MP Update – 16th June

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Friday 16th June 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

The horrendous tragedy in the West London tower block fire has quite rightly dominated the news in the week following the general election. If this turns out to have been an avoidable disaster – and there is growing speculation about the fire resistance of the cladding used in recent renovations – then not only must this never ever happen again but those responsible must be held to account.

I have been in discussion with Nottingham City Homes about the high rise flats in the city and will do so again on Monday. My priority is ensuring that the current assumptions – about escape routes and evacuation advice; about building regulation and sprinkler systems; about communication with residents – are challenged and properly thought through. There are some blocks in Nottingham East that have been in the news in recent months when different risks emerged, including hoax bomb threats, and I will be testing officials on whether the existing advice to residents is adequate. I also have concerns about escape route options and internal fire doors – all details I will raise with those in charge.

Nottingham City Homes have been quick to thoroughly review their arrangements and to meet again with the Fire Service. Let us hope that we can prevent such a reoccurrence as has happened at Grenfell Tower but also reassure all local residents that they are safe in their homes.

NOTTINGHAM

  • Although the Conservatives are doing a deal with the DUP to stay in office as a minority Government nationally (more on this below), I am really glad we had so many fantastic results for Labour at last week’s general election – and especially pleased to have been re-elected to represent Nottingham East for the third time. A combination of local hard work and excellent campaigning by Jeremy and the national Party defied some of the worst poll projections. Labour now holds 262 seats with the Conservatives on 318, which when combined with the Democratic Unionists from Northern Ireland means Theresa May can stay in Number 10. So while I’m disappointed that we could end up with five more Tory years, the improvement in our share of seats does mean we can keep their feet to the fire and hopefully find alliances across Parliament to stop some of the worst aspects of Tory rule. My priorities will remain defending the NHS, stopping cuts to Nottingham schools, fighting for local jobs and investment – which means a Brexit that retains key trading links with Europe – and providing a strong voice locally.

The result in Nottingham East was as follows:

 

Labour 28,102                 71.9%

Conservatives 8512        21.6%

LibDems 1003                  2.6%

UKIP 817                           2.1%

Green 698                        1.8%

Elvis 195                            0.5%

  • A recent inspection of East Midlands Ambulance Service by the Care Quality Commission has found that the service has made significant improvements, but that there are still steps to be taken before the CQC will be satisfied with the service overall. In November 2015, EMAS was told that it needed to make improvements in a number of areas, and while the recent report found improvements in staff numbers, vehicle availability and staff training, there is still progress to be made in areas such as response times. I will continue to follow this closely and remain in contact with staff at EMAS.
  • The new tram bridge at QMC is nearing completion and is due to open to the public next month. The bridge, which connects the Queen’s Medical Centre tram stop to the main hospital building, will provide quicker and easier access to the hospital for patients and staff. I’m pleased to see progress on this project – once again showing that Nottingham is leading the way on public transport.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • Theresa May’s new alliance with the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party will be subject to significant scrutiny in the coming days. It has clearly big ramifications for the Queen’s Speech, which is supposed to set out the legislative agenda for the Government for the year ahead. I doubt very much that some of the worst and most controversial aspects of the Tory manifesto will still be there, simply because they don’t have the numbers to vote it through. Sadly, the Government do have a number of powers that don’t always require legislation – including the allocation of resources in some cases. I am concerned about the impact on the stability of the Good Friday Agreement and also the attitude of the DUP when it comes to social policy, such as their illiberal stance on a woman’s right to choose.
  • The new Parliamentary arithmetic should give us scope to form an informal coalition against a harsh Brexit that sees us crashing out of the EU in a way that harms our economy, which is my big concern. I will be pressing the Government and Labour’s frontbench to do even more to salvage the UK’s membership of the Single Market which is so crucial for the country.
  • Another smaller aspect of Brexit – but nevertheless important to consumers – is what could happen to mobile telephone costs if we end up outside the Single Market in a couple of years. This week saw the abolition of mobile ‘roaming’ changes across all European Union and single market countries, saving a traveller in Europe around £61 per year. But if we leave the Single Market and don’t negotiate a bilateral deal on roaming charges with the EU, these costs could be reimposed. Exporters doing business on the continent will face that unfair disadvantage and holidaymakers could see these higher charges returned. Just another issue that flows from a ‘hard Brexit’ if Ministers get this wrong.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Jo Cox was murdered a year ago today, a shocking attack by a far right extremist designed to silence her message of unity and community strength. I worked closely with Jo in Parliament and it is hard to forget the shock that rippled across the whole country at that brutality. Her husband Brendan has been a great inspiration both in coping with that awful loss and focusing on the good that has to emerge, including this week’s series of events to celebrate her life and what we all have in common.

He has been promoting ‘The Great Get Together’ – focusing on that message from her speech which was all about how we all have more in common than that which divides us. The events include picnics, street parties and stalls to bring together local communities and show that we have more in common than that which divides us. There are events across the city that began earlier this week, including in Woodthorpe Park tomorrow (Saturday) from 2:30pm until 5pm and on Sunday from 1pm until 2pm at the small park at the junction of Gregory Boulevard & Radford Road. If you’d like to find out more about the events, or would like to get involved, visit the website here.

Are we doing enough to forward this agenda of uniting communities and celebrating rather than fearing the diversity of our society? I do think more work is needed – but for now I’m glad that Jo’s life is being remembered in this respect.

 

Regards

Chris Leslie

Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East

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MP Update – 29th April

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 29th April 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

The general election on June 8th may seem a long way off – but there’s a lot at stake. Theresa May clearly feels she is on course for a big win, but I hope that the country feels differently. Making sure Nottingham East has a strong local voice to champion the issues people care about is essential. If the Prime Minister is expecting a ‘blank cheque’ for a damaging Brexit or for their preferred changes to the NHS or schools, the British public may have other ideas.

Thankfully, in our Parliamentary system of democracy, voters choose a representative for a particular community – so the decisions made on our laws should reflect views from all corners of the country. So whatever the issues the media may think are ‘top of the news’ in Westminster aren’t always the questions we in Nottingham want as top of our agenda.

It has been the greatest privilege of my life to represent Nottingham East, where this election could be the closest in decades. I’ve always tried to fight tooth and nail for our area and I hope that I will continue to have the chance to stand up for our community, jobs and public services.

NOTTINGHAM

  • As part of a campaign to promote literacy and creativity it was great to support “Brilliant Books” yesterday, which is organised locally by Phil Pidluznyj with Lottery funding. Working in classrooms in local schools, the scheme is designed to bring in people from all walks of life to talk to children about how reading and books play a part in their work. It was great to visit Year 7s at the Nottingham Free School on Friday and read an extract for them (pictured below) – and they’ll also soon be visited by a Disney robot scientist to do the same, a professional footballer, community activist, writers, musicians, and Jon Collins reading Biggles! It’s a great scheme and congratulations to all involved!

Brilliant books 280417

 

 

