MP Update – 14th November

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 14th November 2015

As the news of the horrific attacks in Paris came through late last night, it was sadly clear this was becoming one of the worst terrorist incidents in Europe in modern times. It is staggering to comprehend the depravity that leads to such acts of evil and premeditation, going so far beyond any sane explanation, justification or rational cause.

There has been an outpouring of sympathy and solidarity from communities across the world for those affected and I’ve already had many Nottingham residents expressing their shock at the news. It is fitting that tonight so many landmarks across the UK will be lit in the colours of the French Tricolour to illustrate the UK’s fraternity.

There will clearly need to be a thorough analysis of these coordinated attacks and consideration will need to be given to what further steps if any the national authorities could possibly take to thwart or prevent the loss of so many lives. From my own time as the Minister for Civil Contingencies and Emergency Planning, I know that we place a great deal of expectation on the shoulders of our security services who do successfully impede terrorism in our country month by month – but it is of course impossible to always stop the determined suicide attacker. In the meantime it is important that the democratic world is not cowed or intimidated by those so clearly attempting to target our values, culture and way of life.

NOTTINGHAM

Ø  Yesterday evening I was delighted to attend the ninth annual NUHonours Awards at the East Midlands Conference Centre. The NUHonours Awards celebrate the contribution of nurses, doctors, porters and all the other staff and volunteers who work at Nottingham hospitals and go above and beyond the call of duty in their care of patients and their families. It was a real pleasure to meet with so many of the staff and charity volunteers who keep our local NHS going so strongly – and it was also nice to be seated with Barbara Cathcart (pictured below) who runs the Nottingham Hospitals Charity and which hosted the awards. The Charity raises millions of pounds and contributes towards all sorts of improved facilities for patients, including over £2million for the new cystic fibrosis centre. Donations and bequests are often left to the Nottingham Hospitals Charity and more information is available at their website here http://nottinghamhospitalscharity.org.uk/

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Ø  A big shake-up has been announced by Ministers of HMRC tax offices across the country, with news of the closure of 137 centres and instead a consolidation into 13 new regional centres. While we have heard that the regional centre for the East Midlands will be based in Nottingham, the Government have yet to make clear how many job losses will result from the closure of the six offices currently operating in the region and whether there will be any other local impact from the change. There are some big questions arising from this reconfiguration, for taxpayers already finding it difficult in touch with HMRC, and of course for staff themselves. I will try to find out more about what exactly will be happening.

Ø  It’s ‘Small Business Saturday’ on December 6th and in the run up to this great event I want to encourage as many people to shop locally and support high street retailers in our area. On Friday I popped in to ‘Ideas On Paper’ in Cobden Chambers who retail magazines, journals, books and stationery. They have helped collaborate with the City Council, Experience Nottinghamshire and Nottingham Business Improvement District (BID) on a new ‘Creative Quarter’ handbook to be distributed free from local shops. It’s got some useful tips and ideas about local eateries, shopping and events – if you’re in town do pick one up.

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 PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

Ø  On Tuesday the Minister for Europe made a statement on the Government’s proposed renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the European Union. The Government set out the changes it wants to see in four areas: economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty, and welfare and immigration. The agenda raised important issues, including some which were in the manifesto I stood on at the general election such as protection for the rights of non-Eurozone countries and of national Parliaments. However, I was disappointed that there was so little about jobs and growth for the future. Britain is a more powerful, prosperous and secure country as a result of its membership of the EU.

The EU does need reform and especially in terms of democratic accountability, in my view. The Government also needs to guarantee that nothing in their agenda reduces the hard won employment rights which have been agreed at European level including rights to paid leave, rights for part time workers and fair pay for temporary and agency workers. There will now be a process of formal negotiation with the European institutions and all European partners, leading to discussion at the December European Council. The Government has said that it is progress in this renegotiation which will determine the timing of the referendum which will take place by the end of 2017.

The decision on whether or not the United Kingdom remains a member of the European Union is one of the biggest decisions this country will take for a generation. I want to see Britain playing a full role in shaping a reformed and better Europe which offers jobs and hope to its young people, uses its collective strength in trade with the rest of the world and stands together to face the urgent security problems we face.

Ø  On Tuesday the Government’s Trade Union Bill passed its Report Stage and Third Reading in the House of Commons. I oppose this Bill because it undermines the basic protections that trade unions provide for people at work. Labour tabled a number of amendments to the Bill, with much of the debate on Tuesday focusing on the three broad areas of devolution, e-balloting and picketing. Our amendments on devolution were designed to ensure that the Bill’s measures would not apply to services which are either wholly or partly devolved in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland or to English local councils or the Mayor of London. This would ensure that devolved administrations are able to decide how best they engage with their staff and trade unions. Unfortunately these amendments did not pass.

