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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MP Update – 30th January

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 30th January 2016

Over 3000 tenants in sheltered ‘supported’ housing in Nottingham, including some of the most vulnerable in our community (including victims of domestic violence and those with mental illness) face uncertainty about where they live because of new changes to housing benefit announced by the Government.

Plans to cap the amount of rent that housing benefit will cover for new or renewed tenancies will be phased in from this April and implemented in full in 2018. Crucially, the current ‘supported accommodation’ exemption within housing benefit will no longer apply – which means that sheltered housing schemes and hostels with wardens and staff support won’t have the resources to continue running in the same way.

You may recall from my MP Update email before Christmas that I met with Andrew Redfern the chief executive at Framework Housing here in Nottingham, who has warned that it could “mean the end of supported housing. All our schemes would close, and I think others would as well”. Quite frankly this would be a disaster for some of those most in need locally, as I said during the House of Commons debate on the topic called on Wednesday this week.

I pointed out to the Minister during the debate that instead they should crack down on the billions lost in fraud and error in the way housing benefit is administered, rather than make savings on the backs of some of the most vulnerable in society.

I’m not sure if the Government will think again – despite this debate – because there has to be a different way forward. It is incredibly frustrating when these changes are forced through, but with the Government’s majority as it stands I doubt they will change course.

NOTTINGHAM

  • Following up on my visit to Djanogly Academy earlier this month, I raised the question of teacher recruitment in the Commons with Schools Minister Nick Gibb on Monday, and specifically urged him to look at the challenge facing schools who want to recruit the best teachers from across the UK but can only effectively do so through the expensive advertising monopoly of the Times Educational Supplement. I suggested that the Department for Education should think about developing their own in-house pooled vacancies site, help save schools tens of thousands of pounds on advert fees, and channel that money into frontline teaching instead.
  • We already know that levels of heart disease are higher in Nottingham city than other parts of the country, which is why I met with the cholesterol charity Heart UK this week to discuss their campaign for a renewed focus on cardiovascular disease as a top priority. In particular, there are some important preventative steps that health bodies could promote more effectively, such as testing cholesterol levels at GP practices and flagging up risk factors at earlier stages. I’ll be taking these issues up with the local health commissioning organisations over the coming months.

HeartUK

  • There is a jobs fair taking place this coming Wednesday 3rd February at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham. This free event takes place from 10am-2pm, and a number of local and national employers will be present, including Army Reserves, Central College Nottingham and Mears Care. You can find further information on the Jobs Fair website here.
  • Nottingham City Council has been awarded more than £6 million to help reduce carbon emissions in the city. The city is one of four in the country to receive a share of the pot of money provided by the Department of Transport. The funding will help Nottingham to become a leader in low-carbon transport, and to achieve the Council’s vision to become the UK’s greenest transport city.

 

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • Wednesday 27th January was Holocaust Memorial Day, the date that Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated, and on Thursday 21st January there was a debate in the House of Commons to recognise this and to remember the millions of people who died during the Holocaust and the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. The Holocaust Memorial Trust, schools, community organisations and others have organised a wide range of events across the country to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day and it is important that MPs had the opportunity to consider and debate the legacy and continuing relevance of the Holocaust. ‘Don’t stand by’ was the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2016 and it is important that we continue to remember and learn the lessons, to help challenge discrimination, racism and violence today and for future generations.
  • This week the Government were asked an Urgent Question regarding the settlement reached between HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and Google. It is important in our tax system that everybody is treated equally and fairly, whether large multibillion-pound corporations or small businesses. However, there are serious questions to be asked about private ‘deals’ which give the feeling that true business profits are not being taxed in the same way as others. The Government should now publish details of the deal and how it was reached and give assurances that the agreement does not create a precedent for future deals with large technology corporations. There is a bigger issue here about international tax reform to prevent global organisation shifting their profits between jurisdictions to minimise their tax liabilities. Ultimately companies like Google are taking advantage of our lack of international good governance here and that’s where we should be focusing our attention now, in my view.
  • On Monday the Government responded to an Urgent Question in the House of Commons asking for a statement on child refugees in Europe. The thought of any child alone in a foreign country facing dangerous conditions – without food, warmth or protection – is genuinely terrifying. But in what is now the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, this is sadly the reality for thousands of Syrian children and those fleeing other conflicts. Indeed, there are 26,000 unaccompanied children in Europe today. These children are highly vulnerable to trafficking, prostitution and other forms of abuse, and urgently need assistance. I am pleased that the Government have listened since this issue was raised in the House of Commons on Monday but, as we know, the Government’s current policy is to take refugees from camps in the region, rather than those who have already crossed the sea. As this crisis develops, that distinction is becoming harder to maintain. Both are desperate and both need our help, and the Government should consider children who are here in Europe, as well as those who are in the camps in the region.
  • On Tuesday the House of Commons debated the Charities Bill. Here in Nottingham and across the country people give up their time every week to volunteer, fundraise, donate and support in many other ways our wonderful charitable and voluntary sector. But charities have come under pressure from shrinking funding from central and local government, and ever-growing demand for the services and support they provide. So, it is right that we ensure that charities have the legal and regulatory framework they need to enable them to fulfil their objectives, and to maintain their integrity and the strong public support they enjoy. That is what the Charities Bill seeks to do, and why I have supported it. However, it is vital that we get the framework right and throughout the passage of the Bill, and Labour have raised a number of concerns. The Bill will enable the Charity Commission to issue warnings to any charity or charity trustee when they consider there has been a breach of trust or duty or other misconduct or mismanagement. I voted for an amendment which would have taken more care that where a warning is given to a charity it will not always be published to a wider audience, in order to to prevent the potentially devastating repercussions on a charity’s reputation or ability to raise money that could result from a relatively minor warning. The Government defeated the amendment, and I will watch the use of those warnings with care as the powers are implemented. I also voted for an amendment that would have enshrined in law the charity sector’s power to campaign, that was previously restricted by the Coalition Government’s Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act. The right of charities to campaign and influence the political process is a vital part of a healthy democracy and integral to the concept of civil society. I was disappointed that the Government opposed this amendment and it was defeated.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Do you run a small business or have other income supplementing your employment earnings? If you currently fill in an annual tax return – or do so for your business activities – then there is a massive change coming from HMRC which I’d be interested to get your reaction about (and don’t forget that this year’s tax returns need to be filed by tomorrow!).

Ministers are consulting on making individuals and businesses submit quarterly returns on business income and expenditure instead of the single annual tax return. While the Government say that this shift to ‘digital’ information will simplify things, I’m not so sure. In fact, some individuals and businesses may end up incurring fresh accountancy charges every time they submit these ‘updates’ to HMRC, rather than simply at the annual return once each year. And what if your business activities change from quarter to quarter, or cash doesn’t flow evenly throughout the financial year?

I spoke in Parliament this week in response to a petition signed by over 110,000 people voicing their concerns about the Chancellor’s plans. My full remarks are at the link here, but I pressed the Minister to say whether payments will be expected quarterly too, and whether this is essentially moving to a ‘PAYE for SMEs’ arrangement.

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MP Update – 24th January

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – 24th January 2016

Sherwood Forest Hospitals Trust (based around Kingsmill Hospital) has been deemed ‘inadequate’ by the NHS inspectorate – which has triggered a Government ‘rescue plan’, including a requirement for their management to be taken over by another NHS Trust.

Derby NHS Trust and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust are both being considered for this ‘long term partnership’ role – which would essentially involve a merger, creating one of the biggest five Trusts in the country.

What might seem like a managerial issue far removed from frontline patient care is in fact potentially significant for all concerned across Nottinghamshire. On the one hand, our local hospitals need to attract the best specialists and so a stronger NHS Trust covering a wider range of specialisms could also develop better economies of scale. However, there could be concerns about the diluted focus of our Nottingham NHS team if they merge and have to spend time and effort simultaneously managing another Trust nearby.

So I’d be interested to know any views or thoughts you might have about this situation.

My principal concern is whether a merger would be to the benefit of Nottingham’s patients. While we cannot turn our back on neighbouring areas in need of assistance, I would want reassurances that the Government will more than compensate Nottingham for the expense involved.

Nottingham Hospitals NHS Trust has been under greater pressure and with higher drugs costs, an ageing population and more patients than ever, the accumulating funding gap to date is serious. If the Government can increase our local NHS budget, reduce this deficit and make sure that the PFI costs from Sherwood Forest Trust are taken care of separately, then there may be a strong enough financial incentive compensating Nottingham for the effort of a merger and making it worthwhile for all involved. But this would be a potentially massive reconfiguration, so I’ll be watching closely where the Government and health regulators go with this decision in the coming weeks.

NOTTINGHAM

  • On Wednesday Nottingham City Council passed a proposal to increase the capacity of the Nottingham incinerator The Eastcroft energy-from-waste plant currently burns 170,000 tonnes of waste a year, but the plan almost doubles capacity to 310,000 tonnes. There are certainly benefits to incineration as a waste disposal technique: it reduces landfill and produces energy. In fact there is some suggestion that it could almost remove the need for landfill across Nottinghamshire. However, there are also serious concerns that have been voiced; the site will now produce more carbon dioxide and there are worries some have voiced about potential detriment to air quality in the area. I will continue to carefully monitor the environmental and economic impact of the expansion and while obviously this isn’t a decision involving me as a Member of Parliament, I do hope that the evidence continues to suggest that the benefits will significantly outweigh the costs and that the best possible environmental standards are pursued. Constituents in Sneinton do voice anxieties about air quality issues with me from time to time and these have to be properly addressed.
  • On Friday I met with Barbara Cathcart, Chief Executive of Nottingham Hospitals Charity. The charity works with local hospitals to fundraise for new facilities, specialist equipment, local medical research and staff development. We discussed the charity’s current and future projects, including their Helipad Appeal, which aims to raise money to fund a new onsite helipad at Queen’s Medical Centre. An onsite helipad which will save vital minutes when air ambulance patients are brought to QMC, which is the Major Trauma Centre for the East Midlands. Barbara arranged for me to pop in to meet with Caroline one of the patients at the Cystic Fibrosis Unit which the charity helped fund with over £2million of support, so it was good to hear the enthusiasm of patients who have benefited from improved facilities because of this excellent fundraising effort (pictured with Barbara and Caroline below).