  • This week I was invited to speak to the quarterly business and economic review hosted by the East Midlands Chamber who represent companies across Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. With a mix of firms from both manufacturing and service sectors, we focused on Brexit and the forthcoming legislation and policy issues of importance for local business.
  • The Nottingham Orthopaedic Walk (NOW) is taking place on Sunday 11th June at Highfields Park & Boating Lake on the University Park Campus.  NOW raises money for Orthopaedic Research and The East Midlands Major Trauma Centre. This one mile sponsored walk is suitable for all levels—you can walk just part of a mile, or can keep going further if you wish. The walk costs £10 for adults and is free for under 16s, and it’s completely free to come along and enjoy the stalls and activities! Other activities available at the event include face painting, refreshments and live music. More information about the event is available on the Nottingham Hospitals Charity website here.
  • On Monday children from Our Lady & St Edward Primary Academy came all the way down to Parliament for a tour of the Palace of Westminster, including walking through the chamber of the House of Commons – and it was great to meet with them and sit down in the grand committee room of Westminster Hall and discuss how laws are made. They had set off at 6am by bus to get there, so I was very impressed with their stamina!
  • If you’re a resident in Sherwood Ward, don’t forget the local city council by-election being held on Thursday 4th May next week – filling the vacancy created because sitting councillor Alex Ball has taken up a new job in Leeds. Polling stations will be open between 7am and 10pm and you don’t need your polling card in order to vote.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Monday, the Government was asked to make a statement on the publication date of its air quality strategy. In November 2016, the Government was told to strengthen its plans to tackle air pollution after a judicial review found its existing proposals to be “woefully inadequate” and unlawful. The Government accepted this judgement and was given a legal deadline to produce a new draft plan by Monday 24 April 2017 and a final one by 31 July 2017. However, last Friday the Government made a last-minute application to the court to delay publication until after the general election on 8 June 2017. On Thursday, the court ruled against the Government and it must now publish the draft strategy after the local elections on 4 May. I welcome the court’s decision on Thursday. Nearly 40 million people in the UK live in areas with illegal levels of air pollution. The situation has deteriorated under this Government, and the Environment and Rural Affairs Select Committee has warned that we are experiencing a public health emergency. Indeed, the NHS estimates that poor air quality contributes to 40,000 premature deaths each year. There is now a case for a new Clean Air Act to deal with this problem.
  • Now that the general election has been called, the legislation flowing from the spring Budget – the Finance Bill – has been rushed through the House of Commons for debate because of reduced Parliamentary time before the general election. Although I voted against the Bill at second reading it now has become law. I was particularly wary about the rise in insurance premium tax. It has already been doubled and the Bill raises it further. Had there been a longer process of scrutiny, I would have liked to see the Government challenged again on this measure. A large portion of the Bill relates to the introduction of the soft drinks industry levy. The Obesity Health Alliance has said that the levy could potentially save up to 144,000 adults and children from obesity every year.
  • It’s a little known characteristic of our law-making process but when Parliament is ‘dissolved’ for an election, there cease to be any Members of Parliament – and this will be the case from the end of Tuesday 2nd This has a number of consequences. First, the remaining legislation has been rushed through and enacted in a ‘wash-up’ procedure usually by agreement between the frontbenches of each party. So the Digital Economy Bill, the Health Services Medical Supplies Bill, the Criminal Finances Bill and the Higher Education Bill have all now become law. But with no MPs in Parliament after 2nd May, Government Ministers will make day to day decisions without mirroring scrutiny – although by convention these are not supposed to be large policy decisions of great significance. As I will become a candidate I won’t have access to Parliament or be able to tackle individual cases in the same way. But please do keep in touch with me via my temporary campaign email chrisleslie2017@gmail.com

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

This general election may have come as something of a surprise – particularly when Theresa May was so adamant it wasn’t going to happen – but the country will now decide who governs for the next five years.

So what will be the most important issues for you? I’ve been talking to hundreds of local residents since the election was called and lots of topics come up on the doorstep – including Brexit, the future of public services such as schools and hospitals, the needs of business and job creation locally, and sometimes very local issues such as on street car parking and litter.

It would be incredibly helpful to know what you are concerned about and what matters most. As I mentioned last week, when we get into the formal ‘short campaign’ election period I will be in touch with my campaign email chrisleslie2017@gmail.com, so I hope we can keep in contact for the weeks ahead.

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MP Update – 21st April

 

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 21st April 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

Now that Theresa May has decided to cut and run to an early General Election, it’s worth taking stock about where the Conservatives are taking the country.

We know that living standards and real wages have been squeezed significantly, with the cost of living on the way up again.

We know that our NHS is under unprecedented pressure and whose future in increasingly in doubt as a service for everyone regardless of ability to pay.

And we know that the Prime Minister and her some of her most right-wing MPs are heading thoughtlessly towards the cliff edge of a hard Brexit.

So I will be seeking re-election as the Labour Member of Parliament for Nottingham East on June 8th and hoping we see Labour MPs elected not just where we won in 2015 but in the new constituencies we need to win in order to deprive the Tories of a parliamentary majority.

The issues of living standards, the NHS and Brexit will be at the heart of this campaign – and although we are leaving the EU, I will campaign for Britain to maintain the crucial trading links that have helped Nottingham businesses and our economy since we began participating in the European ‘common market’.

These are the values I will champion:

  • I believe passionately that our society needs to be fairer and come together to achieve more than we can ever achieve as isolated individuals on our own – and the NHS stands as a testament to the efficient pooling of our resources collectively to get a better deal for all.
  • I want to see every child have the opportunity to fulfil their individual potential to the full, which means prioritising high quality education.
  • We need to fight hard for power, wealth and opportunity to be in the hands of the many not the few and champion rights & liberties while each taking our responsibilities as citizens seriously.
  • I am an internationalist and believe we have a moral duty to care for others in distress or suffering repression and not ‘walking by’ on the other side of the road.
  • And in this age of social media we have to work more than ever to promote a culture of tolerance and respect, fighting racism and prejudice wherever it exists.

I hope these are values we share and that, if re-elected, these will be the principles I follow as the local Member of Parliament for Nottingham East.

 Doorstep

NOTTINGHAM

  •  Sadly there has been another knife-related death in Nottingham over the Easter period. 18 year old Matthew Rothery, who was a student at Nottingham Academy, died following a serious assault in the Woodborough Road area at Mapperley Top. Clearly our thoughts must be with Matthew’s family and friends at this terrible time. A 20 year old man has been arrested in connection with the incident and remanded in prison. The property at the site of the attack has had a police presence until today to secure the scene. A few weeks ago I asked for your views on the idea of introducing mandatory sentences for knife possession without good cause and those who responded were broadly supportive. So I will make it a priority to press for this change – we must do much more to stamp out the carrying of knives across our community.
  • Nottingham City Council has agreed to spend £671,000 to revamp 14 parks and green spaces across the city. The money will be spent on parks such as the Arboretum, as well as Valley Road Park and Peggy’s Park in Sherwood. Valley Road Park is due to have significant improvements to footpaths, as well as the creation of a new walkway to link to the play area and new play equipment. I welcome this investment in parks and green spaces, which do so much to benefit the health and wellbeing of our communities.
  • Trading standards officers from Nottingham City Council have seized over £230,000 worth of illegal cigarettes and tobacco from city premises over the last year and the Nottingham Post reported that a number of shops in the Radford Road area were found to have illegal tobacco products. I’m pleased to see council officials tackling this issue – the priority should be helping people to give up smoking and lead healthier lives – and the illegal cigarette trade encourages counterfeit products which could be harmful to people’s health.
  • An 11-year old from Carlton has become one of the youngest people ever to conduct an orchestra. Matthew, a pupil at Sneinton C of E Primary School, conducted a 75-piece orchestra at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall earlier this month. He conducted Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, a nine minute long piece, as part of a charity concert organised by the Nottingham Symphony Orchestra to raise money for Hope Nottingham. Derek Williams, Matthew’s violin teacher, spotted his conducting potential at the age of seven. You can watch the performance with the Nottingham Symphony Orchestra on the Nottingham Post website here. I believe strongly that Nottingham should show the way in music education and build on the achievements we are already seeing.
  • You may have read in the news recently that unemployment figures nationally have remained stable at around 4.7%. Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case in Nottingham East, where the number of unemployed claimants is on the increase. The claimant rate for Nottingham East in March was 5.7%, an increase of 155 since the previous month. The Government needs to do more to support jobseekers across the country and also to tackle stagnation of wages, as inflation wipes out wage growth.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • Well so much for the ‘Fixed Term Parliament Act’! The Prime Minister sprung a vote in the Commons on Wednesday and because I do not want to see this Government continue in office I did not oppose this early election. Theresa May claimed Parliament was ‘blocking’ Article 50, but it didn’t. And she claimed she wasn’t going to have an early election, but that wasn’t true either. I suspect that many people will be disappointed that she says one thing but does another. Parliamentary business will now be fast-tracked in the final days when the Commons is sitting and the election period ‘proper’ will begin on 3rd
  • On Tuesday, the Foreign Secretary made a statement in the House of Commons about developments in Syria and North Korea. Two weeks ago, we saw the horrifying chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Syria, which killed dozens of ordinary villagers and injured many more. In response, the United States launched strikes against the military air base in Syria from which it is believed the chemical attack was launched. Russia continues to support the Assad regime and blocked a UN Security Council resolution that demanded the regime’s co-operation with an international investigation into the chemical attack. More than 400,000 lives have been claimed by the ongoing civil war in Syria and it is clear that a peaceful settlement is needed now more than ever. In North Korea, the Kim Jong-un regime is thought to have tested two nuclear devices and 24 missiles in 2016. Last weekend, the regime attempted to test yet another missile and threatened further tests. North Korea is a serious unstable totalitarian regime and clearly presents a serious danger in that region.
  • Each year the tax measures for the year ahead from the Budget are set out in a single Bill: the annual Finance Bill. On Tuesday, the House of Commons debated this Bill. The Finance Bill 2017 increases the standard rate of Insurance Premium Tax (IPT) from 10% to 12% with effect from 1 June 2017. It is concerning that as a result, families in our area will have to bear a higher cost for insurance for their car, house, personal possessions and even pets and mobile phones. The Bill introduces new digital record-keeping and reporting requirements, proposals will put undue pressure on small businesses and the self-employed in our area, who simply do not have the resources to input tax information on a quarterly basis. More widely, I do not believe that the Bill does enough to tackle tax avoidance and evasion and for this – and because of the Government’s approach to the Budget more widely – I voted against it on Tuesday.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

I’ve always believe that the people of Nottingham East are my ‘boss’ and I would very much like to get on with the job and standing up for local residents.