The Bill also introduces higher thresholds for strike ballots. The Government argues that this is aimed at boosting democracy in the workplace. In reality, I believe the proposals are designed to restrict workers’ voices and to prevent unions from effectively representing their members. If the Government was interested in boosting workplace democracy it would allow electronic workplace balloting which would help bring ballots into the twenty-first century.

Following significant scrutiny and pressure at Committee Stage, the Government tabled a number of amendments to loosen requirements on picketing – but these minor concessions do not go nearly far enough. Clause 9 of the Bill will still impose significant new restrictions on the ability of trade unions and their members to picket and protest peacefully, undermining civil liberties. Unfortunately an amendment removing this Clause was defeated.

The Bill now goes to the House of Lords for the final part of its legislative consideration.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

The terrorist attacks in Paris are clearly on the minds of the whole world this weekend – and there is much debate and speculation even at this early stage about lessons to be learned and the reaction that is likely to build. I’d be interested to hear any thoughts, anxieties or observations you might have at this time.

President Hollande of France has stated his conclusion that these were targeted attacks by ISIS and ISIS have also now claimed responsibility. There is an obvious and live threat here and I suspect there will be an urgent series of deliberations – most likely including a Commons statement on Monday – touching on the three questions of where else may be vulnerable, how more effective intelligence might foil attacks before they happen and ultimately how the threat should be removed.

History suggests that events may well move quite rapidly in the days ahead and I feel this is going to be a time for very careful leadership and thoughtful consideration for the bigger picture.

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MP Update – 8th November

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 8th November 2015

This morning I attended the Nottinghamshire Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Victoria Embankment and laid a wreath in memory of those who have fought and died in conflicts past and present. There was a very large turnout from many residents, friends of the Royal British Legion, and those who have served in our armed forces.

Decisions to enter into combat situations must never be taken lightly – and Britain has always played its part in peace-keeping, rescue missions and fighting against tyranny. I am deeply conscious that in today’s dangerous world there are times when it can become necessary to ask those serving in the forces to step into harm’s way and defend the values which we hold dear in society. We should never under-estimate the enormity of the tasks we require of our military and I know that the vast majority of residents in Nottingham East are proud to pay tribute to the men and women who have served and still serve in the army, navy and air force.

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NOTTINGHAM

  • Mental health is still stigmatised and mental healthcare is still on the fringes on the NHS. On a number of indicators, Nottingham suffers from a greater incidence of mental health problems and mental illness than the national average, so programmes like ‘Wellbeing+’ in Sherwood remain important sources of support for those with or at risk of developing mental health issues. I enjoyed meeting manager April Brown on Thursday, who explained to me how the project both supports those with mental health problems, and directs them towards services to help them get their lives back under control, from therapy to employment advice. With waiting lists of up to a year for therapy, Wellbeing+ fill the critical gap between diagnosis and treatment. They clearly provide indispensable support for the 800 people a year they work with.
  • On Thursday I was invited to Rosehill School in St Ann’s – a community special school for children from age 4 to 19 diagnosed with an autism spectrum learning disorder. It was great to have the chance to meet students and learn about the school’s new curriculum. Fenella Dowler, Cheryl Steele and all of the staff are involved in incredibly important work and doing what they can to enable students to be ready for independent living. The key challenge is now to get more support from the wider community to help students to access internships and work placements to ensure a smooth transition into adulthood. I was impressed with the tour I was given by some of the students themselves around the school’s outstanding facilities. With growing numbers and demand rising rapidly, Rosehill School is a key institution for the whole of the community and I believe by identifying the skills of their students in the longer term we can help build productive lives for these young people.