NottmHospCharity

  • Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust are a really important local organisation not just campaigning for wildlife protection but actively managing green spaces and of course the Attenborough site now the third most visited wildlife attraction in the East Midlands. I met with new Chair Ian Johnstone and their new Chief Executive Rob Fitzsimons (pictured) together with Head of Communications & Marketing Erin McDaid. We discussed the important work they are doing to protect wildlife sites in Nottingham and their aim to engage with the widest possible cross-section of the public on environmental and countryside protection issues. I’m particularly keen to see our local secondary schools work with the Wildlife Trust so that young people have more of an opportunity to learn and enjoy our local areas of wildlife protection.

WildlifeTrust2

  • Nottingham City Council, Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue and Nottinghamshire Police feature on a list of the top 100 LGBT-inclusive workplaces in the country, according to the charity Stonewall. I’m pleased to see that local government and public services in the city are leading the way in providing such supporting and inclusive environments for LGBT employees, and I hope to see many other Nottingham employers join the list in the future.
  • Following stories about response time issues in recent months I have this week met with the East Midlands Ambulance Service to raise some of these local concerns directly with chief executive Sue Noyes and Trust Chair Pauline Tagg. They acknowledged that there are indeed some significant pressures facing the service, often part of the wider emergency service issues relating to access to hospital. I want to follow up on a number of questions including some of the outdated equipment and need for vehicle improvements, and to encourage the NHS commissioners to support plans for an expansion in frontline staff numbers which is much needed.
  • As part of Nottingham City Council’s £250 million overhaul of the Broadmarsh area, there will be work on Wilford Road and Wilford Street from Friday 22 January. The city council are encouraging people to leave more time for journeys passing through this area. Click here for more information about the Broadmarsh regeneration.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • Last week I wrote that Student Maintenance Grants would only be scrutinised in a Delegated Legislation Committee. Fortunately, there was an opportunity to debate it properly in Parliament on Tuesday, as we brought an Opposition Day Debate on the subject. While Ministers claim that expanded loans are always the best way forward, I have concerns that this change could make poorer students think twice about going into higher education due to the considerable debts they will acquire in the process. I voted for the Labour motion, which called on the Government to abandon its policy on replacing maintenance grants with loans for lower income students, and I voted for a subsequent motion to annul the statutory instrument in which these changes are contained, but the Government opposed the motions and the plans have gone ahead.
  • On Tuesday there was an Opposition Day Debate on the cost of public transport. The Government do not seem to be in touch with rising cost issues and while the Minister recently stated that passengers need to realise “they are paying fair fares for a comfortable commute”, prices have risen three times faster than wages. Since 2010 regulated rail fares have risen by 25% on average and some season tickets have risen by up to 38%, costing some passengers thousands of pounds more each year. Bus fares have also risen on average by 26%. Bus services are used by every section of society and bus passengers account for two thirds of public transport journeys. Yet 2,400 local authority supported bus routes have been cut or downgraded since 2010. We need a growing bus industry that can provide new routes to areas that are not currently served and provide people with as many options as possible for travel. I believe that the Government now needs to bring forward a Buses Bill to enable better regulation of local bus networks. Passengers were always told that higher rail fares were necessary to pay for improvements, but under this Government, that link has been broken. Instead we have delays to infrastructure projects, including the electrification of keys lines, as the rail investment programme is delayed by years and billions of pounds over budget.
  • On Wednesday the Government’s Psychoactive Substances Bill returned to the House of Commons for its Report Stage and Third Reading. I support this Bill which contains measures to restrict the supply of new psychoactive substances (NPS), which pose a serious risk to public health. Indeed, I was elected on a manifesto which contained a commitment to banning the sale and distribution of dangerous psychoactive substances. However, unfortunately, the Government’s Bill falls short in some respects on drug education and awareness. Drugs education in schools is currently patchy and can be of poor quality. I believe drugs education belongs in the PSHE part of the curriculum, rather than solely in the science classroom, in order to be effective. I therefore supported a shadow frontbench amendment which would have made PSHE, including drugs and psychoactive substances education, a foundation subject in the National Curriculum.
  • On Thursday the Home Secretary made a statement in the House of Commons following the publication of the report of the statutory inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko. The inquiry concluded that Mr Litvinenko, a British citizen, was “deliberately poisoned” in 2006, with the strong possibility that this was under the direction of the Russian domestic security service. The Home Secretary described the murder of Mr Litvinenko as a “blatant and unacceptable breach of the most fundamental tenets of international law”. Those responsible for Mr Litvinenko’s death have not been brought to justice, and the Government announced that Interpol notices and European arrest warrants have now been issued. I welcome the Government’s indication that there will be new diplomatic pressure, but I do not believe that this goes anywhere near far enough. A consideration for justice should lead the Government’s principal response to this event. I hope that the Home Secretary will return to the House of Commons to provide details of the final package of steps that the Government will take. The Litvinenko family deserve nothing less.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

There are some fundamental industries that any modern country requires if it is to be able to stand on its own feet and safeguard it independence and long term sustainability. Steel production is a core strategic industry for our country and I worry that ignoring this disappearing capacity could even be a national security risk in the longer run, a point I put directly to Chancellor George Osborne at Treasury Questions on Tuesday (watch by clicking the picture below):

ChrisParl

When the Government made a statement on the steel sector on Monday in response to the announcement that Tata Steel plans to make over 1,000 redundancies across its UK strip business as part of its continuing restructuring plans, we heard that the proposals involve 750 job losses at Port Talbot, 200 redundancies in support functions at Llanwern, and 100 redundancies at steel mills in Trostre, Corby and Hartlepool. This is devastating news for all the workers, their families and the close-knit communities affected. This latest blow comes on top of job losses at Tata’s Newport plant last year, along with thousands of job losses across the sector in the UK, including the complete closure at Redcar. Steel company Sheffield Forgemasters also announced this week that it will cut up to 100 jobs. The threats facing the industry show no sign of abating, and yet the Government have too complacent.

I’d be interested to know your view about the balance to be struck between recognising the realities of global market forces, and (as I believe) ensuring that government intervenes sufficiently to protect the basic building blocks we will always require for national economic development, be it in energy self-sufficiency, manufacturing or other core essentials.

In the case of steel, Ministers have not been tough enough in dealing with the volume of cheap Chinese steel or active enough with the European Union. They have made no concessions on the business rate system, which actively penalises those who invest in expensive infrastructure to improve productivity, and there is no sign that their technical change to procurement rules is making any difference in the award of Government contracts to help our domestic industry. Only by taking immediate and decisive action, not least by fully engaging at an EU level, can the Government make sure our steel industry survives so that it can benefit from planned infrastructure spending.

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MP Update – 16th January

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

So much of our city’s future success depends on the educational opportunities available to local children. In Nottingham we have to work very hard indeed to ensure local schools provide the best possible environment for learning. Djanogly City Academy has over 750 pupils and is now moving in the right direction, lifted out of the ‘special measures’ put in place following the sweeping cross-city report from OFSTED in 2013. A completely new management team led by Principal David Hooker have focused on recruiting excellent teaching staff and so when I met for an update with him on Friday afternoon it was good to hear of the new ethos, the emphasis on discipline and attendance and the work they have done to ensure that classrooms are a place where diligent learning should be rewarded. I also met with a cross-section of pupils of all ages to hear about how they feel more content with the pattern of the school day and the ‘can-do’ attitude from the team overall (pictured below with David Hooker and pupils).

There are some real issues I’ll be trying to help the school address, such as barriers to recruiting the most outstanding teaching staff and also some of the costs involved which ought to be channelled into the frontline. They have set an ambitious target for this year’s GCSE performance and I got the strong sense that the school has really turned a corner after a difficult period, with teaching staff now determined to grip the challenges they face – such as the extra work required when faced with 60% of pupils with English as an additional language. The Academy system places phenomenal emphasis on the ability of the school leadership to deliver and I hope that the new team will indeed drive the whole school on to better things.

Djanogly

NOTTINGHAM

  • On Friday I visited the local charity Family Lives East Midlands, who work with parents around all aspects of family life, including child development, issues with schools and parenting support. Based at the premises they share with ‘PlayWorks’ in St Ann’s, Family Lives provide emotional support and parenting courses to families where social work or mental health professionals may not have the capacity to provide that additional support. The team updated me on their work (pictured below) and I was particularly interested to learn about their ‘befrienders’ scheme where trained volunteers will build relationships with parents and families who might be struggling. They are always keen to find new volunteers – if this is something you’d be interested in doing, you can email katew@familylives.org.uk, or call 0115 896 7700.