Since I was elected in 2010 I’ve reported back every week to constituents when the Commons has been in session with these my ‘MP Update’ email newsletters. They may be a bit long-winded on occasion (!), but I hope they have proved useful for you!

I’ve staffed a full-time office in Nottingham and helped hundreds of people with difficult problems and cases. And I’ve spoken with thousands of local residents on doorsteps, in businesses and across the constituency.

With so much at stake, I hope to continue doing this job and working for you after June 8th.

As Parliament will shut down shortly, I’ll keep up these Update emails and will be using the email chrisleslie2017@gmail.com for this period. If you need to contact me or can help in any way, just drop me an email here.

In the meantime, I’d be keen to know what you believe the main issues in this election will be – as always, please let me know!

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MP Update – 1st April

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 1st April 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

If the referendum was ‘Act One’ of the Brexit drama, the ‘Act Two’ phoney period has just concluded with the Prime Minister’s submission of the Article 50 letter, and ‘Act Three’ – negotiations proper – has just begun. This will be where reality bites. The British Government has set out its stall in recent months, listing all the things it wants to achieve. Sadly, in my view, Theresa May chose not to explore the option of staying a member of a reformed Single Market, but ruled that out. So in response, it’s not surprising that the European Council have said they will not allow a new trade deal with Britain that undercuts their regulations or creates a competitive disadvantage for them.

I have been imploring Theresa May right from the summer of last year to secure the right for ‘parallel’ discussions on our future relationship at the same time as we discuss the Brexit ‘divorce’ bill. I think she should and could have extracted this commitment as a condition for settling the timing of Article 50 – but she gave that card away for free. So now the UK is under a countdown deadline of two years, with the other side saying they won’t talk about a trade deal until they judge ‘sufficient progress’ has been made on the payments they want for the separation. It was obvious from the beginning this would create an unlevel playing field and I worry that the EU27 will just play for more time.

Meanwhile what about all those promises from the ‘leave’ campaigners that we could secure a ‘cost-free’ trade option, with £350m a week savings for the NHS and a ‘stronger’ United Kingdom with Scotland and no border issues from Northern Ireland? Many people looking at those promises now are beginning to feel duped. And for those in Gibraltar, who now see that they will be locked out of an EU trade deal unless Spain gives permission, they must feel very agitated about what Brexit means.

What really matters, of course, will be ‘Act Four’ in this saga – the process of transition to whatever comes next – and then the final ‘Act Five’ deal we achieve. If the story is to end well, Theresa May will need to negotiate far more cleverly and preserve goodwill on both sides.

NOTTINGHAM

  • Last week, along with other Nottinghamshire MPs, I wrote to the Chief Executive of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust about the ’40 Days for Life’ protest taking place outside the QMC Treatment Centre during Lent. 40 Days for Life are a ‘pro-life’ campaign group, whose ‘prayer vigil’ outside the Treatment Centre in our view aims to intimidate women attending the clinic, as well as members of staff. We have requested that NUH acts to end such protests on NHS land in this way. On Friday I raised the issue again with the Trust and hope that they will reflect on the psychological impact such protests can have on their patients – and that if we need to look at policy change nationally with NHS England then this should be explored.
  • You may have heard recently that Nottingham-based City council initiative Robin Hood Energy are due to increase their prices in April – by as much as 17% for dual fuel credit customers. The company has stated that it always aims to keep its prices as low as possible for customers, but that wholesale energy price rises have forced the increase. The company still aims to keep prices low, and remains a not-for-profit energy company. If you’re a customer and want to find out more, you can visit the website here.
  • On Friday I met with Emma Foody from the National Housing Federation to hear about their future plans in the region. The National Housing Federation represents housing associations across the country and campaign for better housing. Their members provide two and a half million homes for five million people. In Nottingham East we have a number of ‘supported’ housing sites for the most vulnerable people, run by Framework and others, but Government changes are going to restrict the resources for the running of these homes. I will be working with them to persuade Ministers to treat ‘supported’ and sheltered housing schemes differently, to reflect the different pressures on costs they face.
  • The Post Office are holding a public consultation on whether to reduce the opening hours at their Sherwood branch on Mansfield Road. They propose to close the branch at 6pm rather than 8pm Monday to Saturday, and to cease Sunday opening altogether. The services offered at the branch will remain unchanged. The consultation runs until 11th May – if you would like to comment on the proposals, you can do so online here.
  • The news that Sherwood local councillor Alex Ball has been appointed to a new job up in Leeds will sadly mean that he is standing down from the city council, and a by-election will be held to fill that vacancy on Thursday 4th Alex has been a diligent and strong representative for Sherwood and Carrington and I wish him really well in his future career.
  • Last week I appeared on the Sunday Politics East Midlands programme alongside Conservative MEP Emma McClarkin. We discussed a range of issues, including the Westminster attack, Brexit and online ticket selling. If you missed the episode and would like to catch up, you can do so here.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Monday I asked the Pensions Minister for an update on when the Government will crack down on pension scams, as you can see here. (I’m pleased he answered “very soon.”) This is an increasingly worrying issue which needs greater public attention – if you’ve got a company or private pension, especially if it’s a ‘defined contribution’ scheme, then you may be tempted to withdraw the lump of money at retirement rather than purchase an annuity, as allowed by recent Government reforms. But please beware the large number of scams that are around, with dodgy ‘companies’ now cold-calling in an effort to hook unsuspecting retirees to cash-in and shift their pensions savings into an ‘investment’ that could easily be a dud. Apparently there have been millions of dodgy sales phone calls made in the past year. I think it’s essential that the Government takes action to ban these cold callers, because those approaching retirement need extra protections given the life-changing decisions at stake.
  • Brexit soaked up most of the Parliamentary time this week. The Article 50 letter itself was largely unremarkable, but it did contain what many saw as a threat from Theresa May to limit cooperation on security and counter-terrorism in order to force a trade agreement from our European partners. Intelligence sharing and joint efforts to combat terrorism and other threats make us all safer, so I hope and believe she won’t follow through on these tactics. But playing such a game (and on day one!) makes it less likely – not more – that we’ll get a good deal, as I told the Brexit Secretary David Davis on Thursday.
  • On Thursday the Government unveiled a white paper containing the first details of its ‘Great Repeal Bill.’ They’d like us to believe this is just a formality, to transfer the body of laws which currently apply to us as an EU member into our domestic legal system. But as I argued on Sky News, we have to realise what’s really going on here. The Bill gives Theresa May sweeping power to change EU laws before they land on the statute book, and my big worry is that the moment we’re out, there’s nothing to stop the Tories doing with them exactly what they’ve always wanted to. Many of them have been desperate for years to get rid of the guarantees which come with EU membership – on workers’ rights, environmental standards, consumer protections and so on – and that’s a huge part of why they spent so long campaigning for us to leave.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

With so much of the news dominated by Brexit, otherwise massive stories are getting lost or downgraded.

The news that NHS England are going to abandon the much cherished 18 week waiting time target for elective treatment is a massive blow. Having a promise that you can get treatment in just over four months from your GP referral is a big reassurance for patients and has kept confidence in our NHS high. Remember when we had 18 MONTHS of waiting times, or even two years, for hip operations, knees, heart transplants and other vital conditions, in the 1990s? Such massive waiting lists tended to encourage the better off to take out private health insurance, which meant that those with money didn’t have to wait, leaving the poorest the least able to get the care they need. This isn’t the sort of country I believe people want to see – which is why I will do everything I can to challenge the Government on this downgrading of our NHS.

I’d be interested in your observations about waiting times and what your experience is of the NHS locally. On Friday I had a thorough briefing from the NHS Trust about their plans, the decision to take back the cleaning services that had been outsourced to Carillion, and on the significant budget pressures they face in matching their £940million of spending needs to only £900million of income.

Will you be affected if the 18 week waiting time target is ‘relaxed’ in this way?

Parliament is now in recess for the Easter period – and I look forward to resuming these MP Update emails after we’ve returned. In the meantime, have a pleasant Easter.

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MP Update – 26th March

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 26th March 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

This week’s brutal attack in Westminster, with dozens injured and four killed, was a shocking reminder of the dangers posed by crazed radicalisation and the violence and terror it can create. The death of PC Keith Palmer who sought to protect the gates at Parliament has provoked phenomenal sympathy across the world.

