes concluded by saying that “it’s easier to find out about your local hospital finances than the quality of care you’ll receive if you have dementia”. By 2025 there will be a million people living with dementia in the UK, but the care currently provided is not adequate. Three major concerns have been raised: a shortage of information gathered, dementia sufferers being discharged at night, and patients kept at hospital despite the end of treatment. In Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, the number of over 65s and people with dementia who fall while in hospital is not a statistic they collect or report, and last year 117 people with dementia were discharged between 11pm and 6am, well above the national average. That’s why this week I attended a drop-in session in Parliament to show my firm support for the Alzheimer’s Society ‘Fix Dementia Care’ campaign. These problems need to be addressed, which is difficult in the face of a £4.3 billion social care funding gap and a funding crisis in local authorities.
  • On Monday the House of Commons considered the rate of the new state pension and the Government’s triple lock on the basic state pension. The rate of the new state pension, which is to be introduced in April 2016, has been set at £155.65 per week.  I support the principle of a single tier pension, however, I am concerned that younger generations will be worse off. Recent House of Commons library analysis, shows that for the generation that are currently in their 20s, men are likely to be more than £19,000 worse off and women more than £20,500 worse off. There is also a communication deficiency – in particular those nearing retirement age are not being made adequately aware of the impact of the changes.
  • On Monday the International Development Secretary made a statement on the UK’s response to the Syria crisis following the Supporting Syria and the Region conference on 4th February. The Supporting Syria conference was co-hosted by the UK alongside Germany, Norway, Kuwait and the United Nations, and brought together more than 60 countries and organisations. At the conference the Government announced an extra investment of £1.2 billion in international aid for Syria and the region over the next four years, bringing the total pledge in UK aid to tackle this crisis to more than £2.3 billion. More than $11 billion was raised at the conference – the largest amount ever committed in response to a humanitarian crisis in a single day. The money will help fund education, jobs and humanitarian protection in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. I commend the Government on co-hosting this important conference and for doubling the UK’s commitment, but it is important that other countries match our commitment and ensure that the money pledged at the conference is confirmed. We cannot allow a whole generation of Syrian children to be lost, and I agree that the emphasis being given to education and jobs is entirely correct. I continue to take a close interest in the prospects for a settlement in Syria and the need to eradicate the threat from Daesh. Moreover, thousands of Syrians and other refugees, including an increasing proportion of women and children, are living in appalling conditions in Europe, frightened, terrorised and at the mercy of people traffickers. The Government should be doing more to fulfil our moral responsibility and do more not just for Syrian refugees in the region but for the very many Syrian refugees here in western Europe.
  • A number of constituents affected by the maladministration of Equitable Life pensions will know of the long running saga relating to compensation. The issue was debated again in the Commons this week, where I raised the option of the cost to taxpayers where the poorest Equitable pensioners will require social security assistance, and whether instead those resources could be used upfront in an amended compensation package to save money all round. Ministers say the issue stays under review so we shall see what emerges following this debate.

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

This week is #heartunions week, a TUC week of action to celebrate the valuable and important work unions do supporting people in the workplace. It is happening at a time when trade unions are in quite vulnerable position; membership continue to decline and the Government seems quite determined to further cripple the movement, with changes in the Trade Union Bill, designed to limit the scope for industrial action and moving to an opt-in system for political funding, which is largely designed to deprive Labour as the opposition party to the Government of £8m a year.

I would be interested your views about trade unions and the current state of collective bargaining and the way unions work as organisation. Why do you think union membership is waning? Do you think the movement could be revitalised? And have you had any good or bad experiences with unions recently that changed your view? The growth of private sector employment, part-time work, self-employment and the ‘sharing economy’ all mean that the workplace in the 21st century will be very different. Should the unions change their approach here? Let me know what you think.

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MP Update – 6th February

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 6th February 2016

Britain’s membership of the EU is now under the spotlight following Wednesday’s statement by the Prime Minister and the publication of the renegotiation details. The PM says he’s made progress in four areas of sovereignty, economic governance, social benefits & free movement, and competitiveness.

Ultimately, the case for Britain’s membership of the EU is much broader than the points David Cameron wanted to focus upon. My view is that we should remain in the EU because it is the best framework for European trade and co-operation in the 21st century. The EU helps create an economic environment enhancing job opportunities, growth, and investment – as well as working to protect British workers and consumers. Leaving the EU could put all of that at risk and diminish our influence in the world.

People are better off thanks to our membership of the EU; one estimate suggests that the average family saves around £450 a year thanks to lower prices achieved through the strength derived from being part of the biggest consumer market in the world. If we leave the EU the likelihood is that Britain will still have to follow the EU’s rules when we do business there, but we will no longer have a say in making those rules.

There are still problems to be addressed and the EU definitely needs to be reformed. But the most effective way to reform an institution is not to ‘pull up the drawbridge’; it is through building alliances for change and patient persuasion, just as it would be for reforming the UN or NATO or other international treaty organisations. I think it is now clear what the choice will be – probably at the referendum this June. I’d be interested, though, to know how you feel about this referendum now that the choice is approaching.

I’ll be discussing this issue, teacher recruitment locally and also devolution across the East Midlands on tomorrow’s BBC1 Sunday Politics East Midlands programme from 11am.