FamilyLives

  • If you live in Sneinton and want to be more involved in the future shape of the community then do go along to the “I Love Sneinton” event on 11th February between 4pm and 8pm at St Christopher’s Church Hall on Trent Road NG2 4GL where there will be a full update on the Sneinton Neighbourhood Plan.
  • Nottingham City Council is next week launching its FREEsport The programme opens on 18th January and allows Nottingham City residents to try out a new sport for free for eight weeks. The programme will be open for the whole of 2016 – for further information on how you can sign up to the programme, visit the council’s website here.
  • Thursday evening saw the launch of a new exhibition at the New Art Exchange on Gregory Boulevard by artist Larissa Sansour. I visited the exhibition on its opening day and found it to be incredibly thought-provoking. I highly recommend you visit the exhibition if you have time – it runs until 13th March and you can find further information here.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • When the Coalition Government raised tuition fees in 2012, it was done on the explicit understanding that measures would remain to ensure the most disadvantaged would still be helped with financial access higher education. An important one of these assurances came around Maintenance Grants; non-repayable grants of up to £3,387 for around 500,000 students with a household income of under £25,000. Although there was no mention of ending these grants in last year’s Conservative manifesto, in the 2015 Summer Budget George Osborne announced plans to replace them with a loan. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, while this would increase ‘cash in pocket’ while at university, it would make debt highest among students from the lowest income families. Ministers didn’t event let the full House of Commons debate this change. Instead, on Thursday the new regulations were scrutinised only in a Delegated Legislation Committee, which did not have the power to reject measures. So now we say ‘goodbye’ to these student maintenance grants which I think is deeply unfortunate.
  • On Monday the Secretary of State for International Development was asked to make a statement on the current situation in Madaya and other besieged communities in Syria which are facing horrific suffering and starvation. 40,000 people are trapped in the town of Madaya, which has been besieged for six months. Only 10% of the UN’s requests to deliver aid to the 4.5 million Syrians in besieged and hard-to-reach areas have been granted. In the short term these communities need aid, and in the medium term there has to be a political solution and an end to the horrific civil war in Syria.  A UN aid convoy, funded by the UK, made its way into Madaya on Monday and many residents ate their first full meal since the autumn.
  • On Monday the Armed Forces Bill passed its remaining stages in the House of Commons. An Armed Forces Bill must be passed every five years to maintain the legal basis for our military to exist. In it, the decision was finally made to remove from the statute book a piece of legislation that discriminated against LGBT personnel. The law still referred to homosexuality as grounds for dismissal from the armed forces, despite the ban being lifted by the last Labour government in 2000. I welcomed the Government’s recognition of the need to bring the law up to date. The debate also provided the opportunity to continue to press the Government on compensation for military veterans who contract mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer which results from exposure to asbestos. During the committee stage of the Bill, the Government announced an improved compensation package. The debate on Monday gave the opportunity for MPs to seek assurances from the Government on the implementation of the new scheme. The amended Bill passed unopposed and will now be considered by the House of Lords.
  • On Tuesday the House of Commons debated the Housing and Planning Bill, which I mentioned last week. I voted for amendments to protect secure tenancies for council tenants, to protect affordable homes with a one-for-one, like-for-like replacement in the local area for any homes sold under the extension of the right-to-buy, and for a clause that would place a duty on landlords to make their properties fit for human habitation. The Government voted against these amendments and they were defeated. The Bill passed its third reading by 309 votes to 216.
  • On Wednesday I met with the UK Weighing Federation who are the trade association for all aspects of weights and measurements organisations, and also with representatives of Trading Standards UK responsible for enforcement of consumer rights. It sounds complicated, but the widespread deregulation of the rules which used to ensure that a ‘pint’ was actually a pint, and that a ‘litre’ of petrol or a kilo of food produce is actually of that amount, is causing growing concern. Because so many of our goods and services are internationally sourced, a lack of basic regulation with fewer and fewer Trading Standards Officers means that customers may not be getting what they pay for. Customer information is essential for markets to operate fairly and without this I worry that more and more people may be ripped off. I’d be interested to know if you share my suspicion that, in time, the rush to deregulate may not be in the interests of good business conduct.
  • When campaigners want to bring their case to Parliament often a ‘lobby’ of MPs takes place and this week a lobby about the benefits system took place in Westminster Hall where I discussed the Government’s proposed changes to the work-related activity group in the Employment and Support Allowance. There are many local residents facing a concerning time because of changes to the disability social security system and I was interested to hear first-hand the impact that these proposals are likely to have.
  • This week’s strike by Junior Doctors was incredibly unfortunate given that a sensible settlement should be possible if Government Ministers showed a little more willing to negotiate in a reasonable manner. Patients who had their appointments or operation cancelled this week are being contacted by the hospital with a new date shortly. In the meantime I hope that we can see some proper conciliation to avoid a situation where junior medics feel they have no option but to withdraw their working time. We rely on the incredible efforts, time commitment and talents of junior doctors to keep our NHS going, and while a move to a seven day service is of course necessary, Ministers have an obligation to find an acceptable transitional offer for the staff affected.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Worldwide stock exchanges are very jittery at the moment because of dampened economic activity, the Chinese adjustment to the cold realities of market sentiment and commodity markets where supply far exceeds demand – especially in the trade of oil. Saudi Arabia’s decision to flood the oil market may well be partly designed to squeeze out investment in alternative energy generation, but the low price of oil is also hitting the finances of countries dependent on exports for their revenues. Add into this the imminent additional oil output of Iran into world markets as sanctions are relaxed, and it looks as though oil prices could fall even lower than their current depressed levels. While we might not want to complain about cheaper fuel costs in the short term, if our exporters can’t sell into these markets then business will find this a hard period ahead. Not surprisingly, George Osborne can’t wait to get his excuses in early. But should he have taken the gamble he did in the Autumn Statement assuming revenues would be so healthy here in the UK? I’d be interested to hear your views about the outlook for the economy, both locally and internationally, because 2016 could well be more than just a ‘pause’ in the long journey to recovery.

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MP Update – 9th January

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 9th January 2016

Friday afternoon was an exceptionally busy time in our local Emergency Department (ED) at the QMC hospital – but it was an insight for me into the process and systems used by the local NHS which, of course, never closes its doors to accidents and urgent health needs.

During my visit I wanted to see for myself how the ED could cope at peak times given the importance of the four hour maximum waiting time target and the occasions when this is surpassed. The management team (pictured below) helpfully explained the triage arrangements and new ‘initial assessment unit’.

Not all patients can be discharged from the ED so I followed the path that around 130 patients typically take each day if admitted into the two longer assessment wards (B3 and ward D57). The ‘flow’ of patients through this process is clearly determined by the downstream capacity in the rest of the hospital, which is in turn affected by the ability of local authority social services departments to ensure safe discharge when acute care is completed.

I was allowed to sit in on an innovative staff meeting drawn from all across the various hospital teams who now cross-audit each other’s performance standards, a process they call “Breaking The Cycle”. Asking frontline staff to devise solutions is often more effective than senior management taking a top-down approach and I’m glad this is now happening more locally.

There are still obstacles and problems I want to be addressed; nursing home residents shouldn’t have to stay in hospital all weekend long just because social services can’t do a reintegration check after a trip to the ED on a Friday; the financial penalties for the hospital need refining so that resources for emergency treatment aren’t unfairly hit.

But overall we are really fortunate to have nurses, medics, ambulance and management staff working so closely together to keep urgent health care going even at times of great stress. This winter is a difficult time for the NHS and I will be watching closely whether needs are matched by the resources allocated nationally.

QMC

NOTTINGHAM

  • It was a real pleasure on Friday to have the opportunity to meet with Stuart Mason and Kadie Kanneh who live in Nottingham and whose seven children are all incredibly musically gifted, and six of whom last year featured on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. I wanted to meet with the Kanneh-Mason’s to learn in detail about how they helped their children gain such strong music specialisms and whether we have the right approach to music education locally and nationally.  It was an insight to hear about how each of the children started with one-to-one music lessons from about the age of six and then from age 10 having further one-to-one support on a Saturday afternoon at the Royal Academy of Music. Clearly this involves incredible commitment, but I think that we should find ways for more one-to-one music tuition to be available to all children rather than just assuming this is an impossible goal. I’ll be working with the family in the coming months to challenge some of the conventional wisdom about music tuition and raise questions with some of our schools and other public institutions, because we have to do better to help more children have opportunities to bridge the gap between skilled amateur and performing excellence. See examples of the Kanneh-Mason’s at the links here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jA05iFPhpI or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBb6vMYUAFg
  • It was great to see that in a report released on Wednesday, Ofsted rated New College Nottingham as ‘good’ in all areas. This is excellent news, following a difficult year in which financial struggles combined with attempts to improve standards, following a ‘requires improvement’ Ofsted judgment in 2013. I hope that the college can now look more positively into the future, after a merger with Central College Nottingham was announced in August last year.
  • Nottingham City Labour Group are holding a fundraising dinner on Friday 15th January at the Mogal E-Azam restaurant in the city centre. The dinner is being held to raise funds for the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum, and the guest speaker will be Jack Dromey MP. Full details of the event are below. Tickets are £20 each, and can be obtained from David Mellen by emailing lemon.davy@gmail.com.

LabGroup Dinner

  • The Post Office branch on Sneinton Boulevard is to undergo a refurbishment to modernise the branch. The branch is being upgraded to become a ‘main’ branch, which will mean longer opening hours, an expanded range of services and a modernised interior. The Post Office will be closed for the refurbishment from 17:30 on Wednesday 13th January and will reopen on Saturday 16th January at 13:00.
  • On New Year’s Day, Stonebridge City Farm in St Ann’s welcomed Solar, their new-born calf (pictured below!), who was named with help from Nottingham Post readers. They also have a job vacancy and are looking for a full time Finance Administrator to join their team. You can view the job advert here, or for further information on the role contact marie@stonebridgecityfarm.com