Britain’s response has been measured and proportionate – universal tributes to those murdered and hurt; reviewing the existing security provisions; London returning to business as normal. I was visiting Berlin on Wednesday so I learned of the attacks on the news, but for many of my colleagues and staff in Westminster this was a stark reminder of the risks that exist and the need for constant vigilance.

The Prime Minister spoke for the whole country when she said that any attempt to defeat our country’s values through violence is doomed to failure. The UK has suffered this latest terrorist attack on the near anniversary of a similar attack in Brussels and of course the indiscriminate murders in Berlin and Nice.

There will be lessons to learn including whether security services have the right powers, the way in which Westminster is guarded, and whether the perpetrator was directed or groomed to commit such an appalling crime. The individual in question was British and so this is a home-grown problem and not simply something driven by a foreign ideology.

In the meantime, I will be returning to work in Parliament tomorrow as usual and getting on with my role in our democratic system – and my thanks to the many constituents who got in touch with such kindness in the immediate aftermath of this attack.

NOTTINGHAM

  • Sadly there was another tragedy on Wednesday in Nottingham, with the news of a senseless knife attack in St Ann’s resulting in the death of 21 year old Reuben Morris-Laing. I would like to offer my sincere condolences to Reuben’s friends and family at this awful time. The attack took place following an incident in Robin Hood Street outside the Premier Express store just before 9:30pm. The Police have appealed for any witnesses or individuals with cctv in their cars who might have been in the areas last Wednesday evening to contact them on 101 quoting incident number 825 of 22nd March, or to call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. The Police have arrested a 29 year old man and a 22 year old woman in connection with the murder and they were in custody this weekend. It’s clear that tackling knife crime, in Nottingham and elsewhere remains a challenge, and I support very much the call from St Ann’s councillor and City Council leader Jon Collins who has called for wider steps to deter individuals carrying knives without justification. He suggests that the mandatory sentence for firearm possession had a big effect on reducing gun crime and that a clearer mandatory sentence for carrying knives without good cause should be considered. This makes sense and I will try to press Ministers to take up this issue at the earliest opportunity.
  • On Friday along with Lilian Greenwood MP, I met with the Nottingham Clinical Commissioning Group representatives to discuss recent decisions to change local NHS services.  Financial pressures now mean that difficult decisions are being made locally to drive further efficiencies but also potentially alter existing provision. I raised my concerns about the impact on back pain services and the extent to which so many treatment issues were being pushed out into the ‘community’. In particular, I was eager to press the CCG on their plans for stroke rehabilitation services and the possible closure of specialist stroke beds for in-patients. The difficulties arising from the different approach between the County and the City CCGs account for some of changes now likely. More broadly I will be pressing the Government nationally to bear in mind the consequences of restricted resources and the false economy of cutting rehabilitation when this helps so many affected get healthy and back to work and normal life.
  • Friday was also a good opportunity for me to catch up with the new Chief Executive of Marketing Nottingham & Nottinghamshire, Brendan Moffett and his team. It was useful to run through their new joined-up approach to promoting Nottinghamshire more broadly, and to discuss the opportunities for bringing investment and new business into the city.
  • On Tuesday we saw new analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which demonstrated the true impact of the Government’s new school funding formula – and I’m afraid to say it made for pretty grim reading. In most Nottingham schools, the formula would mean a funding cut of over £500 per pupil by 2019. At the Djanogly Academy, for instance, pupils are forecast to lose £654 a year; at Nottingham Academy, the figure is £685, representing a huge real-terms budget cut of £1.8 million. Teachers and students simply can’t afford to see cuts of this kind, and the government must rethink their formula review to prevent this entirely avoidable crisis.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • The week in Westminster was, of course, overshadowed by the tragic events of Wednesday afternoon. I travelled to Germany on Wednesday and Thursday to meet with senior parliamentarians, Government representatives and policy-makers to discuss the prospects for the UK in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. The Prime Minister intends to send the formal letter notifying of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union this week, and I was getting a sense of how leading European nations are likely to respond. My worry is that the strong belief in maintaining the integrity of the EU by the Germans and others will mean they feel a need to show how those who leave do not prosper by doing so. This would make a good deal difficult to achieve, but the situation could be made worse if British Ministers are intransigent and show no willingness to compromise for our long term trade and economic benefit. More on this, no doubt, in the weeks to come.
  • On Monday we debated the Prisons and Courts Bill, a wide-ranging piece of legislation which touches on many aspects of the justice system.  While the Bill makes welcome steps to modernise the operation of our courts and tribunals, these changes make little difference to those who can’t access justice at all, a problem hugely exacerbated in recent years by changes to legal aid and the introduction of tribunal fees. Equally, the Bill doesn’t tackle overcrowding or understaffing in prisons. We desperately need more prison officers with the resources to reduce violence and make our prisons safe. These twin challenges are fundamental, and however welcome the Bill’s other provisions are, its failure to offer solutions to them represents a deeply disappointing missed opportunity.
  • On Tuesday, the House of Commons debated the vitally important issue of fuel poverty. I’m clear that no-one in Britain should face the paralysing choice between heating their home and feeding their family – with over four million UK households living in fuel poverty, and thousands of avoidable deaths every winter, I’m really worried that things are moving in the wrong direction. The Energy Minister assured the House that the Government remains committed to meeting its targets on energy efficiency. In reality, though, we’ve seen a reduction of 88% in the number of major insulation measures over the last ten years, and the new Energy Company Obligation, which provides energy efficiency measures to fuel-poor households, will see 42% less funding this year than during 2013-17. At this rate the Government may miss its 2030 fuel poverty target by as much as 80 years! I believe that we should make energy efficiency a key infrastructure priority, and act to end fuel poverty entirely.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

We have seen a number of knife attacks and stabbings in Nottingham in recent years, including in Sneinton, St Ann’s and Hyson Green, and as I mentioned above in relation to this latest tragedy, there does need to be a serious look at changing criminal justice policy to try and reduce this phenomenon.

The stiffer penalty for being found with a gun definitely drove many potential criminals to stash away their weapons rather than carry them around on their person. As a result, the instant opportunity to lash out and use those weapons in the heat of anger may have been reduced. Of course, the seriously pre-mediated criminal would still not be deterred – but not all gun use was pre-mediated.

I should stress that I do not know the circumstances of this week’s attack and so can only comment in wider terms about knife crime in general. But perhaps if the same deterrent against gun possession also cracked down on carrying knives, then we could see a reduction in the number of injuries in the heat of the moment?

Are there other steps that the local police, courts and justice agencies should be taking to prevent criminality in our neighbourhoods? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

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MP Update – 19th March

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 19th March 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

I’ve never seen a Budget u-turn quite like the rapid decision this week by Chancellor Philip Hammond and Theresa May to rip up their core proposal on National Insurance. On Wednesday, as I thought might be the case (but perhaps not quite so quickly!), the Chancellor crumpled under pressure from embarrassed Tory backbenchers and announced they wouldn’t proceed with the Budget plan to hit the self-employed with a two percent leap in National Insurance contributions.

What is more astonishing is that the Government ever thought they could get away with this crude and inconsiderate measure – and that apparently my ‘tweet’ at 1pm straight after Hammond’s announcement in the Budget speech was the first time they realised they’d broken their promise clearly made in their 2015 manifesto!

The Government really should be in deep trouble this week because Budgets are the cornerstone of public policy and with this year’s now virtually scrapped, in other circumstances the Government would be brought to its knees. We now expect that there will be a second ‘go’ at a 2017 Budget in the autumn – where the Chancellor will need to explain how he’ll find the extra £2 billion for social care initially raised by the NIC hike.

I tried my best from the backbenches to put Ministers on the spot when I asked the Chancellor how he justified sending his colleagues out to defend the broken promise for a full week, and whether he wanted to apologise – decide for yourself if he gave me a straight answer at the link here.