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  • I received a briefing this week informing me that Nottingham City is amongst the worst affected places in the country for pneumonia amongst the over-65s. If you are aged over 65 or have a long-term health condition you are eligible for a ‘pneumo jab’ on the NHS; give your GP a call before NHS comes under pressure through the winter.
  • This week I caught up with Pete McGavin, the newly appointed Interim Chief Executive of Healthwatch Nottingham, an independent organisation that endeavours to give a voice to people’s views on health and social care. We discussed some of their forthcoming investigations and inquiries and my long-held view that we need to have strategic oversight of the massive £800million NHS budget spent in Nottingham. I’m glad that Healthwatch are building their profil and able to provide some accountability for the NHS locally.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Thursday the Transport Secretary made a statement in the House of Commons regarding the suspension of flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. The Minister stated that the Government are reaching the view that a bomb on board may be the probable cause of the loss of the Russian Metrojet flight and hundreds of deaths on Saturday 31st October, and all UK operated flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh have subsequently been suspended. There is no question that the safety of British people must be the highest priority and I support the action that has been taken. The Government has stated that interim arrangements will be put in place so that people can return home, although there are clearly logistical issues arising in Egypt with this. An estimated 20,000 British citizens and nationals are currently in Sharm el-Sheikh, and it will be important that arrangements are put in place to provide those affected with regular and prompt updates, as well as a simple process for seeking official assistance.
  • On Monday the House of Commons debated the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill. There are parts of the Bill which I welcome such as measures that would restrict the operation of rogue private landlords and letting agents. However, there are also parts of the Bill I cannot support and I am concerned the Bill will not help most people struggling to buy their own homes, will mean a severe loss of affordable homes, and will weaken the obligation of private developers to contribute towards the building of new affordable homes. The Bill extends right-to-buy to housing associations funded by the forced sale of affordable council homes. I believe this is unworkable and wrong and would lead to a severe and irreversible loss of affordable homes across England at a time when they are most needed. The Bill also contains measures for ‘starter homes’. While I support the aim of ‘starter homes’ – to make home ownership more accessible – I am concerned that under the Government’s plans they will be unaffordable for most young people and families on ordinary incomes. We are facing a housing crisis in this country – many people cannot afford a home, can barely afford their rents and, in the worst cases, are sleeping rough. Home-ownership has fallen every year since 2010, last year there were the fewest affordable homes built in over two decades, and there has been a 36% increase in homelessness. While I support help for more people, particularly young people, to own their own homes, the Bill does nothing to correct the causes of the Government’s failure on housing and in many areas will make the housing crisis much worse. I therefore voted against the Bill on Monday.
  • On Wednesday the House of Commons debated an Opposition motion on policing. The Prime Minister promised to protect frontline policing but 17,000 police officers have been lost since 2010, of which 12,000 were from the operational frontline, and neighbourhood policing has been particularly badly hit. I am very concerned by reports that the police budget could be cut by up to 25 per cent in the Comprehensive Spending Review later this month. Cuts of this scale could leave England and Wales with many fewer officers. We could see the disappearance of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and the end of visible neighbourhood policing as we have known it. Frontline policing has already been cut over the past five years which has had a real impact on the police’s ability to do their job. Moreover, crime is changing and moving away from traditional forms such as burglary and car theft and is increasingly being replaced by cyber crime. While of course I support sensible savings and senior police chiefs and the Police Federation acknowledge further efficiency savings are possible. Efficiency savings of 5 to 10 per cent would be difficult but doable through greater collaboration between forces and an overhaul of policing technology. I am concerned that cuts of over ten per cent, however, could put public safety at risk. I supported the Opposition motion on Wednesday which called on the Government to secure a funding settlement for the police that maintains frontline services and does not compromise public safety. Unfortunately, the Government opposed the motion on this vital issue and it was defeated.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

You may have seen on the news that the Home Office published a draft Bill to consolidate and update the investigatory powers available to law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies. There have been huge changes in technology which have left our laws outdated, and made the job of the police and security services in keeping us safe harder. I’m conscious that many people are sceptical about whether government agencies should have certain rights to examine data and communications, which is why I wanted to ask your opinion about how best to strike the right balance.

It’s obvious that we now face growing threats, internationally and domestically, and we therefore cannot leave the police and security services with any blind spots when it comes to tackling terrorism, child exploitation, serious online fraud, and the location of missing people. However, I believe that strong powers must be offset by strong safeguards for the public to protect privacy and long-held liberties.

The previous draft Bill in 2012 caused serious misgivings but it does appear that the Government have backed down on some of those aspects, with this new draft Bill including much stronger safeguards and a new two-stage process for authorising interception warrants, requiring formal approval from a judge. This warrant process seems to have the merits of both providing public and political accountability, as well as the independence that is needed to build trust in the system.

Do you think that the draft Investigatory Powers Bill is a “snooper’s charter” and paves the way for mass surveillance? Or do you believe the proposals that have been brought forward in this draft Bill have broadly got a difficult balance right and taken into account legitimate concerns?

I’m going to look at the detail of the draft Bill and listen to the views on both sides of the argument. The proposals will now go forward for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament before the Government proceed any further with them. In the meantime, any views you might have would be very welcome.

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MP Update – 31st October

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 31st October 2015

We can’t run a decent NHS without an efficient, modern ambulance service. Emergency treatment for critical illness and injury is vital and for some conditions – heart attacks and stroke for instance – a rapid response can mean the difference between life and death. So I was disappointed to learn about East Midlands Ambulance Service response times falling back from their eight minute key targets in the past couple of months, as reported in this week’s Nottingham Post.

I’ve asked for an early meeting with the Ambulance Service chief executive to discuss why timeliness has been slipping. As I said in my remarks to BBC Radio Nottingham on Friday there are many obstacles that paramedics face, including busy traffic, but in the 21st century we need to be managing the service better than 15 minute responses to Red1 and Red2 call outs. Financial pressures are undoubtedly part of this equation. There has also been a changing strategy at the ambulance service, making plans to reconfigure buildings and key locations and then changing those again.

We need the best quality hospitals and primary care in Nottingham, but we also need patients to be able to access treatment quickly when it is urgently needed. It would be deeply regrettable if somehow the ambulance service didn’t receive the same high priority for investment and modernisation as the rest of the NHS.