Stonebridge

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Tuesday I was elected as the co-chair of the East Midlands All Party Parliamentary Group, a new alliance of all the MPs in the East Midlands determined to campaign more vigorously for investment, regeneration and economic development in our region. We already have some strong voices for the East Midlands in the shape of the local councils who come together to coordinate in the form of ‘East Midlands Councils’ and also business organisations too. There is a strong lobby from united MPs in Scotland, Wales, the North East and of course in London for their infrastructure and transport needs. That’s why we felt it long overdue to pull together across the party divide and bang the drum for our part of the world. We’ll be meeting over the coming weeks to get clearer priorities – the five big infrastructure needs for the region; the five areas where the East Mids loses out relative to others; and the five areas where the East Midlands economy will put extra effort in to specialise. If you’ve any feedback at this stage on these points I’d be interested to know.
  • George Osborne’s speech warning of the difficult global trading environment caught the headlines this week, coming as it did after he went slower on deficit reduction than many expected in his Autumn Statement in November. 2016 is likely to be a testing year for our economy and I’ll be spending time looking at what more we can do to both protect British prosperity but also ensure that the right decisions are made by a Chancellor who is too often driven by politics rather than ensuring the wide majority of people share in steady and sustained growth.
  • On Tuesday the Government made a statement on flooding and on Wednesday the House of Commons debated an Opposition motion on this important issue. The National Audit Office has confirmed that, excluding emergency funding, the Coalition Government cut spending on flood defence schemes by 10% during the last Parliament, despite consistent warnings about the damage caused by cuts, and the risks of increased flooding as climate change worsens. The Government’s £2.3 billion capital programme is welcome, but there are doubts whether this will meet need, especially as the Environment Agency said in 2014 they required more.
  • On Wednesday there was an Opposition Day debate on Universal Credit Work Allowance, which provided an important opportunity to discuss the Government’s cuts to Universal Credit. The Government plans to halve the value of the work allowance under Universal Credit, which is the piece of Universal Credit that is essential to making work pay. Starting in April there will be a £9.6 billion reduction in support for working families over the next five years, with £100 million of that coming in 2016-17, initially affecting hundreds of thousands of families who have piloted Universal Credit. According to the IFS, by 2020 2.6 million working families on Universal Credit will be £1,600 a year worse off due to the cuts. Because the Chancellor reversed cuts to tax credits in the autumn statement, we now have a postcode lottery, where new claimants of Universal Credit will receive far less support than tax credit claimants, including those who transfer across to Universal Credit.
  • On Thursday there was a Backbench Business debate on the effect of the equalisation of the state pension age (SPA) on women. This provided an important opportunity to discuss the Coalition Government’s decision to accelerate the rise in women’s SPA, which has had a devastating impact on many women who were born in the 1950s. While I support the equalisation of the SPA, the decision to accelerate the rise in women’s SPA has meant that women born in the 1950s did not have much notice of changes and could not readily plan for their new circumstances. The impact of these changes has been further exacerbated by the Government’s failure to communicate the changes. In 2011 the Work and Pensions Secretary committed to looking at transitional provisions to help the women who have been hit hardest by the changes but he has failed to do so.
  • On Tuesday the House of Commons debated the Housing and Planning Bill. The level of home-ownership has fallen to the lowest rate in a generation and private rents have reached an all-time high. The Government has failed to deliver any plan for genuine one-for-one, like-for-like replacement of council homes sold through the right-to-buy scheme, and ‘affordable rent’ is not affordable to many families. The Government has presided over a 36% increase of people accepted as homeless and in ‘priority need’ since 2009-10, and the lowest level of house building in peacetime since the 1920s. The Bill will lead to a huge loss of affordable homes to rent and buy which will intensify the spiral of ever higher housing costs. I am concerned that under this Government’s plans, starter homes will be less affordable for many young people and families on ordinary incomes.
  • It was the Labour frontbench reshuffle that dominated the headlines this week rather than important campaigns to press for a better Government response on flooding, rail fares and housing. I believe Labour must focus on the concerns of the wider public who aren’t involved in day-to-day politicking, who want a fresh alternative to the Tories, yet at the same time also want reassurance Labour can be a credible, safe pair of hands when it comes to running the economy, taking care of taxpayers’ money and ensuring we have strong national defences to keep the public safe.
  • This week the Government also made a statement on the relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabia. The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 other people has caused a major diplomatic and political crisis and caused dismay and outrage around the world. My feeling is that the use of the death penalty is wrong and the Saudi Government were wrong to execute Sheikh al-Nimr, a Shi’a cleric, and three young Shi’a men whose alleged offences appear to have involved taking part in political protests and demonstrations. On Tuesday my colleague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, raised whether it would be appropriate to suspend any co-operation on judicial matters with Saudi Arabia in the light of these mass executions, and following reports of potential breaches of international humanitarian law by the Saudi military which uses British-supplied weapons among others, also pressed for an independent investigation into whether there is a risk of UK arms being used in breach of international humanitarian law. The wider shifts in policy and attitudes across the Middle East are likely to shape world events in the coming years, which is why I will be trying to learn in more detail about countries in the Middle East over the coming months.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

January is often a time when the credit card bills hit hard and problems with personal debt create real difficulty for quite a number of local families.

In these difficult times, there is a whole array of ‘advice’ and I worry that some financial service companies can prey on the vulnerability of those struggling to stay on top of their debts.

That’s why I’d be interested to know if you or those you know have encountered situations with the ‘fee-charging’ Debt Management Plan (DMP) sector. These are companies who charge their customers upfront for the process of renegotiating the terms of repayments on loans that are consolidated into longer but smaller regular payments. But lots of people don’t realise that’s not the only way a DMP can be set up. DMPs are in general a good way to help those who can’t maintain contractual payments and there are good charities I’ve worked with in recent years – such as StepChange – who will actually set up a DMP for free because the creditor is willing to pay for the admin costs (after all, the banks still want to get their money back eventually!).

Yet there are still some unscrupulous firms who will charge a steep fee to the indebted, take their costs in the first monthly payments, all before even paying off a penny of the individuals’ debts.

I think it’s time to regulate away the worst practice here and phase out the fee-charging DMP providers. There’s no need for DMPs to be done in this way because the banks and building societies are willing to chip in their ‘fair share’ of the costs of administering this breathing-space arrangement without any cost to consumers.

Do you know anyone affected by the fee-charging DMP sector? Or anyone who has struggled with personal debt and found it difficult to get advice or get onto a more manageable repayment plan? I’d be interested to know any experiences as this is an issue I plan to raise in Parliament in the near future.

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MP Update – 18th December

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 18th December 2015

I was pleased to learn on Friday that Nottingham has been chosen by UNESCO to be a City of Literature. This is a huge honour for Nottingham, as there are only 20 Cities of Literature around the world. I hope that the accolade will be a catalyst for further development of the creative economy and culture already doing so well. It was a demanding bidding process, and all those involved can be proud of such a major achievement.

I was really glad that a large part of the bid process for the UNESCO award was aimed at boosting literacy, as well as holding events to celebrate Nottingham’s rich literary history. This is definitely the right moment to take stock of the overall state of literacy across the city.

Currently, nearly six out of ten Nottingham schoolchildren leave without five A* to C GCSE grades, including English and maths. We have to do better than this and we need to find ways to encourage reading and writing in the early years for local children both within and beyond the school environment. Some of today’s proposals from the Social Mobility Commission may be stark, but anything that incentivises the best teachers to have good morale, better terms and conditions and helps bring in high teaching skills into more deprived areas would be a good thing. In 2016 I want to focus more on what needs to be done to boost literacy and numeracy here in Nottingham and I’d be interested in any thoughts or suggestions you might have about how best we should do this.

NOTTINGHAM

  • On Thursday morning, I visited the local Royal Mail delivery office on Lower Parliament Street. It was great to meet Delivery Office Manager Andy Fox and the team to find out about the great work they do, particularly during the busy Christmas period.  Our postal workers put in a great deal of effort all year round, but they do a particularly important job at this time of year. The last posting dates for Christmas delivery are Saturday 19th (second class mail) and Monday 21st (first class mail).

RoyalMail

  • Yesterday I met with Andrew Redfern from the charity Framework for an update on their work on housing and homelessness around the city. Winter is a particularly tough time for those struggling to find permanent and safe shelter, and Christmas is a very busy time for the charity, who have been running street collections across the city and county throughout December. I spoke with the team from Framework’s Housing Crisis Service in the city centre, which provides help for people at immediate risk of becoming homeless, and there are a number of issues coming up in Parliament I am hoping to work with the supported housing sector on in the new year.
  • By now you will hopefully have received my Christmas e-card, with some outstanding artwork from local school children. This year’s fantastic winning design came from Jasmine Johal, a Year 6 pupil at Seely Primary School. Yesterday I visited the New Art Exchange on Gregory Boulevard, where they have a digital display of all of the shortlisted entries from the competition on show throughout the festive period. Do pop along and support this great local gallery if you get the chance – they have some exciting new plans for the next couple of years and their current exhibitions are extremely accessible and thought-provoking.
  • At my advice surgery in Asda Hyson Green yesterday it was great to meet constituents to discuss a wide range of issues including forthcoming changes to social security and migration issues arising from conflict in Africa. It is useful to hear a cross-section of views from local residents and if you see me out and about around the constituency please do say hello. My office at 12 Regent Street is open five days a week and my team are available to help with any problems or queries. And although the office will be closed for the short Christmas break, do email me at this email address over that time if there are any urgent issues you need to raise with me.

Asda1712 (2)