NOTTINGHAM

  • On Friday I caught up with the Renewal Trust to learn about some of the projects they are currently supporting, and their future plans. Established following the end of the early 1990s ‘city challenge’ regeneration scheme, the Renewal Trust now manages a series of buildings and facilities including sporting, business units and offices in St Ann’s, with other sites across the city providing much needed revenue for reinvestment in local community development projects. I met with their chief executive Cherry Underwood at the Sycamore Centre to discuss their plans for the future, which hopefully include expanding the Brendon Lawrence Sports Centre and increasing capacity for local sporting groups.
  • This week I was invited to meet with representatives of the Ahmadiyya community in Nottingham. At the meeting I heard from local residents concerned not only about issues of persecution in Pakistan but also of the recent murder of Asad Shah in Glasgow which has caused real anxieties across the UK Ahmadi population. UK law guards against discrimination on grounds of religious belief in employment and our tolerance for different religious belief is an important principle. Thank you to Irfan Malik for inviting me along.
  • A team from Nottingham has been in France this week in a bid to attract international investors to the city at a major property investment conference, linked in with the Midlands Engine investment portfolio which comprises a variety of property development sites in the region. Nottingham is being pitched to investors as an ideal venue due to its central location, tram system and superfast broadband. New business investment for Nottingham which can link into include residential development as well as commercial opportunities is an important objective – and the Nottingham team hope the event will attract investment to the city for these projects.
  • Congratulations to the team at Sherwood Playgroup on Mansfield Road who have received confirmation again of a ‘good’ rating following their OFSTED inspection at a time of significant change, including the prospect of expanding provision. Inspectors said their teaching is consistently strong and partnerships with parents are good.
  • It was a bit rainy but still nice to get out and knock on doors in the Carrington area on Friday afternoon to talk with local residents not just about national political issues, but also some important local questions, including street repairs and parking problems. Thanks also to the team and local councillors for their efforts (pictured) in particular raising issues about the quality of private rented accommodation in the area. 

Sherwood campaigning 190317

 PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Monday the House of Commons debated the Bill which gives the Prime Minister power to trigger Article 50 and begin the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The Bill has now become law and we can expect Theresa May to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. I had the chance to ask the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, about his deeply worrying suggestion that it would be ‘perfectly okay’ for Britain to fall out of Europe without a deal and rely on World Trade Organisation tariff rules – an idea Michael Heseltine described as “rubbish” last Sunday. It would be incredibly damaging for Britain to leave the EU without a deal – and as I wrote in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago, we don’t have to. That’s why the Government’s rejection of a House of Lords amendment on Monday which would have given Parliament a meaningful say on the final terms is such bad news. I urged Ministers to think again: watch here. Another amendment sought to guarantee the residence rights of the 3.2 million EU citizens currently in the UK – people who have made their homes here, who do vital jobs and are valued members of our community. This is a matter of basic principle, and I was deeply disappointed that the Government chose to oppose and defeat the amendment.
  • Tuesday morning brought news that Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, would opportunistically push for a rerun of 2014’s independence referendum. She couldn’t have asked for a better excuse than Theresa May’s decision to throw in the towel on Britain’s membership of the Single Market before negotiations have even begun. And when, on Tuesday afternoon, the Prime Minister quite ridiculously told the Commons that she’d urged other EU leaders to get on with “completing the single market,” there was understandable astonishment and incredulity across the chamber. It takes something to lecture the rest of Europe about improving the Single Market while simultaneously telling them you want to leave it straight away! I pressed the PM on both of these bungles, as you can see here. Going forward, I’ll continue to use all means at my disposal to hold the Government to account and fight for jobs and the economy throughout the process of EU withdrawal.
  • On Wednesday Parliament also considered the National Citizen Service Bill. The National Citizen Service (NCS) is programme of holiday courses for 15-17 year-olds which aims, among other things, to promote social integration by bringing together young people from different backgrounds and instilling a sense of community. The Bill proposes to make the NCS Trust, the community interest company which administers the programme, a national institution while preserving its independence, and put it on a more secure financial and administrative footing. All of this I welcome, but the Public Accounts Committee this week raised a number of concerns over the NCS and its value for money, governance and transparency. I hope the Government will show that it is listening to these concerns. Worryingly, the proportion of NCS graduates from poorer backgrounds has fallen since 2011, and I hope that the Government will be mindful of the need to keep NCS open to those who need it most as this Bill progresses.
  • With all the news of the Budget u-turn, another matter slipped through without much media attention; the decision to increase the Sovereign Grant for the royal family from a fixed 15% of the profit share from the (publicly owned) Crown Estate, now rising to 25% of those profits. I was quite surprised that both Tory and Labour frontbenches decided to vote in favour of this, which was on the face of it to cover the renovations needed for Buckingham Palace. However, I decided not to support this proposal because it is a highly unusual means for allocating money for capital repairs. If the Palaces need renovations (and there is a case for taxpayer support, I accept) then a straightforward, fully-costed capital grant from the Treasury would be a simpler way to achieve this. But by dedicating a 25% chunk of Crown Estate profits to the royal household in this way we have ended up with a potentially ongoing share of a taxpayer-owned revenue stream going into the royal budget. I am surprised there was not more scrutiny of this highly unusual measure.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

I am increasingly worried about the possible break-up of the United Kingdom and the SNP’s desire to re-run the Scottish independence referendum so soon after the last one seems to pile another massive uncertainty onto our country’s shoulders. I’d be interested to know your views about where we go from here, because the rationale of the Brexit debate should in my view delay such considerations rather than bring them forward. Do you think that Scotland’s separation is inevitable, or perhaps that the Scottish people will remain unconvinced? Theresa May’s response has been “now is not the time” and I have to say I have sympathy with that assessment. How should representatives in England and the UK Government be treating this question? Do you agree with Gordon Brown’s proposal that powers returning to the UK from the EU should be apportioned in a devolved way, as a ‘third option’ for a more federal UK? Or should we be less defensive about the importance of the Union between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

I’d welcome any thoughts you might have on this.

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MP Update – 11th March

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 11th March 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

Philip Hammond’s first full Budget didn’t quite go as well as he planned… Breaking his 2015 manifesto promise not to increase National Insurance contributions – in this case on the self-employed – has stunned many in the media and even on the Conservative backbenches. I reacted to this announcement immediately after the Chancellor made it and gave my speech in response on Wednesday afternoon (you can watch at the link on my facebook page or read at the link here).

But if there are ten key ‘take away’ points, I think they’re the following, which I thought I’d share with you:

  1. Class 4 NICs on self-employed profits will rise to 11% in 2019, costing a self-employed individual on £27,000 over £30 per month. (Tory MPs are definitely not happy – and I’d expect a u-turn on this before long as I wrote in my New Statesman article specifically on this issue this week).
  2. Small businesses are hit by a ‘double whammy’ not just from higher NICs, but also a reduction in the Dividend Allowance to £2000 from April 2018, which means less take home income for the self-employed too.
  3. The Brexit challenge barely raised a mention in the Chancellor’s speech. The OBR say that “when the UK leaves the EU, the trading regime will be less open than before” adding that any new free trade deals with third countries would not be enough to prevent “lower trade intensity”. The Government will also miss their targets on trade and immigration – so it’s no wonder Brexit is airbrushed from the Budget.
  4. On education, a handful of ‘free schools’ get £1bn over the Budget period, yet all the rest of our schools get just a quarter of that – £260m extra between them – over that same period.
  5. The Business Rates hot-potato is handed across to local councils, who will have to cope with the administrative nightmare of running a discretionary support fund taking bids from companies in their area.
  6. The headline £2bn extra for social care is spread over just three years and phased out again by 2020
  7. DCLG Local Government budget is cut by more than 20% from £8.2bn in 2016-17 down to £6.5bn in 2017-18, and then again down to £5.5bn in the following year. Some of this may be offset by supposedly ‘devolved business rates’ but it’s an incredible shift nevertheless.
  8. Borrowing is expected to actually RISE from £51.7bn this year to £58bn next year, according to the OBR. They add “The Government does not appear to be on track to meet its stated fiscal objective to ‘return the public finances to balance at the earliest possible date in the next Parliament’. The deficit falls little in 2020-21 and 2021-22, while the ageing population and cost pressures in health are likely to put upward pressure on the deficit in the next Parliament.” (page 6 OBR report).
  9. GDP growth is expected to moderate this year are rising inflation squeezes living standards and consumer spending (largely flowing from the sterling depreciation since the Brexit referendum). Economy forecast to actually grow less than expected at the Autumn Statement.
  10. This is set to be the worst decade for pay growth in two centuries of earnings data (according to the Resolution Foundation).