NOTTINGHAM

  • I was very pleased to hear that Djanogly Academy on Gregory Boulevard has been taken out of “special measures” following an Ofsted inspection. The school is steadily improving under headteacher Dave Hooker and posted an increase in the number of students getting five GCSEs, including maths and English. They still have some way to go but, as the inspectors said, Mr Hooker is turning the school around. You can read the full story in the Nottingham Post here: http://www.nottinghampost.com/Djanogly-City-Academy-lifted-special-measures/story-28041255-detail/story.html#ixzz3pVsNVA3U
  • 9 out of 10 people with learning disabilities have experienced a hate incident over the last year. On Thursday I was invited to Nottingham Mencap to visit ‘Smile! Stop Hate Crime’, a project for people with learning disabilities working to tackle disability hate crime in Nottingham. Their coordinators, Denise Hickman and Karen Aspley, told me about their new scheme, Safe Places, which works with local public premises (e.g. shops, pubs) to provide a ‘Safe Place’ for vulnerable people. If a vulnerable member of the community needs support they can go to a certified ‘Safe Place’ (which will have a badge in the window), and the staff will know how to help them and who to contact. It is a great project, and the Mencap day care services are much valued – and I even had the chance to join them for lunch!

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  • In September Virgin Media announced that Nottingham would potentially benefit from £25 million investment in ultrafast broadband over the next four years, which could affect up to 50,000 premises. I requested a meeting with Virgin Media in Nottingham on Thursday to discuss this planned extension, and they are asking residents interested in the service to say whether they want to have cable access or not (their survey link is here). Over two hundred people work at the Virgin Media headquarters in Nottingham and it was interesting to look around and see for myself how the company is organised.
  • The problem with the clocks going back means it is very dark quite early now – which has a number of downsides to it, including making it slightly more challenging to knock on doors in the evening to talk with local residents about the issues that concern you most! Undeterred by the rain, we were out in Edwards Lane this week (pictured below) and a number of questions came up including the need for better playground facilities, tax credit changes, and support for the work of our armed forces.

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PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • This week the Government suffered two humiliating defeats in the House of Lords over their plan to cut tax credits. Peers voted that the Chancellor should not go ahead with the changes – which take an average of £1,300 a year from three million working families – until he has laid out extra support for those affected for the next three years. Since losing the vote the Tories have tried to manufacture a “constitutional crisis” on the basis that the Lords defied the Commons on a financial matter – but this argument was shattered when one of their own ministers confirmed this was a benefits matter, rather than a tax one, so the Lords had not broken any conventions.
  • The reality is that David Cameron and George Osborne do not have permission from voters to cut tax credits and during the election they repeatedly ducked the question of where exactly their social security cuts could fall. So on Tuesday, at Treasury Questions, I asked the Chancellor directly to point to the sentence in the Tory manifesto which outlined this specific tax credit cut. It was a simple question – but of course he could not answer. You can watch the exchange here: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/289f1a84-8d7c-4ac8-b8e4-aa3192094b70?in=11:44:29&out=11:45:15
  • On Tuesday the Government’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill returned to the House of Commons for its Report Stage and Third Reading. I voted against the third reading of this legislation because attempts to amend away the worse elements were all rejected by Ministers. I was particularly disappointed that the Government refuse to maintain a duty on the Government to report on child poverty targets. I also supported amendments which would have prevented the abolition of the Work-Related Activity Group component of ESA and prevented the cut being transferred to Universal Credit. I believe it is unjust and unfair to cut social security support for disabled people and those with serious health conditions who have been assessed as not fit for work and placed in the work-related activity group.  Unfortunately the Government defeated these amendments as well
  • On Wednesday there was a debate in the House of Commons on junior doctors’ contracts. Junior doctors are the lifeblood of the NHS and the Government’s handling of the junior doctors’ contract has caused unnecessary anger across the country and is now a real threat to the recruitment and retention of NHS staff. It is vital the new contract is safe for patients and fair to junior doctors and I am concerned that the current proposals remove the safeguards that penalise hospitals who routinely force junior doctors to work in excess of their contracted hours, and cuts pay for those doctors that currently work evenings and weekends putting delivery of a 7-day NHS at risk. The Opposition motion urged the Government to protect junior doctors in the new contract and return to negotiations with the BMA. Unfortunately the Government voted against the Opposition’s motion and it did not pass.
  • The first of the two Opposition Day debates on Wednesday called on the Government to take immediate action to protect the steel industry. Thousands of jobs have been lost in the sector over the last few weeks, with more at risk. The steel industry is of vital importance to those local communities it serves, yet it has taken these many job losses before the Government has even talked about action. I supported the Opposition’s motion, which called on the Government to implement immediately the Energy Intensive Industry Compensation Package, to address the high energy costs the sector faces.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

It’s alarming how the issue of carbon reduction and global warming has been on the wane with the media in recent years. Some argue that the economic downturn placed financial matters more to the fore in people’s minds. But we remain in urgent need of a worldwide solution to sustained and high carbon emissions – which is why I want to press the UK Government to take the Paris Conference in December far more seriously.