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Monday the Government made a Statement following the agreement reached at the UN climate talks (COP21) in Paris last week. For the first time, leaders from nearly every country in the world have come together to cut carbon pollution and set us on the path to a cleaner, greener future: to agree on a common goal of building a carbon-neutral global economy within a generation, to reduce pollution and to switch to cleaner energy and all countries have agreed to raise their ambition every five years until the job is done. I welcome the agreement which has been helped by a cross-party consensus that has existed since 2008. I also welcome the announcement that the developed world will do its fair share by providing at least $100 billion of finance to assist poorer and more vulnerable countries. We must be honest that the pledges made by each country do not add up to a commitment that will keep temperatures well below two degrees. However, the agreement does take us much closer to climate safety and sends a clear signal that the era of unchecked fossil fuel use is coming to an end. In recent months the Government have made a series of decisions that have reversed our progress on the road to climate safety. Ministers have attacked the cheapest options for achieving carbon targets, and household energy bills may rise again. Progress on carbon capture and storage has also been undermined, new wind farms have been blocked and the Government have made secret and short-sighted cuts in energy efficiency and solar power schemes. I will be pressing Ministers, therefore, to ensure UK policy matches the global commitments to which we are now signed up for.
  • On Wednesday the Foreign Secretary gave an update in the House of Commons on the campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria following the vote to extend airstrikes two weeks ago. The Foreign Secretary outlined how the UK is targeting Daesh’s finances, disrupting the flow of foreign fighters, fighting Daesh’s ideology and propaganda, and leading diplomatic efforts to deliver a political settlement to end the Syrian civil war. The RAF has struck wellheads in the Omar oil field, as well as conducting reconnaissance and surveillance missions. The RAF has already conducted over 400 strikes as part of more than 1,600 missions flown over Iraq since September 2014, and the Foreign Secretary stated that there has been no reports of civilian casualties as a result of UK airstrikes in either Iraq or Syria. Military action can, however, only be one part of a package of measures needed to defeat Daesh and end the wider Syrian civil war. Indeed, Britain should support a diplomatic agreement that unites those opposed to Daesh within Syria, and paves the way for the departure of Assad. To this end, the Foreign Secretary updated MPs on the diplomatic efforts to deliver a negotiated end to the civil war and a transitional government, noting the ongoing meetings of the International Syria Support Group, and highlighting the bringing together of over 100 representatives from a wide range of Syrian opposition groups in Riyadh by Saudi Arabia. I believe the key test for the Riyadh agreement will be whether it facilitates meaningful peace talks and a ceasefire. With so many different parties to the civil war in Syria, maintaining a ceasefire will be extremely complex, and so I would urge the Government to explore the possibility of a UN resolution reinforcing the outline agreement, including a ceasefire, agreed at the second Vienna conference.
  • Yesterday the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government gave a statement on the funding settlement for local councils, including Nottingham City Council. This settlement reduces the central Government grant to local councils by more than half and doesn’t acknowledge additional spending pressures amounting to at least £6.3 billion. The serious underfunding of social care is putting extraordinary pressure on local government and the NHS. Additionally, the Government recently announced in the Spending Review that the public health budget for local councils will be cut by 3.9% which will put vital preventative services at risk. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that local authorities in deprived areas have seen cuts of £220 a head while more affluent areas have seen cuts of £40 a head. I believe the Government needs to re-examine the unjust formula it uses to distribute funding to local councils and I will be working with the City Council locally to press Ministers for the best deal we can get from the Treasury.
  • On Monday the Transport Secretary made a statement to the House of Commons on Airport Capacity. In July 2015 the Airports Commission published its final report and the Prime Minister promised to make a decision by the end of the year. Last week this promise was broken when the Government announced, through a last-minute press release, that it would be delaying its long-awaited location decision to further consider measures to mitigate the impacts on local people and the environment. This shambolic response has been criticised by business and MPs from across the House of Commons. I support a new runway in the south-east but the environmental concerns have been known since July and the Government still cannot tell us basic information about the new environmental and mitigation work and what areas were not adequately covered by the Airports Commission. The Government must now address the uncertainty surrounding what I fear is a politically motivated delay.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

This week the Government used a non-debatable motion in the Commons, rather than a proper piece of legislation that could be debated, to pass new regulations on fracking. I voted against the regulations, but because Government MPs supported them, they were passed by a majority of 37.

Ministers had previously conceded that there should be the tougher safeguards that Labour has been calling for to protect drinking water sources and sensitive parts of our countryside like National Parks. Now they’ve abandoned those promises.

It is not unreasonable for the British public to ask for firmer reassurances making sure that shale gas extraction is safe and won’t present intolerable risks to our environment. In my view the Government is ignoring some legitimate concerns. In January Amber Rudd, now energy and climate change secretary, told Parliament: “We have agreed an outright ban on fracking in national parks [and] sites of special scientific interest”.  Yet Ministers have gone against their word on this. I received many emails this week on this issue, so I know that plenty of constituents feel very strongly about fracking. We do need to be guided by the scientific evidence and keep an open-mind to lower carbon energy sources than coal. However, we also need to take proper precautions and I’m not convinced the Government are doing this seriously enough. Which direction do you think the Government should be going with energy policy? Are they striking the right balance in the gradual move away from higher carbon-emitting fuels? Are we mindful enough of energy security and costs for consumers, as well as the environmental objectives? As always I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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MP Update – 11th December

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 11th December 2015

The two issues I’ve received most emails about this week have been on the environmental circumstances facing bees and other pollinators – and then the TTIP transatlantic trade deal (more of which in the Parliament section below).

But given that so many constituents have asked about the conditions we need to preserve a healthy stock of bees and pollinators, I thought it would be helpful to report back on the debate in Westminster Hall on the subject of neonicotinoids. Wild bee populations have declined in the last 50 years, and there are concerns that three neonicotinoid insecticides, developed in the 1980s and 1990s, are having a harmful impact on bee populations.

In 2012, following a European assessment, the European Commission decided to restrict the use of three common neonicotinoids (Imidacloprid, Thiamethoxam and Clothianidin), and they have been subject to a two year precautionary ban in the EU since December 2013. There is some debate about the scientific evidence, as there are differences between field and laboratory results.

Partly because of this, the UK Government say while there were not convinced about the restrictions, they have nevertheless implemented them in full. However, in July 2015, the UK Government granted an emergency authorisation for the use of restricted neonicotinoids on oil seed rape seeds after an application from the National Farmers’ Union. This applies for a time-limited period in four English counties and does not affect the overall ban.

A number of environmental groups have argued that the two year suspension is not enough to allow bee populations to recover, and in August, Friends of the Earth were denied an application for judicial review of the emergency authorisation.

I will try to monitor the decision-making process around this restriction closely as I know that there are significant environmental concerns at stake. It has been helpful to hear the views of so many people on this issue and I will take a close interest and press Ministers to be guided by the evidence and the precautionary principle on this.

NOTTINGHAM

  • On Friday, I was delighted to announce the winner of my 2015 Christmas Picture Competition at Seely Primary School in Sherwood. The winning entry came from 11-year old Jasmine Johal (pictured centre), a pupil at Seely, who was presented with a KindleFire tablet computer kindly donated by Experian. I was really impressed with all of the entries this year, and I want to thank all of the schools and children who took part. Thanks also to Bhavisha Kukadia (pictured right) and the team at New Art Exchange, who helped me judge. I will be sending out my Christmas e-card next week, which will feature the winning entry as well as all of the runners up.

111215-1

  • On Tuesday in Parliament I met a group of students from Nottingham Trent University (pictured below), who lobbied me as part of the National Union of Students #CutTheCosts week of action. We talked about the increasing debt that will burden this generation of students, and in particular the replacement of maintenance grants for poorer students with loans, announced in the July Budget. These grants support half a million students, who could now leave university with debts of up to £53,000. There is a real risk that the Conservatives’ plans could put off those from poorer backgrounds attending further education.

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  • Robin Hood Energy is a not-for-profit new energy supply company owned and controlled by Nottingham City Council. It was launched on 7 September 2015 to provide affordable energy to customers and to help tackle fuel poverty. It is the country’s first local authority owned energy supply company to be launched since nationalisation in 1948. Domestic customers in England, Scotland and Wales can switch to Robin Hood Energy to purchase their gas and electricity. Robin Hood Energy has this week launched a new pre-payment tariff for low income customers. The pay-as-you-go tariff allows customers to better manage their household budgets by tracking how much energy they’re using and better spread the cost of their energy usage throughout the year. More details at their website here https://www.robinhoodenergy.co.uk/
  • On Sunday 20th December, there will be a festive evening of live music and children’s activities in the Arboretum. The event takes place from 4-6pm and the meeting point is the Bandstand.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • Yesterday I was in the House of Commons for the debate on a motion on TTIP, the proposed transatlantic trade deal that is being negotiated between the EU and US – and on which I have received many emails this week. There have been several debates on this subject in the House of Commons over the past couple of years and I am sure that they have helped to shape the debate about TTIP and to influence the negotiations in a positive way. There is general cross-party support for trade, and for a good trade agreement, but there also some concerns too. I feel there are a number of tests we ought to watch out for on this negotiation. The first key test is the ability of the deal to deliver jobs and growth. The second is that it should be open and accountable. The third is the aim to achieve the highest possible standards regarding social and environmental concerns and, of course, wages. Fourthly, the agreement must allow enough space for national Governments to act in their own interests and according to their own democratic mandates. I believe it right that this important issue be debated in Parliament, and that the proposals receive proper scrutiny at UK and EU level. I support trade agreements that can bring significant benefits through boosting trade and growth, securing and creating jobs, and bringing down costs and extending choice for consumers. However, it was right to hold the Government to account on the legitimate concerns that have been raised.
  • On Monday the Government’s Cities and Local Government Bill returned to the House of Commons for its Report Stage and Third Reading. I have been watching this legislation closely because it has local implications on whether we see a ‘combined authority’ created covering our part of the East Midlands comprised of the city councils, district and county councils. I support real devolution to empower our communities, but have some concerns about the way the Government are pursuing a process of piecemeal deals that do not offer meaningful devolution to all areas of England. Nevertheless, I was particularly concerned that the Minister did not unwittingly cause problems for a Nottinghamshire deal by allowing smaller district councils to essentially veto arrangements agreed by the vast majority of other local authorities. I was pleased that, after interventions from my colleague Graham Allen, the Minister confirmed that any requests from district councils to ‘opt out’ would not be automatically accepted and that consensus was still the overriding objective.
  • On Monday the Environment Secretary made a statement in the House of Commons on the recent floods in the north of England. I am sure all of our thoughts are with communities in Cumbria and Lancashire that have once again been devastated by flooding. The immediate priority, of course, must be providing help for those who have been forced to evacuate their homes and businesses and I support a cross-party approach to try to ensure those affected are, wherever possible, back home and safe before Christmas. Extreme weather events are increasingly a feature of British weather and Government policy has to adapt accordingly. I am pleased the Government has agreed to look again at whether it has spent enough on flood defences.
  • The European Union Referendum Bill that will set out the rules for a referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union was debated on Tuesday. I support this Bill and its passage through Parliament as I believe the British people should have a say on the UK’s membership of the EU. The Bill had completed its House of Lords stages and the Lords’ amendments were considered by MPs. One of the amendments intended to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the referendum. My Shadow Frontbench colleagues pressed a similar amendment when the Bill was previously debated in the House of Commons.  However, on Tuesday the Government overturned the Lords amendment and struck it out of the Bill. I believe it would be better for the Government to allow young adults a say in the European referendum. Major constitutional referendums are a once-in-a-generation choice about the country’s future direction. Young people deserve a say in the decision.
  • On Wednesday the House of Commons debated a motion by the Opposition about women and the economy. Tax and benefit changes in the Summer Budget and Autumn Statement have disproportionately affected women and analysis from the Women’s Budget Group shows that lone parents and single female pensioners are set to lose most from the Spending Review decisions over this Parliament, having already lost most from cuts announced in the previous Parliament. Of the £82bn in tax increases and cuts in social security spending since 2010 that will be implemented over the course of this Parliament, 80% will come from women. Labour’s motion raised concern that the UK gender pay gap stands at 19.2 per cent, higher than the EU average, and that the Government’s introduction of tribunal fees means that women have to pay £1,200 in order to bring forward an equal pay claim, preventing many from pursuing legitimate claims. In addition, levels of maternity discrimination have almost doubled in recent years and there has been an alarming rate of closures of services supporting victims of domestic violence, particularly services for BME women.
  • On Wednesday Labour called a debate on Mental Health. One in four of us will have a mental illness at some point in our lives and I believe mental health should be treated with the same priority as physical health. However the Government have more to do to translate their rhetoric on mental health into reality on the ground. There has been an increase in the number of patients who report a poor experience of community mental health care. More patients have to travel hundreds of miles just to get a bed and the number of children being treated on adult wards has risen again this year. The number of people becoming so ill that they had to be detained under the Mental Health Acts has risen by 10% in the past year and the level of suicides, particularly among men under the age of 45, has been at its highest since 2001. I believe the right to psychological therapies should be enshrined in the NHS Constitution. Labour’s motion also called on the Government to reinstate the annual survey of investment in mental health services and to develop and implement in full a new strategy to improve the cross-departmental response to mental health. The Government opposed the motion and the vote was lost.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Yesterday was UN International Human Rights Day. One of the most worrying of Conservative plans for this Parliament is the repeal of the Human Rights Act (HRA), and its replacement by a supposedly ‘British’ Bill of Rights, though proposals are currently vague. Last week Justice Secretary Michael Gove announced that the Government had delayed plans to scrap the HRA until 2016.