NOTTINGHAM

  • Nottingham schools are set to be hit by a significant funding squeeze due to a new National Funding Formula. Nottingham schools will face £22 million worth of funding cuts if the plans go ahead, equating to £578 per pupil by 2019, with the city seeing one of the highest levels of cuts outside London. The Department for Education is still consulting on the proposals, and Nottingham City Council is preparing a collective response based on feedback from parents and the public. If you would like to take part in the consultation, you can do so on the Nottingham City Council website here.
  • This week Nottingham CityCare Partnership has been rated as ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission. The Partnership runs a range of healthcare services in the city, including the Urgent Care Centre, a Macmillan community specialist nursing and support service and a stop-smoking service. The Urgent Care Centre in particular was praised for the responsive service offered to patients. I’m pleased to see staff recognised for the high quality of care they are offering to patients.
  • Nottingham City Council has submitted plans to demolish and rebuild Broadmarsh car park. The car park, which is owned by the Council, will either be demolished and rebuilt or completely refurbished as part of development of the southern gateway. The Council say that the redeveloped car park, which is set to include a new tram stop, will give a welcoming impression to people visiting the city, and the whole southern gateway project (which includes the pedestrianisation of Collin Street) will create 3,000 jobs. I’m obviously keen to see progress on this part of the city’s redevelopment, though I’m also pressing the city council to take care with traffic flow and congestion issues between the east and west parts of the city which could change significantly with the restrictions on Collin Street.
  • The new Deputy Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police has been appointed. Rachel Barber will join the force in April from South Yorkshire Police, where she had held a number of operational roles. Rachel will take over from the outgoing Deputy, Simon Torr, who is due to retire in May.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • Formal notification of the proposed merger of Sky and 21st Century Fox was lodged with the European Commission on Friday 3 March and on Monday the Culture Secretary made a statement. I share many of the concerns about the proposed deal that have been expressed both inside and outside of Parliament. The Secretary of State said that she was minded to intervene on media plurality grounds. The bid would put an even greater amount of UK media power in one person’s hands and I believe Ofcom should look at the whole group of companies in assessing whether the Sky takeover would threaten media plurality. The Culture Secretary noted that she is concerned about the nature of a number of breaches of broadcasting standards by 21st Century Fox, as well as the behaviour and corporate governance failures of News Corporation in the past. She was rightly pressed to ensure that part two of the Leveson inquiry goes ahead so that the past behaviour and corporate governance failures of News International are investigated and looked into.
  • On Tuesday, the House of Commons considered the Children and Social Work Bill which impacts the provision of children’s services, and the responsibilities that local authorities owe children in care. It includes the creation of a new social work regulator. I supported a cross-party amendment to the Bill which sought to force the Government to take up offers from local councils to accept more unaccompanied children fleeing conflicts. Since the Government announced that the Dubs scheme would be closed, local councils across the country have said that they can do more. The amendment was about consulting local councils on their capacity. I was disappointed that this amendment was not added to the Bill. I was pleased, however, that following pressure from both inside and outside of Parliament the Bill was amended to put age-appropriate relationships education on a statutory footing. I believe this is a very important step forward.  The Bill passed its Third Reading and has returned to the House of Lords for further consideration.
  • On Monday in Home Office questions I pressed the Home Secretary on the vitally important cooperation Britain has with other police forces and justice systems across the continent via the European Arrest Warrant, which could disappear if the Brexit negotiations go wrong. The Home Secretary confirmed to me that the Government wants to retain the system as a ‘priority’ in the negotiations. So we’ll see what happens.
  • I am deeply concerned about the United Nations warning this weekend about what could be the largest famine to hit the world since the second world war across parts of Africa especially in South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. Millions of people are adversely affected and I will do what I can to join calls for the UK to press other nations to come together with the resources required to address this awful situation.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Monday will be a big day in Parliament – with the return of two amendments inserted into the EU Withdrawal Bill, first on the rights for EU Nationals to remain in the UK, and second a legal requirement for MPs to have a final (‘meaningful’) vote on whatever the outcome of the negotiations brings, whether that’s a new free trade deal or ‘no deal’. I’d like to thank the very many people who’ve written to me this week urging me to continue pushing for Parliament to keep check on the Prime Minister throughout the process, rather than leave it entirely to her. I will be voting in favour of both these Lords amendments, especially as the retention of a Parliamentary vote at the end of the process is the same as my Amendment 110 on which some Conservative MPs joined me back in February.

I realise that I find myself writing a lot about the Brexit process in these MP Updates – and my apologies if I sometimes sound like a ‘broken record’! – but these are such crucial decisions I feel duty bound to keep you updated with what’s happening. I’d be interested to know if you feel you have enough information about what’s happening? Do you feel that you have a sense of what is coming next in the negotiation process? Are you happy to leave it to the Prime Minister alone, or do you think we need Parliament to keep involved? I am closely involved in the Brexit discussions in the Commons, especially in my role on the International Trade Select Committee, and will do whatever I can to keep Britain as an outward-facing country willing to make alliances and pacts, rather than isolating ourselves and pulling up the drawbridge. I wrote about aspects of this in my Guardian article on Monday at the link here.

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MP Update – 4th March

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 4th March 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

With the steadily growing pressures on the Queen’s Medical Centre emergency department in recent years – a facility that now sees around 550 patients per day when it was designed for a maximum of 350 – it’s obvious that we need a step change in the hospital A&E service. So it is a positive step that, as part of plans for a new trauma centre at QMC, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust announced they are developing plans for an expanded and enhanced emergency department, which would enable them to better meet demand. But getting the plans agreed and drawn up locally is only one part of the equation; to deliver this upgrade we need the Government to provide the capital finance needed to pay for the building works (and the associated staffing package to provide the services).

I raised this issue with the Health Secretary in January, asking him to fast-track the capital needed to increase capacity at QMC’s emergency department. With these new plans from NUH now setting out the resources we need to deal with the increasing demand for urgent care services, I will continue to press Treasury and Health ministers to come up with the funds needed to make this a reality.

There are, of course, wider financial pressures facing the NHS and social care system and these will need long-term and nationwide solutions – and the Budget on Wednesday really ought to address this. But the campaign for 21st century emergency & trauma care is a specific step we must focus on for Nottingham and I’m determined to press Ministers to deliver the goods.

NOTTINGHAM

  • On Friday I visited the local Women’s Culture Exchange to learn more about their work. The group is based at the Refugee Forum, and is a meeting space for women asylum seekers, refugees and those with a migration background. The group meet weekly to learn new skills, make friends and share experiences with women from a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds. Many of the women have fled some harrowing circumstances in other countries but unfortunately the system of asylum and treatment of those in great need leaves much to be desired in the UK. I will be taking up a number of the points raised with me in the discussion.

WCE

  • This week I was invited to visit the city centre’s Barclays branch to find out more about the services they offer to customers and their activities in Nottingham. We talked about how customers are coping in the current economic environment as well as what kind of businesses are starting up in the area. We also discussed the organisation’s community links, including their ‘Life Skills’ project which aims to help young people into work by equipping them with interview and CV writing skills, and their apprenticeship schemes.
  • It was good to catch up with Marsha Smith this week. Marsha set up Super Kitchen a few years ago, a network of social eating spaces aiming to offer affordable meals in their community. Super Kitchen is going from strength to strength, with Nottingham City Council recently agreeing to fund 10 new kitchens as part of their bid to make Nottingham the UK’s first ‘social eating city’. Marsha is now branching out into new projects around social eating, and it was really interesting to discuss her plans for the future.
  • The revelation that thousands of letters about medical conditions and treatments intended for patients have in fact been languishing in a warehouse was a big story this week with the Health Secretary forced to come to the House of Commons to explain the situation. NHS ‘Shared Business Services’ have apologised for the administrative failure and currently a team of GPs have been paid to look through each case and check to see if any harm has arisen because of the missing letters. Because the Department for Health said that the ‘East Midlands’ has been particularly affected, in the Commons this week I asked the Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt to inform me as soon as possible of any Nottingham / East Midlands numbers or cases – and he promised to write to me about this. In the meantime, if you feel you have missed out on medical correspondence in this way, please do let me know as I would be very concerned if local services have been adversely affected.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • All public spending has to be approved by Parliament and each year ‘estimates’ of spending are debated. On Monday there was an ‘Estimates Day’ debate on Health and Social Care in which MPs considered reports from the Health Committee and the Public Accounts Committee. There were many issues raised in the Committee reports relating to funding for the NHS and social care. The NHS and social care systems are facing significant financial challenges as a consequence of an ageing and growing population. The NHS is required to find £22 billion of annual efficiency savings by 2020-21 and there are concerns that increasing demand for health services and pressure on council budgets are threatening the financial stability and sustainability of the health and social care systems. Last year 1.8 million people waited four hours or longer in A&E compared to just over 350,000 in 2009-10. It has been reported in the media that the Chancellor is considering providing more funding for social care on a short-term basis. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services say the Government must invest an extra £1bn in the sector next year. I hope that a new improved funding settlement for the NHS and social care is brought forward in the Budget next week.
  • On Tuesday the Work and Pensions Secretary was asked by my backbench colleague Stephen Timms to make a statement on the cuts to entitlement to Personal Independence Payment (PIP). PIP helps disabled people to fund their living costs, including the additional costs that they face because of their condition. As I mentioned in last week’s MP Update, the Government have issued new regulations to clarify the criteria used in assessing eligibility for PIP to overcome the tribunal rulings which allowed chronic “psychological distress” to be included in the PIP assessment. The Government has stated the regulations will restore the original aim of the benefit, but I am concerned that the new regulations, which will come into force in just over two weeks’ time, were issued without any consultation with the Social Security Advisory Committee. The regulations will reduce eligibility to PIP support for over 164,000 people with debilitating mental health conditions and I remain very concerned about the effects the regulations will have on the health and wellbeing of the people affected.
  • On Wednesday the Bus Services Bill was debated in the House of Commons. In the mid-1980s the Government deregulated the bus industry across Britain, except in London. From almost the moment deregulation was introduced there have been calls to reregulate it. The Bill offers a step forward, offering an extension of the system that has worked well in London since then and provide the opportunity of improving services for passengers. However, I also know the risks of competition, and so I want to see strong safeguards, particularly in protecting workers from suffering a race to the bottom. I believe that local authorities all over the country need and deserve greater control over their bus services. I therefore believe powers to re-regulate local bus services should be available to all areas that want them, not just to combined authorities with an elected mayor. The Bill started its passage through Parliament in the House of Lords and was improved there. I support the Bill and was pleased to see it pass its Second Reading on Wednesday. I hope it now goes on to be further improved in its Committee Stage.
  • On Thursday there was a Backbench Business debate on International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day takes place on 8 March 2017 and celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women.  The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Be Bold for Change”. It emphasises that the economic empowerment of women and girls rests upon supporting women in the informal economy, getting more women into roles of leadership and protecting women from violence in the work place. While International Women’s Day is about recognising how far we have travelled in the fight for gender equality, we must also recognise how much further we have to go. In the meantime, I’m glad that the Government has finally taken steps to require large employers to publish their gender pay gap, but clearly there are questions about enforceability.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