The United Nations have compiled a survey of what they call ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCs), measuring the promised commitments of now 146 countries to cut emissions. While this is four times the number of countries committed since the Kyoto protocol, and if kept would lead to a 9% cut in emissions by 2030, I am still concerned it will see global temperatures rise by 2.7 degrees Celsius about pre-industrial levels.

I’d be interested to know whether you also sense these questions have fallen down the political agenda – and what could be done to raise interest again? I’m pleased that the Paris Conference looks likely to cover 86% of global emissions but it’s the developing world and the large industrialising nations like China, India and Indonesia we need to encourage to do more. Any thoughts or observations always gratefully received.

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MP Update – 25th October

 NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 25th October 2015

Next month the Chancellor George Osborne will stand up in Parliament to announce how much money has been allocated to public services for the coming three year period in his ‘Spending Review’. So we will see, over the coming weeks, various campaigns starting to build pressures for more resources. There are already some big needs which the Chancellor should address – including revisiting his cuts to the working tax credits which will hit some of the lowest paid working people.

But following my meeting on Friday with the management team at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, I am increasingly worried about the financial crisis facing our health service – and whether the Government are taking this seriously. A few figures brought this to life for me; despite growing demand and workload pressures, higher clinical negligence insurance costs and agency nursing fees, our local hospitals actually received a £6million CUT in the cash they received from the clinical commissioning group this year. Cutting the cash for QMC and City Hospital through this local CCG contract means that, in turn, a whole series of equipment improvements we need at the hospitals have been put on ice, including planned upgrades for radiology imaging equipment.

The hospitals budget needs £848million just to stand still, but there is only £755million of income and grants – leaving a whopping £93million shortfall. The Trust plan to make some of this shortfall up with a further £44million of ‘savings’, but that would still leave them £49million short. These are big figures, it is a dangerous deficit, and the numbers paint a picture sadly replicated in other hospital trusts across the rest of the country.

The Chancellor’s spending review has got to address this NHS financial crisis or the pressures we see in winter months especially in the Emergency Department will get worse and worse. They were elected on a promise to meet NHS funding needs, and the Spending Review must now come up with the goods – and that’s just to preserve the existing services we have, let alone to fund new improvements.

NOTTINGHAM

  • Sickle cell disorder affects between 12,500 and 15,000 people in the UK, making it the most common inherited disease in the country. Abnormal blood cells getting stuck in the blood vessels can produce a ‘sickle cell crisis’ – episodes of severe pain in the bones, joints, stomach or chest. Although good medical treatment is available, often social support is not, and awareness is low. That is why OSCAR Nottingham, a charity founded by parents of sufferers in 1983, is so valuable. It was great to speak at the opening of their Health & Wellbeing Day and talked to chairman Paul Pryce (pictured) about the important work they do. This includes raising awareness of how the disease is passed on and support for young sufferers (e.g. help with difficulties at school, counselling, health advice). It is clear that they offer vital social support for sufferers that otherwise would not be available.

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  • On Friday afternoon I visited Runnymede Court in Portland Road, a 60 unit retirement complex where over 78 residents live. I was given a warm welcome by their staff and residents, and enjoyed hearing about the support the estate offers and discussed some of the concerns and issues of those living in the complex (pictured below).

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  • 19th October marked the first day of the extended franchise for Stagecoach to run East Midlands Trains, which runs until March 2018. As part of the £150 million deal, Stagecoach are launching a £13million investment programme, which they say will bring a number of improvements to the service, including 22 additional services from Nottingham to Newark Castle. I will be keeping a close watch on how this franchise progresses as it is important to hold these services to account.
  • Are you registered to vote? Changes in the system introduced by this Government mean around one million people will be taken off the electoral register this year. You can make sure you’re not one of them by registering to vote at gov.uk/register-to-vote . It is quick and easy, and only takes three minute. You will need your National Insurance number so do have it to hand. There are significant elections coming up in the coming year and don’t forget, if you don’t register there could be an £80 fine and you may find it harder to get a credit card or mobile phone contract. Nottingham City Council’s electoral registration team have been trying to ensure the register is up to date in our area but I am concerned that there are some pockets of our neighbourhoods where registration isn’t high.
  • October is almost over and Christmas adverts are probably soon to follow. I launched my annual Christmas Picture Competition last week, so this is just a reminder to keep sending entries in. It is open to all primary school aged children living in Nottingham East. All local schools have been invited to participate, but we accept individual entries too. The theme is “Christmassy Books”.  The closing date for entries is the 27th November and prizes will be presented around 11th December. 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 josie.tanvir@parliament.uk. Best of luck!