Introduced in 1998 and coming into force in 2000, the Human Rights Act incorporated the basic values set out in the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law. This meant that the judiciary must take into account decisions by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg and that if an Act of Parliament cannot be interpreted to be compatible with ECHR rights British courts can issue a declaration of incompatibility (though the law remains valid, so Parliamentary sovereignty is maintained).

Although the Tory manifesto promised to “scrap the Human Rights Act, and introduce a British Bill of Rights”, Ministers seem to be struggling to set out exactly what they want. But with David Cameron and Michael Gove refusing to rule out withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, it appears they have painted themselves into a corner here.

Have you got strong opinions about the Human Rights Act? Is there a need for redrafting this legislation? Or is this issue more related to the backbench euroscepticism on the Government side?

I am interested for any thoughts about the current state of human rights in the UK and indeed around the world.

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MP Update – 4th December

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 4th December 2015

After a passionate and thorough debate in the House of Commons, I came to the view that the threat from ISIL Daesh is such that the UK has to play its part in degrading their safe haven not just in Iraq but also in Syria. The suffering of those living under the cruel and abusive Daesh regime and the threat to ourselves and other nations is just too much for me to ignore; the beheadings, throwing gay men off buildings, the discovery of mass graves, including of Yazidi women murdered because they were regarded as too elderly to be sold into sex slavery.

I am deeply conscious of the strongly held views of those who believe that war and military action must always be avoided, but sadly ISIL Daesh declared war against us long ago. They have killed British tourists, downed aeroplanes, bombed Turkey and the Lebanon and murdered 130 people in Paris. Knowing their plans and intentions, I feel it would be morally wrong and potentially dangerous to just step aside and refuse to act in self-defence, when I know that a British contribution would make a difference.

I have weighed up the many opinions expressed to me about the risks involved in targeting these jihadi assets as carefully as possible, but I must also consider the importance of weakening and reducing the power of Daesh when that opportunity presents itself. For instance, degrading Daesh controlled oil facilities will help cut off finance for terrorism and, following my vote in support of air strikes in Iraqi territory more than a year ago in September 2014, targets including fortified positions, suicide bomb vehicles, storage compounds and observation posts have been destroyed. It is possible to hamper and impede these jihadist operations. This recent vote was about whether to extend the current approval for airstrikes over Iraqi terrain across the now defunct Syrian border. When the United Nations have unanimously called on all countries that are able to take part in eradicating ISIL Daesh in Syria to do so, it seems to me irresponsible not to heed that call.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn expressed my view of this entirely when he said that we are now faced by fascists and just as Parliament was right to stand up against Hitler and Mussolini, so too we have a deep responsibility to stand up to the evil intentions of ISIL Daesh.

I respect those who hold opposing views on this question but if you want to understand my view and why I came to this decision in casting my vote in Parliament, then I strongly urge you to watch the full speech by Hilary Benn MP by clicking on the picture below, and also the speeches by Alan Johnson MP, Margaret Beckett MP and Pat McFadden MP (links below the picture) who sum up eloquently how I feel:

H Benn

The link to the speech by Margaret Beckett MP is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcrFa1vkzqk

The link to the speech by Alan Johnson MP is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODC5pdnyuJ8

The link to the speech by Pat McFadden MP is here http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/4e6d04ee-df49-4789-a54a-42f2c7be53b2?in=16:25:35&out=16:30:36

NOTTINGHAM

  • Nottingham City Council are currently reviewing arrangements for services to Nottingham City pregnant teenagers and teenage parents. It is proposed to close the Beckhampton Centre Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) on 30 June 2016. Although the public consultation has now concluded, I would be interested in any views you might have on this issue. Members of Nottingham City Council’s Executive Board will be making a final decision shortly.
  • Plans for the redevelopment of Broadmarsh and its surrounding areas have been unveiled by the City Council this week. The work will begin early next year, and includes redevelopment of the shopping centre and car park, as well as pedestrianising Collin Street and revamping shop fronts on Carrington Street. The City Council says that the plans will create nearly 3,000 new jobs, and I’m sure that many agree that the Broadmarsh area has long been overdue a makeover. You can read more about the plans on the Nottingham Post website here.
  • Plans have been approved to build 42 new two- and three-bedroom houses at the Stonebridge Park Estate in St Ann’s, adjacent to the Manor Gardens development. They represent part of the City Council’s plans to build 2,500 new homes, and will be an important addition to local housing. Read more about the plans on the Nottingham Post website here.
  • The Post Office have decided to relocate the Sherwood branch (currently at 566 Mansfield Road) to the Nisa shop on 607 Mansfield Road where they say it will operate as one of their new ‘main style’ Post Office branches. The Post Office say that although there were many who wrote in support of the change, some worries were voiced about congestion inside the new store and that it is further away along a gradient for them. They say they will try to address some of the space and congestion issues in the refurbishment process.
  • There’s a free entry weekend taking place at Nottingham Castle on the 12th and 13th The castle and grounds will be open 10am-3.30pm both days, and there will be a traditional Christmas gift fair in the grounds. On Saturday 12th December there will be Christmas Carols at Green’s Windmill in Sneinton. This free event in the Mill Yard includes carols, mince pies and mulled wine. You can find information about these and other festive events being held across the city here.
  • For the last decade Nottingham City Homes has been responsible for managing council houses across the city.  As part of the events planned to mark its tenth anniversary, NCH has chosen to take a reflective look at council housing across the city by launching the first ever book of its kind covering the history of Nottingham’s council houses called Homes and Places.  The book, which is now available to buy from Fives Leaves Bookshop priced £9.99, includes personal stories and memories from some of the city’s residents as well as photographs and planning documentation dating back as far as the 1800s.  Through the launch of the book, Nottingham City Homes aims to record the work of those who have contributed to providing homes for Nottingham’s residents over the years, covering key events which have impacted on housing including post-war rebuilding, high rise developments and Right to Buy. For more information on the book click here.


Nottm City Homes

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Tuesday at Treasury Questions in the House of Commons, I asked George Osborne about his approach to business and the productivity of the British economy, which has been revised down for three years from 2016 by the Office for Budget Responsibility. You can see our exchange here: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/65dcea9c-11b4-4e13-add0-cb143581a671?in=11:37:15&out=11:39:00
  • On Tuesday the Government’s Immigration Bill returned to the House of Commons for its Report Stage and Third Reading. This Bill covers a wide range of issues, including measures on illegal working, housing, access to public services, amongst other things. I share the Government’s goal of reducing illegal immigration and I support reasonable and proportionate measures to do so. However, whilst there are some proposals in the Bill that I support, I am very concerned that many of them will be counterproductive and harm community cohesion. I am particularly worried about the Bill’s proposals around a new offence of illegal working, the withdrawal of support for asylum seekers with children who have exhausted the appeals process, and changes around immigration detention. Indeed, I do not believe that there is any evidence that the measures overall in this Bill will work. The Shadow Frontbench tabled a number of amendments to the Bill at Report Stage, highlighting the strength and scope of the concerns around some of the proposals within it. These included amendments on summary evictions, reinstatement of appeal rights, the functions of the proposed Director of Labour Market Enforcement, and protections for landlords who take reasonable steps to evict tenants without the right to rent. Overall, I believe that the Immigration Bill falls far short of the comprehensive and coherent strategy that we need to bring greater controls and fairness to our immigration system. It is for these reasons that I voted against the Bill in its entirety at Third Reading. The Bill passed through the support of Government MPs and will now proceed to the House of Lords for further consideration, where I hope the Government will listen further to the many concerns that have been expressed and ensure that it is in a fit state before it becomes law.
  • On Monday the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, made a statement on the junior doctors contract and planned industrial action. Nobody wanted to see industrial action, not least the junior doctors and I welcome that action has been suspended. I also welcome that the Health Secretary finally agreed to talks with ACAS. However, I believe had Jeremy Hunt agreed to independent talks when it was first put to him, he could have avoided or at least mitigated any disruption to patients. Unfortunately, it was too late to rearrange the operations and appointments that had to be cancelled. As well as inconveniencing patients, this dispute has been deeply damaging to workforce morale.  I hope both sides can now negotiate a contract that is fair for junior doctors and safe for patients.