NOTTINGHAM

  • Friday was the NSPCC’s ‘Number Day’, designed to engage children in maths as part of their wider campaigning, and  I visited Djanogly Northgate Primary School, where Headteacher Liz Anderson showed me around their newly converted site on Sherwood Rise (pictured below). The new school will in time take admissions from ages 2 to 11 and has been growing rapidly, providing permanent space for some local pupils who missed out on some reception class time because of a lack of school places in the area. As a new primary school facility they have no fixed catchment yet and have been admitting children from across the community as they grow.  I was very impressed with the new facilities at this site and it’s a credit to the leadership team of the school that they are meeting the demand for new places so well.

DjanoglyNorthgate

  • This week, Bite the Ballot have been running a National Voter Registration Drive (NVRD). On Friday, I dropped in to their NVRD event at High Pavement Sixth Form College. In light of the Government’s move to Individual Voter Registration (which I talk about in more depth below), it is especially important that people are aware of the changes in how they can register to vote. Voter registration is a particular problem among young people, so I was glad to see Bite the Ballot addressing this issue.

BitetheBallot

  • There are hundreds of care workers across Nottingham working with elderly and disabled residents, helping with mobility, washing, guiding with medication and other needs. Yet this is a sector rarely seen because the workforce are often travelling from their own homes to where their clients live, sometimes with no central ‘work place’ in the sense many of us would understand. I met with the public service union UNISON to discuss their campaign on homeworkers and the need to identify the experiences and issues homeworkers are facing. If you know those working in this sector, there is a survey UNISON are circulating to get some proper information about the terms, conditions and issues homeworkers face – and I’d encourage as many people to respond to the survey at the link here.
  • Many of you will have seen this disturbing footage of a cyclist being knocked off their bike at the London Road roundabout. Despite the expectation of a prosecution, because the car was hired the police cannot prove who was driving and so say they are unable to make the case. Beyond this specific case, a number of constituents have contacted me about cycle safety generally in Nottingham, and I raised this a couple of years ago with Police & Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping. It is clear there is a way to go on this front, and I have agreed with my fellow Nottingham MPs Graham Allen and Lilian Greenwood to raise cycle safety and dangerous driving when we next meet with the Leader of the Council and his team.
  • Friday marked ‘Light Night’ in Nottingham, with free events being held across the city. It’s fantastic to see the City Council organising inclusive events such as these, and I was pleased to see Nottingham recognised recently as a great place to visit by Rough Guides.
  • On Thursday 11th February, ‘Our Sneinton’ are hosting a community event called ‘I Love Sneinton’. This free event includes performances from local musicians, children’s activities and refreshments, and is taking place from 4pm to 8pm at The Growin’ Spaces Community Café in St Christopher’s Church Hall, Sneinton. For further information see the flyer below or you can register online here.

Sneinton event

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • Since the Government’s move to Individual Voter Registration in late 2014 around 800,000 people have dropped off the electoral register. This represents a 1.8% drop nationally, though in some areas (for example university towns) the drop has been as great as 13%. Further, marginalised groups have suffered disproportionately; a young man from an ethnic minority background in private rented accommodation in a city has a less than 10% chance of being on the register. That is why I supported Siobhain McDonagh’s Ten Minute Rule Bill on Automatic Voter Registration this week. The Bill would place a duty on the Secretary of State to do everything they can to ensure electoral registers are accurate and complete. This would be done by compiling date from a number of public authorities – for example HMRC and DWP – to build a civic registry. The aim is a full, accurate and up-to-date register, where registration is easy. It is vital for our democracy that all people and groups are represented, and that is why I favour this important Bill.
  • The Bank of England and Financial Services Bill came to the House of Commons for the first time on Monday. It is in two parts: amendments to the structures of the Bank of England, and regulation of financial services. The Bill removes the “presumption of responsibility” brought in to hold senior bankers to account, before these regulations have even come into force. From March 2016, the burden was to be on bankers to prove they took all the reasonable steps necessary to prevent regulatory breaches. Now the Government want to backtrack and replace this with a “duty of responsibility”. I also have some concerns that the Bill does not do enough to improve transparency and oversight of the work of the Bank of England, which gains extra powers in this legislation.
  • On Wednesday the House of Commons debated an Opposition motion on tax avoidance and multinational companies. The debate comes after the deal HMRC was reported to have signed with Google amounting to £130million in respect of taxes dating from 2005 – 2015. I fear businesses and taxpayers will feel this arrangement is unfair. Furthermore, details of how the announced figure of £130million was reached have not yet been revealed. Companies like Google make a significant contribution to research and development and through the employment they provide. However, it is only right that Google and other major multinational companies pay a fair rate of tax.
  • At the beginning of this week I visited the Gulf state of Kuwait to meet with representatives of their National Assembly and Ministers in the Kuwaiti Government. Following the UK liberation of the country in 1991, Kuwait has developed into one of the more democratic countries in the region but sits at the centre of real tensions and unresolved issues, located as it is between Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. With the oil price collapse it was interesting to discuss the economic and fiscal pressures that are building. The role of Gulf states in the Syrian conflict was also something I wanted to explore – in advance of the London conference later this week which raised new commitments for humanitarian relief.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Charities have been getting a lot of attention in the news this week, whether the larger charities like Age UK because of their energy supply businesses, or the tactics deployed for raising money. But today’s announcement from the Government that they are to ban charities who get grants from government from speaking out about public policy or campaigning does seem to be quite extreme. While Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock says he wants to end “the farce of government lobbying government”, I think that it seems pretty draconian to impose a gagging clause on charities if they are generally campaigning for decent health services or better education, simply because some of their funding derives from council grants or other public bodies. Just what is it about charity campaigning that frightens Ministers so much? I’d be interested to know your reaction to this proposed amendment from the Government.

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