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • The fight to persuade the Chancellor to change his working tax credits proposal is reaching a crunch point, with a vote in the Lords tomorrow and possibly more opportunities for opposition during the rest of the week. My suspicion is that he will use Tuesday’s Treasury Questions to announce a ‘tweak’ to the plan – but whether this is enough to end the penalty for those in work remains to be seen. On Tuesday I supported the Opposition Motion calling on the government to drop the plans and even some Conservative MPs voiced their concerns.
  • On Tuesday there was an Urgent Question on the future of the steel industry following the announcement of nearly 1,200 job losses at the Tata Steel plants in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire, and Caparo Industries entering administration. The ongoing crisis in our steel industry is a tragedy for all those affected. I understand the real and difficult problems facing the steel industry. However, I am concerned that the Government have been so reluctant to defend the industry when it is so important to our strategic national interests. A steel summit was held last Friday and I believe the Government should immediately carry out the emergency actions which the industry called for. With each passing day there is a new blow to the steel industry. We need action from the Government including working with the European Commission and the Chinese Government to relieve the pressure on the industry. Coming so soon after the closure of the Redcar steelworks, I hope the Government can work with every agency and jurisdiction to support the individuals, families and communities who are being affected by these job losses.
  • This week the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill started its Committee Stage in the House of Commons and a range of amendments were debated. I support real devolution to empower our communities. However, I fear this Bill is a top-down process of piecemeal deals that do not offer meaningful devolution to all areas of England. I supported a number of amendments on Tuesday including on fair funding, and for the provision for a multi-year funding agreement which would allow combined authorities the resources and time needed to build financial stability and allow them to best protect themselves against unfair funding settlements delivered by central government.
  • In the next few weeks I expect that George Osborne will have negotiated a joint proposal with council leaders across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire on how a combined authority for our part of the East Midlands might look, with Osborne insisting on the proviso of an elected mayor across this area. Until we see what is on offer, the jury is out. My concerns are whether this extra layer of local government is justified by the powers and resources vested more locally. I will keep you posted when we hear more detail.
  • I was sorry to learn this week that my colleague Michael Meacher died at the age of 75. He was a Minister in the previous Labour Government on environmental issues and was a great fighter for social justice and equal opportunities.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Should we have English votes for English laws (‘EVEL’) in the House of Commons? Clearly there is a need to address the anomaly where Scottish and Welsh MPs have a say on English issues, but English MPs cannot take part in decisions which are devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.

But the Government’s solution this week may make matters worse, rather than resolve these tensions. The so-called ‘EVEL’ reforms will now mean that the Speaker has the tricky job of certifying if a piece of legislation relates only to England and, if so, English MPs alone will have to grant their ‘consent’ for the Bill to proceed. The trouble is, whether a Bill is purely ‘English’ is not always clear cut. For instance, does a third runway at Heathrow only relate to England? Or are the Scots affected if Heathrow does or doesn’t expand routes to different parts of the UK?

There should have been far more in-depth thinking about the major constitutional ramifications of this change, rather than the rushed changes to the House of Commons standing orders pushed through on Thursday afternoon. I think the UK is strongest if we find ways to bind the nations together, not plant the seeds of disunity and animosity with a sense that there are ‘two classes’ of MPs sitting in the same Parliament.

I’d be interested to know your views and whether you think there are better solutions.

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MP Update – 18th October

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 18th October 2015

 

The severe cuts to working tax credits due from next April will mean that people in employment but on modest levels of pay could lose more than £1000 a year. And because these losses won’t be made up for by the rise in the national minimum wage, it is now clear that the Government are going to come under intense pressure to rethink this plan.

In the hours after George Osborne made this announcement, I was clear that it would be the most pernicious aspect of his Summer Budget – which is why I called the change a ‘work penalty’, penalising people trying their hardest to do the right thing and go out to work. Because tax credits are complex and calculated for different individuals depending on their own circumstances, it is easy to see how for many people the impact of the changes in April might be a bit unclear. But the two major changes will together be a major disincentive for people to go out and earn a living – cutting the threshold at which the full allowance of working tax credit begins to be payable and then tapering away the tax credit more steeply for every pound earned through work.

I would predict that George Osborne is already planning to back down in his ‘Autumn Statement’ on November 25th, but it is quite important that MPs speak up to keep the pressure on the Chancellor. If you are likely to be affected and depend on working tax credit to make ends meet, I’d be interested to hear your story. With Labour out of government now we can only hope that Conservative Ministers respond to public pressure – so if you want to write to the Chancellor about these changes do so at HM Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ.

NOTTINGHAM

  • Seventy years ago in October 1945 the United Nations was formed after the end of the second world war, out of the lessons of the failures of the old ‘League of Nations’, the global forum for diplomacy aiming for a more peaceful and sustainable planet. Here in Nottingham we have a very welcome branch of the United Nations Association, which met in the Council House on Friday morning to hand over a commemorative copy of the UN Charter to the Sheriff of Nottingham (pictured below) – and to discuss future ideas for UN reform. It is incredibly frustrating that action is often thwarted by the unanimous requirements of the UN constitutions, but at least we have 139 countries signed up to talking and dialogue, albeit many of whom still shun notions of democracy. We sometimes take for granted the obvious – but we should acknowledge that the UN is a vital forum we continue to need in an insecure world.