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Universal Credit (UC) is finally due to arrive in Nottingham from the middle of February – yet very few people are aware of how this fundamental change to the social security system will affect them. The Government’s aim with UC has been to merge the six main existing means tested benefits and tax credits into a single monthly payment, as well as to cut administration costs (although they’ve taken far longer to roll this out than at first planned). These six benefits are: Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. Unlike some existing benefits that have a 100% withdrawal rate, the Universal Credit will be gradually tapered away, with the idea that people can take a part-time job and still be allowed to keep some of the money they receive. Conditions will be attached to UC, such as requirements to seek work, and there will be elements such as ‘child element’ and ‘childcare element’ to top up income depending on family circumstances. There will also be ineligibilities affecting the self-employed and homeowners.

The Spending Review went far too unnoticed last week – with people assuming that the Chancellor did a full ‘u-turn’ on his cuts to tax credits. But the reality is he’s instead shaved off billions from the money due to be paid out through Universal Credit. Just take a look at the chart below where the Resolution Foundation estimate who will lose out (figures in red), for instance, a couple with three children earning the legal minimum – or wage floor, as the Resolution Foundation refers to it in the accompanying table – with the main earner working 37.5 hours a week and the second earner working 20 hours could see their net household income reduce by £3,060 in 2020.
Universal Credit

I’d be very interested to know if you or your family expect to be affected by this introduction of Universal Credit in about ten weeks time. Have you calculated whether you will be better or worse off? What are the issues that we should be raising about this new system? I thought I should ‘flag up’ this change as it will be with us shortly.

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MP Update – 29th November

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 29th November 2015

The brutal attacks on Paris and the persistent threat from ISIL jihadists have ensured that national and international security remain at the forefront of all our minds. Few would argue that we can turn a blind eye to the continued menace of this brutal death cult any longer.

British Members of Parliament will in all likelihood be asked later this week to decide on whether our existing RAF air strikes on ISIL in Iraq should be allowed to extend over the border into ISIL safe haven terrain in Syrian territory.

So this weekend, as I make up my mind on how to vote, I am keen to look at the detailed evidence and listen to your views – and I am grateful to the many people who have already written to me already expressing their thoughts, both for and against targeted air strikes against ISIL’s headquarters. Nobody wants to deploy military force unless absolutely required. So I need to judge if targeted air strikes are indeed ‘absolutely required’. There are so many questions to weigh up here, and my thoughts on some of these questions – so far – are as follows:

Is ISIL an immediate threat which should be degraded and contained – or can we leave things for a while longer in hope for a more perfect strategy? It appears to me that the balance of risk suggests urgency is required.

Do we have a sufficiency of international consensus and authority from the United Nations to tackle the ISIL safe haven located in what were the borders of the Syrian state? Not only have the UN unanimously allowed ‘all necessary measures’ to be taken in resolution 2249, but they are actively calling on all members states to take such steps.

Is there a legal basis for extending the existing action in Iraq over the border into Syria? The British airstrikes on targets inside Iraqi territory have been conducted under international law at the request of the Iraqi government in support of their self-defence, and undoubtedly many of Iraq’s assailants are conducting operations from areas that used to be Syrian Government territory now occupied by ISIL.

Is there a direct risk from ISIL to us here in Britain? I am seeking further detailed briefings from the security authorities on this point over the coming days, but the Prime Minister reports that seven terrorist attacks by ISIL on the UK have, fortunately, be thwarted this year. Sadly the attacks on so many British citizens in Tunisia could not be prevented.

Is there an imperative to come to the aid of the French in their self-defence following the atrocities in Paris – or should we decline to assist? The request from the French President to each British Member of Parliament for solidarity with their approach is something I find difficult to ignore.

Could negotiations be a better means of addressing the ISIL threat? I would only agree to air strikes if I am convinced that every other realistic prospect of diplomacy has been exhausted.

Is there a credible alternative strategy that can eliminate ISIL’s safe haven in the near future? I want to see an international dialogue conducted in parallel with any intervention and addressing issues of funding and armament supplies for ISIL far more effectively – but this process on its own does not seem sufficient to tackle the immediate threat posed.

Would air strikes against ISIL in Syria ‘inflame’ the situation more than our current air strikes in Iraq? There is always a risk of further retaliation but I think ISIL already hate and despise us as much as is humanly possible. We should not infantilise those engaged in such heinous acts as they are adults capable of making their own minds up and shaping their own behaviour. The beheadings, mass murders, rapes, abuse of minorities, unspeakable atrocities towards Yazidi women and children, these are all active choices of grown men who are not doing so in ‘reaction’ to us.

Are we paying attention to lessons learned from past interventions? I have been publicly pressing the Prime Minister – twice this week – to listen to concerns about a stronger humanitarian component safeguarding refugees in any package of measures, and also a serious commitment to post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation. These are reassurances I have been seeking. Some British interventions in the past have not succeeded, but others have. I am not sure that the argument “everything is bound to fail so never take military action” is borne out by history.

If airstrikes are extended against ISIL in Syria, is there a guarantee that this will lead to a comprehensive solution to the problem? No, I don’t think we can be totally certain of this, given the competing objectives of some the countries who have nevertheless come together with a common goal of eradicating ISIL. There is much work to be done to develop the long-term plan and I expect there will be setbacks and diplomatic wrangles. Yet stepping away from the immediate international focus on ISIL could make that comprehensive solution less, rather than more likely. British involvement should depend on a push for that consensus on the ISIL targeted focus. But the need to degrade ISIL’s capabilities remains urgent and I worry that postponing any efforts here could cause them to be stronger over that long-term period.

There are other questions besides these – and I hope that whether you agree or disagree when I eventually cast my vote, by now you know I am committed to a regular ongoing dialogue (my apologies for going on at such length again!) as I try to keep an open-mind to the evidence, the arguments and alternative points of view. All I can do is try my best to be guided by what I judge to be in the best interests of all my constituents, our country and the wider international community as I come to a conclusion.

If you want to see the latest exchange between the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Government, a link to these detailed papers is here

NOTTINGHAM

  • Nottingham Hospitals Charity supports the work that takes place at our city’s hospitals, and donations are used to improve patient care, enable medical research, purchase specialist equipment and provide staff development programmes. Nottingham Hospitals Charity are this year launching their ‘Get Your Socks On’ Christmas campaign. On Wednesday 9th December, they are encouraging people to wear a pair of festive socks to school or work, and donate £1. If you are interested in registering your school or workplace to participate, full details are on the Nottingham Hospitals Charity website here: http://nottinghamhospitalscharity.org.uk/news/get-your-socks-on/
  • Those of you who have visited the city centre this week will have noticed that the ‘Winter Wonderland’ is open in Old Market Square. The ‘Winter Wonderland’ features a number of food and drink stalls, as well as gift stalls and an ice rink, and is open until 3rd Christmas lights are also being switched on in high streets across the constituency. Lights were switched on in Sherwood and Sneinton this week, and events are taking place in St Ann’s on 2nd December (4-8pm), Hyson Green on 3rd December (3.30-5pm) and Dales on 10th December (12-2pm and 6-8pm). Full details of the events are available on the City Council website here: http://www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/article/30468/Whats-on-in-Neighbourhoods-this-Christmas
  • Nottingham City Council have pledged to double the access to free Wi-Fi in the city centre before the end of the year. As many people now use smartphones to access the internet, I welcome this development as it will benefit residents when they are visiting the city centre.
  • On Saturday 5th December, the charity Nottingham Women for Change will be holding a Swap Shop event at Tennyson Street Playcentre, 34 Tennyson Street, NG7 4FU. The event is an opportunity for families reuse and recycle by swapping books, clothes and toys they no longer want or need. The event is free to attend, and there is no obligation to bring items or indeed take anything if you just want to donate some unused items. There will be children’s arts and crafts and food available on the day, and the event runs from 10am to 1pm.

 SwapShop Flyer

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • I hope that people will not be distracted from the fact that in Wednesday’s Spending Review, George Osborne announced another £28bn of tax rises that will hit working people, families and businesses around Britain. As is so often the case, the Chancellor had a series of bold claims which began to unravel as soon as we saw the details in the Office for Budget Responsibility’s blue book. Of course, he claimed to have changed his mind on tax credits. But in reality when Universal Credit is introduced, notwithstanding its shambolic roll-out, many of these cuts will still hit working people hard. The independent OBR has made it quite clear that “the cost of the tax credit reversal is more than offset by cuts to a variety of other benefits”. On social security spending, the Chancellor’s couldn’t even pretend he had a story to tell of sound management. He was forced to admit that he will breach his self-imposed welfare cap – not just for one year, but for three successive years. The Conservatives illustrate how a crude ideological approach, rather than patient and careful reform, is failing to root out the massive costs of fraud and error.

Meanwhile the Resolution Foundation has found that working households on Universal Credit, the replacement for tax credits, will lose an average of £1,200 in 2020, and £1,300 for those with children. 

George Osborne has now carried out two Budgets and a Spending Review this year and we have had a different plan on each occasion. As he hastily rewrote his plans over the last few weeks his political allies have tried to hide the chaos by claiming he was in “listening mode” – but after Wednesday there will be many more problems to which the Chancellor will have to pay attention. Look at the detail of his announcements. With that extra £28bn of taxes and an additional £18bn of borrowing, he has veered wildly off the course he set himself.

After being forced to back down on some of his cuts to the police, George Osborne is still hacking away at public services, such as the budget for transport which shrinks by 37%.

By imposing major cuts on business development he will hold back, rather than help boost our economic prosperity. And local authorities have been hit for six with a combination of massive grant cuts and enforced council tax rises which will be harder to shoulder especially in less well-off communities.