In all the news about Brexit, Donald Trump and by-elections, you’d be forgiven for missing the usual speculation that typically accumulates in weekend before the Budget. Wednesday’s statement from Philip Hammond is being billed as a low-key affair, but the Budget ought to confront a series of challenges and will affect the quality of our local public services.

I’ve written about four of the drivers affecting our economic outlook in the New Statesman article at the link here http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2017/02/2017-budget-will-force-philip-hammond-confront-brexit-effect

Consumer spending power is taking a hit because import price rises are creeping up. Productivity in the UK remains a big problem. Our trade situation has got to be at the centre of policy because of the risk of severed markets with the EU. And the projections for long term national debt are truly scary – the OBR suggesting our ageing population and rising health costs could see debt reach 234% of GDP in fifty years’ time unless action is taken.

I’d be interested in your thoughts and observations ahead of the Budget as I hope to make some comments in response to the Chancellor’s speech and getting your input would be very timely.

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MP Update – 25th February

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 25th February 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

While the news headlines about Brexit, Trump and UK political parties are dominant, they mask some very important issues that aren’t getting much attention. It’s not just the creaking pressures on our NHS that aren’t receiving sufficient scrutiny. Just look at how little is being said about the forthcoming Budget that the Chancellor will be presenting on 8th March. With projections that borrowing and national debt are remaining stubbornly high, and retail sales starting to falter, any unforeseen budget pressures could cause real difficulties.

Take the example of the recent court ruling that broadens the entitlement to disability benefits of those who qualify for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – affecting 160,000 people potentially. This additional cost to social security of £3.7bn over the next five years will be bitterly resisted by Ministers, but I wonder if some Tory MPs can be persuaded to agree with the court verdict and allow this help to be provided. Just as George Osborne found last Spring, this could be an area where Philip Hammond is under pressure.

I will be doing my best to look ahead at the Budget and the economic outlook facing the UK and I hope to say more about this so that better scrutiny can be provided.

NOTTINGHAM

  • On Friday I visited the Boots site in Beeston to find out more about the work done at the Nottingham Enterprise Zone, as well as visiting the MediCity site. I was really encouraged to see the work to support new businesses in Nottingham, and it was interesting to see some of the companies based on the site, including All Naturals Cosmetics (pictured below). I was able to take a look at their soap production facility, which was a great example of the MediCity site encouraging new SMEs to flourish. Thanks to Elizabeth Fagan, the Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Boots, for showing me around.

MediCity

 

  • This week Nottinghamshire Deaf Society held a celebration of their ‘Hearing Deaf Voices’ project, which has now been running since April 2016, and it was great to pop in briefly to their well-attended launch this week. The Heritage Lottery-funded project celebrates the history of the Deaf Community in Nottinghamshire and the East Midlands through interviews, photographs, videos and documents. If you would like to see the project’s display for yourself, it will be on show at Nottingham Central Library from 1st-30th You can find out more on the website here.
  • The banking chain TSB is to close its branch in Sneinton Dale. All customers will be informed of the closure, and TSB will be conducting a review into the impact of the closure both in branch and online. I’ll be raising the closure with TSB when I meet their Chief Executive next month, so I would be interested to hear from you if you’re a TSB customer and the closure will affect you.
  • It has been announced that brain injury services are to remain at City Hospital, rather than being transferred to the community as previously proposed. The decision means that the Linden Lodge Neuro Rehabilitation Unit on the City Hospital site will continue to provide support to patients with a wide range of neurological conditions. Plans are still in place for other services, including pain management and geriatric day care, to be transferred from NUH to the community from July. I am meeting with the CCG shortly to discuss the implications of these changes, and to seek assurances about maintaining quality of care when these services are recommissioned.
  • The group NG Solidarity are holding a blanket collection for refugees on Saturday 4th The group are specifically looking to collect donations of thick blankets and 3-4 season sleeping bags, which will then be taken to the Dunkirk refugee camp and to refugees in Paris. If you are able to help, please take your donations to Unit 2 Gauntlet Court, Hyson Green, NG7 5HD between 11am and 3pm on Saturday 4th March. If you need to contact the organisers, you can do so on 07812 456954 or email ngsolidarity@gmail.com
  • The Nottingham Kashmir roundtable event I hosted on Friday afternoon was well attended by representatives from across the Pakistani Kashmiri community in the city. We discussed the situation facing those living with the long-running dispute between India and Pakistan, heard reports about the curfews and human rights issues, and decided that collectively there needs to be greater awareness and coordination between the different groups campaigning on this issue. A Nottingham Kashmir Group facebook page will now be produced as a way for information and discussion to be coordinated as a first step.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • The two parliamentary by-elections held on Thursday have been high in the news. While Labour fought off UKIP’s Paul Nuttall in Stoke, the defeat in Copeland to the Conservatives was the first time an Opposition Party had lost a seat to the Government since 1982. I am sure you can imagine my feelings about this situation – I continue to hope that Labour Party members will recognise that we must be allowed to provide a viable ‘check’ on the excesses of Theresa May’s administration and form ourselves into a credible government-in-waiting.
  • On Monday, the High Speed Rail Bill returned to the House of Commons for consideration of the Lords amendments. The commitment to a station at Toton will be to Nottingham’s advantage and High Speed Two (HS2) will go some way to address the severe capacity constraints on our rail network and improve connections between cities in the Midlands and the north of England. The Bill became an Act after Royal Assent this week.
  • On Wednesday, the House of Commons debated three motions on local government finance. The Government presented its final financial settlement for local councils. It stated that the settlement commits to four-year funding periods for some councils, funding for adult social care and a new funding formula for local government. The settlement follows the introduction of the Local Government Finance Bill to the House last month, which will devolve 100% of business rates to local government, establish a legal framework for multi-year settlements and abolish the revenue support grant. Local government is facing a funding crisis, including a £2.6 billion funding gap in social care. However, this local government finance settlement offers councils no new money to tackle the social care crisis, and nothing to tackle rising homelessness and the doubling of rough sleeping. The Government’s social care precept is completely unrelated to need and shifts the burden of solving a national crisis on to hard-pressed local councils, leaving local residents paying more in council tax. It is important that the Government gets business rates right, so I welcome its decision to review the support for small businesses hit hardest by the business rates revaluation. However, the Government needs to clarify whether there will be extra money available to fund this support or whether funds will simply be taken from one group of businesses to be given to another.
  • On Thursday, my colleague Yvette Cooper who is chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee asked the Government to make a statement on the case of Jamal al-Harith. It has been reported that Mr al-Harith, believed to have recently carried out a suicide attack in Iraq, received a substantial sum in compensation after being freed from Guantanamo Bay in 2004. In November 2010, the then Justice Secretary informed the House of Commons that the Coalition Government had secured a mediated settlement of civil damages claims brought by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in the early 2000s. The Minister stated on Thursday, however, that it was a long-standing policy of governments not to comment on intelligence matters, and would not comment on whether particular individuals received compensation payments. There will, of course, be public concern about this case. There will also be concern that the Minister chose to hide behind the notion of sensitive intelligence to avoid answering even simple factual questions about it. The Minister was therefore pressed to answer the questions of whether a payment had been made to Al-Harith and of how this individual was able to leave the country and join Daesh in 2014. I believe the Government should review this case and provide a report to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, which would be the most appropriate method of dealing with this important issue.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

With the legislation on triggering Article 50 now in the House of Lords, it’s worth taking stock of where we are in the Brexit negotiations – and I’d be interested to know your views about how things are likely to pan out, and what Parliament should be prioritising.