18 Oct 1

  • Well done to the team at Green’s Mill in Sneinton for the transformation of their new garden, led by Rachael Hemmings who gave me a tour of their newly built facilities and greenhouse last week (see pictured below). Next Friday they’ll be hosting a Family Grow & Cook taster session from 10am until 1pm and I’d recommend popping along – just walk up to the mill and the garden is situated through the mill yard. Book at rachaelhemmings@hotmail.com if you want to go along.

18 Oct 2

  • When young people are at risk of school exclusion or find that the school environment isn’t working for them, the education system has developed a series of ‘alternative learning’ centres to ensure continuity of schooling. But the range of alternative education providers is varied and it’s up to schools to find the right one. So it was heartening to have the chance to visit the new ‘Pheonix Aspirational Learning’ in Liddington Street, Basford recently. They have come together from the staff of the former Wheelbase Centre which sadly closed last year – and the new team (pictured) are determined to help young people develop practical skills including plumbing, gardening, woodwork, arts and crafts as well as business skills, Maths and English. I was really impressed with the dedication of the team, who have personally taken a big leap to set the new facility up with very little financial backing, and it’s really great that they’ve had loads of donations and offers of help from across the community. They still need donations of tools for their workshop so if anyone knows of spares they could donate, do email me to let me know.

18 Oct 3

  • Happy 21st birthday to health food shop Roots Natural Foods in Sherwood – it was really nice to catch up with Ken Dyke and the team and ‘cut the cake’ especially as they’ve been supporting the local charity NUH Jimma Link as they work to exchange medical staff with a hospital in Addis Ababa.

18 Oct 4

  • Assisting constituents with individual cases and problems are a really important part of being an MP and also a good way to hear about local concerns first hand; that’s why I was in Asda in Hyson Green chatting to local residents about schools, council matters and national politics last week. If you don’t have an issue you’d like me to pursue please still let me know what you think of the news of the day – so if you see me out and about, come and say hello!