The Chancellor’s announcements have already caused the OBR to downgrade disposable income by end of this Parliament, with the productivity rate revised down for three years from 2016 and average earnings also falling from 2016 onwards.

Together these changes show George Osborne has no long-term vision for sustainable growth in output and living standards. Add to this his now depressingly traditional practice of selling off more of the taxpayer’s assets on the cheap – with the Land Registry the latest public body under threat from a cut-price privatisation – and the picture emerges of a Chancellor who will do anything to try to achieve his fiscal targets at the beginning of the Parliament in order to boost his chances of being prime minister by the end of it.

In politics, changing your mind can sometimes be a sign of a strength. In the Spending Review on Wednesday, however, all we saw was short-termism from a man who might claim to be a modern conservative but delivered a very old-fashioned mixture of attacks on working families, spending cuts and typical Tory tax rises.

 

  • On Monday the Prime Minister made a statement in the House of Commons launching the Government’s National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). I pay tribute to the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces, and the defence of our country and protection of its citizens is the first duty of any Government. Britain needs a strong, modern military and security forces to keep us safe, and I support the increased expenditure to strengthen our security services. There are serious questions about the Government’s approach and I am glad that many Labour colleagues pressed on specific details. On Tuesday there was an Opposition Day debate on Trident, called by the SNP. The future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent is a matter of huge importance for our country, affecting our defence and security strategy for decades to come, as well as our global standing. I am very proud of the huge progress made under the previous Labour Government in nuclear disarmament through international frameworks. Indeed, the number of operationally available warheads almost halved, and the number of deployed warheads on each submarine was reduced. These efforts also resulted in the UK becoming the only recognised nuclear-armed Non-Proliferation Treaty country to possess just one nuclear system. I appreciate and respect that there are strongly held views on both sides of this crucial debate. The Opposition’s position, as stated in the manifesto I stood on at the last election, is to maintain a minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent, delivered through a continuous at-sea deterrent – and as such I opposed the SNP motion. I continue to believe that, in an unpredictable world, it is important for our NATO allies that the UK sends a message to those who threaten us that we will be resolute and trustworthy.

 

  • On Wednesday the House of Commons debated the Childcare Bill, which proposes to extend free childcare to 30 hours per week for working families with 3 and 4 year olds. I welcome the extending of free childcare, which builds on the pledge in the manifesto I stood on at the last election. However, over the last five years the Government has made it harder for parents to find the childcare hours they need – there are over 40,000 fewer childcare places since 2010 and six in ten councils do not have enough childcare available for working families. Families are now spending £1,533 more on childcare than they did in 2010, an increase of a third, and the Government’s flagship tax free childcare scheme has been delayed costing families thousands of pounds. I am also concerned that there might be a shortfall in Government funding that must be investigated further. I hope that the Government’s rhetoric on childcare will match reality as I do not want to see more broken promises for families with this scheme.

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

At the beginning of this email I asked, as I did in last week’s ‘MP Update’, for your further views on the proposal to extend airstrikes targeted at ISIL’s headquarters in Syrian territory, and clearly this is the central issue of the week ahead. But while this has been an incredibly busy week in Parliament – I don’t think it would be right to lose sight of the other crucial domestic issues. In particular, it would be a travesty if George Osborne’s Spending Review decisions went by unscrutinised. So if you have any views on the announcements the Chancellor made on Wednesday I’d be keen to know – because I remain determined to press him on his cuts to services, the tax rises he announced, and the threat to poorer households now looming when Universal Credit comes along.

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MP Update – 20th November

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 20th November 2015

On Wednesday the Chancellor will announce the public spending allocations for a wide range of services for the coming three years, including grants to Nottingham City Council, money for our NHS, schools and also for the Police. This is one of the most important statements affecting public services and we should be watching what the Government do extremely closely. George Osborne is already having to back down on his planned cuts to working tax credits – and so he should – but he may ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ and hit other budgets in doing so.

I am particularly worried about the squeeze facing our health and social care services, with our local NHS Hospitals Trust already in a deficit and with social services under intense pressure. And when I met with our local Police Commissioner Paddy Tipping and the Nottinghamshire Chief Constable Chris Eyre this week, we discussed the impact of a further relentless reduction in resources for community policing and frontline patrolling.

I believe that it’s vital for us to approach this challenge constructively and press Ministers to find resources from lower priority areas in order to protect frontline services and facilities. For example, I think that we should think about merging more of the back-office services from across the Police Authorities in the East Midlands to get money into police officer posts, something the Home Office are still resisting. And I think it’s appalling that £4.6billion is wasted at the Department for Work & Pensions in fraud, error and overpayments when that is the exact amount of money needed to avoid the cuts to working tax credits.

I am trying as hard as I can to press Ministers to think about sensible, constructive ways to save resource and prioritise vital public services. An ideological approach to public spending risks harming the community and it’s time we worked harder, looked in detail at where the money goes, to get through this tight financial period without causing so much damage.

NOTTINGHAM

  • On Thursday, Aldi opened its latest store on East Point Retail Park in Sneinton. The new store represents part of a wider regeneration of the area, and I welcome the more affordable choice that the supermarket offers for residents. The store has created 40 jobs for the area, with a further 80 jobs being created at other units in the retail park. In conjunction with the opening, Aldi made a donation to a local youth centre. The new retail park is a welcome boost to the area and residents were eager to try out the new store on Thursday – people were queuing from as early as 6.30am!
  • Small Business Saturday is taking place on Saturday 5th This annual event is a fantastic way to support local small businesses. It was great to see the Small Business Saturday Tour Bus in Nottingham on Monday, and the Small Biz 100 list has celebrated many small businesses including Nottingham-based Debbie Bryan and Shake Social Ltd. To find out more about what you can do to support local business, visit https://www.smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com/

SBS bus

  • East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) was inspected by the Care Quality Commission this week. I spoke a few weeks ago about my concerns that response times for the ambulance service had dropped from their eight minute target in the last couple of months and the EMAS Chief Executive welcomed the opportunity to show inspectors the care they offer as well as the challenges they face. I will be meeting with the EMAS Chief Executive in the New Year to discuss the challenges ahead.
  • In last week’s update, I talked about the outpouring of sympathy and solidarity with the French people following the attacks in Paris. That has been demonstrated in Nottingham this week with a number of vigils and events to show both our solidarity and that hate will not be tolerated in our diverse communities. One such event was organised by Nottingham Citizens, where a series of one-to-one conversations were held between people who had never met before at The Bridge Centre in Hyson Green on Wednesday. The event was organised in 48 hours, and over 100 people from different faiths and backgrounds attended the event to strengthen community relationships in the wake of the Paris attacks.
  • You may remember that I launched my annual Christmas Picture Competition last month. The competition is open to all primary school aged children in Nottingham East – all local schools have been invited to participate, but we accept individual entries too. This year’s theme is ‘Christmassy Books’. This is a final reminder as entries for the competition close on Friday 27th November, and prizes will be presented on 11th Entries should be A4 or smaller and please avoid using loose materials like glitter. Please remember to provide contact details and a return address. Please send the original artwork to my office, either by post (to 12 Regent Street, Nottingham, NG1 5BQ) or via email to suzi.clark@parliament.uk. Best of luck!

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • Following the Home Secretary’s statement on the Paris attacks, on Tuesday the Prime Minister made a statement in the House of Commons also covering the G20 summit that took place in Turkey over the weekend. In the face of the tragic events in Paris, it is right that we stand united with France in expressing our unequivocal condemnation of these atrocities and support the steps that are being taken to protect the people of this country and keep them safe. During the Statement I asked the Prime Minister to ensure that the police have full and necessary powers to keep our communities safe. The UK is currently working with our allies against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, training local forces, striking targets in Iraq and providing intelligence support. The Government also agreed at the G20 to base some British aircraft alongside other NATO allies at the airbase at Incirlik in an air defence role to support Turkey. It is important to work for a consensus in the international response to the attacks in Paris.
  • The Prime Minister also updated the House of Commons on the G20 discussions on global warming ahead of the UN Climate Summit in Paris. I believe the Government’s approach to renewable energy in this country run directly counter to its aims at the climate change talks and they must do more to combat climate change here in Britain, as well as pressing for international action. Thank you to those who replied to my question on this issue some weeks ago.
  • On Wednesday the House of Commons debated an Opposition motion on further education. Investment in 16-19 education is directly linked to a higher wage, higher skilled and more productive economy. You cannot build a 21st century economy on falling investment in education. However, over the last Parliament, the 16-19 education budget fell by 14% in real terms. Many colleges are reporting severe financial difficulties and are therefore no longer offering courses in subjects key for our country’s competitiveness. Furthermore, over 100 chairs of further education colleges have warned that further cuts to 16-19 funding will tip their colleges ‘over the precipice’. For the 2015 Spending Review, the Chancellor asked Departments to model two scenarios of 25% and 40% savings by 2019-20. Research by the House of Commons Library reveals that this could mean the budget for sixth form and further education colleges could fall by £1.6 billion. At the last election, I stood on a platform that promised to protect the entire education budget in real terms, including for post-16 and early years. Under this Government, good and outstanding sixth forms and further education colleges are under threat. In next week’s Spending Review, the Government must recognise the devastating impact that cuts of between 25% – 40% over this Parliament would have and protect the education budget from early years through to 19.

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Over the coming weeks I suspect that there will be an increasing debate in Parliament on a series of national security and defence issues, especially as the international community adjust to the indiscriminate threat from jihadi terrorism. Today’s attacks in Mali are sadly the latest such example.

There are debates due on the role of our security services, on the defence equipment and the nuclear deterrent, on how Britain should aid France in sharing their peacekeeping commitments worldwide, and of course on whether to be involved with action against ISIL in Syria. I’d be interested to hear any views that you have as the issues develop – and as ever please do email me your thoughts. Britain cannot cut itself off from the wider world community, and we have a fundamental duty to protect people and those who work to defend the country. And we also have to work locally recognising that good quality community policing is really important for the longer term as well.

 

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