18 Oct 5

  • As October continues and autumn starts to bite, few of us have even started to think about the festive season. However, the time has come to launch this year’s edition of my annual Christmas Picture Competition, open to all primary school aged children living in Nottingham East. All local schools have been invited to participate, but we accept individual entries too. The theme for this year’s competition is “Christmassy Books”.  The closing date for entries is the 27th November and prizes will be presented around 11th December. 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 josie.tanvir@parliament.uk   Best of luck!
  • Denewood and Unity Pupil Referral Unit on Forest Road West was judged “inadequate” and requiring urgent improvement by Ofsted last December. Due to the amount of improvement still required, I gather that the Secretary of State for Education is considering enforcing a temporary change of management in the school. I am trying to find out more about this situation and am keeping an eye on developments.
  • The Jobs Fair is coming to Nottingham on the 13th November. The Fair, being held at Nottingham Arena, will feature 20+ local businesses and employers actively looking for new workers. The event itself is running from 10am to 2pm and is suitable for all types of companies and jobseekers. More information can be found here.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • The big debate in Parliament this week revolved around the Government’s proposal for a ‘Charter for Fiscal Responsibility’ which sets out the goal for there to be more revenue coming in to the Treasury than public expenditure going out by 2019/20, and in ‘normal times’ thereafter for a surplus to be achieved, to begin the process of reducing the UK’s £1.5trillion of debt.This was a surprise, not just because it seemed at odds with John’s views about public spending, but because over the summer I had been carefully crafting an approach to avoid this trap, instead planning to table Labour’s own separate motion in the Commons on an Opposition Day with our preferred version of fiscal rules, and to ignore the Osborne political game-playing by abstaining on the Government’s version. Far better to offer the country our own free-standing approach, which would have also aimed for a surplus but with more safeguards including a series of ‘tests’ to protect the viability of public services, the NHS and national security, and to protect the needs of the most vulnerable in society.Having argued throughout the summer that we shouldn’t engage with Osborne’s silly game-playing, my judgement was to abstain on the vote on Wednesday. As John himself now admits, this has been an embarrassing situation for the frontbench, but to be fair it is a complex issue which was designed to ensnare and tarnish Labour. I am quite sure that lessons will be learned.
  • So when I spoke with John McDonnell last Sunday, I advised him not to vote in favour of the Osborne charter as he planned, but to stay out of the fray that the Chancellor was trying to entangle him in. On Monday, John announced a u-turn on his plans, saying he would no longer back the Osborne plan, but would now vote against it. Unfortunately this leap from one extreme to the other sent the signal that Labour would actively oppose a surplus, which I believe is not where the majority of the public think a sensible alternative government should be.
  • It has been quite clear to everyone for many months that this was a giant political ‘trap’ designed by George Osborne to tarnish the Labour Party as somehow ‘addicted to borrowing forever’, enticing Labour to vote against the measure and thereby allow him to label us as ‘deficit deniers’. Indeed, Labour’s new Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said he recognised as much himself – and surprised us all during the Party conference in September by saying Labour MPs would be whipped to actually vote in favour of this Fiscal Charter.
  • This week the Shadow Health Secretary asked an Urgent Question on NHS financial performance following the recent figures which show the NHS overspent by £930 million in three months and could be on course for an annual deficit of £2 billion this financial year. The figures show that the deficit for the first three months of this financial year was larger than the deficit for the whole of 2014-15. It is unclear how the Government expect to fund more services spread over seven days. I am also concerned by reports that the health regulator, Monitor, was “leaned on” to delay the publication of these figures. The pressures faced by the NHS are a direct result of the decisions taken by this Government, with a significant reduction in social care provision, staff shortages which are forcing hospitals to recruit from overseas or hire expensive agency staff, and a damaging top-down reorganisation. Hospitals across the country and here in Nottingham are being faced with the stark choice between balancing the books and delivering safe care, with a further £22 billion of ‘efficiency savings’ threatening staff cuts and service closures. People across the country depend on NHS services and I fear the Government has no plan to tackle the financial crisis facing our NHS.
  • On Tuesday the House of Commons debated the Government’s Immigration Bill. I believe that there should be firm and fair controls on illegal immigration, and there are measures in this Bill which I support, such as the strengthening of sanctions on employers of illegal workers and the establishment of a Director of Labour Market Enforcement. However, the Bill contains a number of highly problematic measures, some of which I fear could leave families and children homeless. I am particularly concerned about the Bill’s proposals on housing which will require checking of the immigration status of potential tenants through the ‘Right to Rent’ scheme. An independent study into a pilot of these proposals resulted in extremely troubling findings, notably that checks are not being undertaken uniformly for all tenants, and are being directed at individuals who appear ‘foreign’. I am therefore concerned that if the Government proceed with this scheme as it stands, it could lead to widespread, indirect discrimination.
  • In its current form, I do not believe that this Bill will decrease illegal immigration, but instead will reduce social cohesion and punish the children of illegal immigrants. That is why I voted for an Opposition ‘Reasoned Amendment’ which highlighted the elements of the Bill I support and those measures I oppose. This amendment did not pass, however, and so given the strength of my objection to some of the proposed measures, I voted against the Bill in its entirety.
  • On Wednesday the House of Commons debated the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. I support devolution to empower communities across the regions and cities of this country. While this Bill is a step in the right direction, I am concerned that the Bill is a top down process of piecemeal deals that do not offer meaningful devolution to all areas of England. The Bill imposes mayors without consultation or referenda as a condition of devolution. I do not agree that elected mayors should be a pre-condition for further devolution of powers to combined authorities. Indeed, if the Government are serious about devolution, they should let local areas choose their own model of governance. The Bill also does not offer a fair funding settlement which I fear threatens the financial stability of local government.The Government’s Bill was passed on Wednesday. However, I hope the Government can be persuaded to go further and faster in delivering real devolution to the country as the Bill continues its passage through Parliament.
  • We need to look at the constitutional and political issues facing our country but it is clear the Government still do not have a real vision for what a more devolved Britain might be. I would like to see a constitutional convention that could reach into every part of the country to test the arguments about a new settlement for Britain.
  • This week my colleagues Anna Turley and Tom Blenkinsop asked Urgent Questions in the House of Commons following the closure of the Redcar steelworks, which is likely to directly affect 2,200 jobs and many more in the supply chain and local community. This closure is a tragedy for the families of those affected, for the town of Redcar – where at least 50% of those employed at the ovens and blast furnace live – and for a community with a proud steel-making history. It also shows the Government’s lack of strategic vision for Britain’s economic and industrial future. The Government still hav    e a number of questions to answer, including why they have been so passive about saving the steel industry in this country when it is so strategically important, and about the level of support that will be provided for those affected in Redcar and beyond.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Ministers are shortly to bring forward proposals that could radically change the Sunday trading arrangements. They plan to give the power to local councils to decide on whether larger retailers should be able to open beyond the current nationally restricted Sunday hours. I’d be interested to know how you think I should vote on this when the issue comes before the Commons in the next couple of weeks.

On the one hand, some people do find the restricted hours troublesome and shopping on a Sunday is often convenient and popular – and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to running my own Sunday errands.

On the other hand, I am concerned that shop workers may be forced into having less time off and less flexibility if Sunday becomes just another retail day, as the shopworkers’ union USDAW has been arguing. I also sympathise with the idea that Sunday should be a ‘special’ day to allow space for family time.

Should local authorities be the ones to decide these things? The case for ‘localism’ is always a powerful one. Or should this remain a national policy to protect the nature of Sundays as they are.

I can see both sides of this issue and would be grateful for any thoughts you might have.

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