I’m worried that the EU Commission are going to insist that Britain agrees to pay it’s “divorce settlement” fee before they’ll even allow a discussion about the new trading relationships we so desperately need to settle. The news that German and Italian Ministers are firmly insisting that a possible £50billion demand must be agreed upfront is a real blow to hopes that a sensible transition to new settled rules is going to be achievable. In my view, Britain should have made it a condition of triggering Article 50 that we have parallel talks on both the new relationship AND the divorce process simultaneously, not one before the other.

I visited Geneva this week with the International Trade Committee to meet officials at the World Trade Organisation and the European Free Trade Association to discuss the different options for Britain after 2019 – and the committee will be reporting shortly on our recommendations.

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MP Update – 10th February

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 10th February 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)

Parliament has been dominated by the Brexit ‘Article 50’ legislation this week – and I tried hard to amend the Bill in order to restrain Theresa May’s headlong rush towards the ‘hard Brexit’ cliff-edge. Unfortunately there weren’t enough Conservative moderate MPs willing to support some of the changes I proposed, so the Bill now goes to the House of Lords for them to consider. I’ve described a bit more about the Parliamentary process on this in the news section below.

Britain’s place in the world is now changing rapidly. The disconnection from Europe is driving Government Ministers towards new trading alliances with non-European countries, and although I am happy to see progressive trade deals develop, I worry about the unrealistic naivety of a British Government thinking that a deal with Donald Trump will be generous to us and fit with British values. Britain’s role should be to promote fairness, the rule of law and equal opportunities. My concern is that severing our best relationships with other progressive European countries will reduce our impact in this regard.

This week has been disheartening and a reminder that a progressive majority in Parliament really is conspicuous by its absence. I am conscious of the need for the Opposition to be far more effective – and to put more fight into defending the values that are so clearly at risk worldwide.

NOTTINGHAM

  • Today’s news that more patients than ever have waited more than four hours in accident and emergency units in England is a stark reminder of the increasing pressures on NHS resources. I visited our local Emergency Department at Queen’s Medical Centre on Thursday to see for myself the hard work and dedication of Nottingham’s NHS staff. It’s been a tough December and January at QMC but intensive efforts to improve patient flow through the hospital and joint working with local social services does seem to have been making a difference in recent weeks and today’s waiting times were better. But the overall trend is of more complex cases, from older patients, presenting more frequently and leading to bed shortages. It was very useful to talk with medical practitioners and managers to hear about recent trends and they reiterated the importance of adding on a new primary & urgent care facility alongside the Emergency Department at QMC to bolster capacity and take pressure off the most acute services. I’ll be redoubling my efforts to persuade Government Ministers to fast-track the capital investment we need for this facility, coupled with the staffing resource funding to make it work. The NHS is a cherished institution for our community and now is the time to reform and improve the frontline of emergency care so it can be fit for the 21st century.

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  • This week I visited the Jericho Road Project, a charity which has been working with women in prostitution for over 15 years, supporting them by providing food, benefits and housing advice and offering companionship. It was good to visit their premises and talk with the team and also quite a revelation to hear about the gradual shift from ‘on street’ prostitution to ‘online’ prostitution –which is obviously much harder to monitor and police.
  • On Thursday I visited the Nottingham Alevi Cultural Centre. There are around 300,000 Alevis living in the UK, mostly originally from Turkey, and the Nottingham Alevi Cultural Centre estimate that there are around 1,000 Alevis in the Nottingham area who use their centre. I met members of the charity’s board and discussed their future plans for the Alevi community in Nottingham. 
  • A new Ofsted report has found that Jamia al-Hudaa Residential College in Mapperley Park is still not meeting standards following their previous inspection in April 2016. While some improvements have been made, Ofsted have concluded that the school is still not meeting all independent school standards. It is deeply concerning that standards are not improving sufficiently at this school – there are children being adversely affected and it’s not unreasonable for the Department for Education to intervene.
  • I was sorry to hear of the death of Sir Peter Mansfield, the Nobel laureate who invented the MRI scanner and who worked as a physics lecturer at the University of Nottingham for thirty years from 1964. He achievements were truly world-changing and the 3D images of the body have provided a massive leap forward for medicine.
  • Places at the Nottingham Kashmir Roundtable discussion I’m hosting on Friday 24th February are filling up fast. If you or a group you represent have a keen interest in the issues affecting the Kashmiri community, please email to let me know as space is limited and it would be good to have voices from a cross-section of opinion. We will be taking stock of the current situation in Kashmir, discussing the work of existing groups and organisations and thinking about other campaigns and representations that might be made.
  • I understand that the transfer of the Co-op Food Stores shop and staff on 684 Mansfield Road in Sherwood into new ownership of the ‘Food Retailer Group’ have hit a big problem, with that firm now going into liquidation. This could clearly have sad implications for the staff concerned who were transferred, facing the prospect of redundancy. I am told that the Coop Group are going to try to see if they can help find alternative work for those staff and protect pensions and redundancy pay. 

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • It’s been wall-to-wall Brexit this week in the Commons with MPs totally absorbed in the limited debating time granted on the massive issue of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. This is surely one of the most important issues for a generation – yet Government Ministers have strained every sinew to prevent democratically elected MPs from involvement in the decisions that flow from the referendum result. Setting aside the irony of those who argued that the British Parliament must ‘take back control’ now doing all they can to thwart parliamentary consent, it is only because the Supreme Court reinforced the duty of MPs to make these final decisions that the Bill arrived in the first place. While I couldn’t ignore the democratic outcome of the referendum I voted for, hence my decision to abstain at third reading, I do believe that all those other questions not on the ballot paper must be given more careful thought, deliberation and scrutiny. That’s why I tabled more amendments than any other MP to the legislation – and why the vote on my ‘new clause 110’ produced such a close result on Tuesday during the committee stage. We didn’t have quite enough votes to win it at this stage, but the principle that Parliament should have a meaningful vote on the new draft Treaty, or on whatever our future relationship will be following the negotiations, is a very important one. My proposal was that British MPs should be able to have the final say on this, in advance of consideration by the European Parliament and EU Council of Ministers. Giving unilateral power to the Prime Minister would be a step away from the national consensus we ought to seek going forward. Two years of negotiations will be a difficult journey but at the end of that road lies a cliff edge. We may have an option to bridge across that canyon or we may then take a leap into the abyss. Either way, it should be Parliament’s decision, not something left to the Crown prerogative. Take for example a circumstance where the EU27 countries offer a deal to the UK that could salvage some of the benefits of Single Market tariff-free trade, but the Prime Minister turns it down and opts for WTO conditions instead. Despite what fleetingly sounded like a ‘concession’ from Ministers on this, it became clear as the debate progressed that in fact the Prime Minister has no intention at all of allowing a vote on such circumstances. So we could lose a good deal and fall off the cliff edge, with no reference to Parliament whatsoever! This is clearly unacceptable, and a number of eminent MPs from parties other than mine also agreed in the Tuesday vote. The ridiculous curtailing of debate to only three days in committee stage makes a mockery of the role Parliament should be playing and means we won’t have the chance to vote on other amendments touching on some other vital questions. Hopefully the House of Lords will do the careful diligent scrutiny that the Commons have been prevented from doing. Workers’ rights? Environmental cooperation? Trade and competition policy? Businesses and financial services? All issues MPs couldn’t vote on but deserve attention. In truth, this Bill is probably the last substantive chance for Parliament to tell Ministers the priorities of their constituents. I will keep fighting to avoid the UK falling off the cliff edge and Parliament is our last best hope for restraining those who would lead us down the path to a hard Brexit. The Bill now goes up to the Lords for consideration. I hope it will return to the Commons with a few of the basic safeguards for the rights of our constituents and for Parliament – and we can then persuade other like-minded colleagues to keep that right to check the power of the Prime Minister.
  • Parliament will take a break with a short half-term recess next week, so these MP Updates will return the week after next.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

The nature of employment contracts and the workplace are rapidly changing – and the large number of ‘Deliveroo’ cyclists across the city are a reminder of the so-called ‘gig economy’ where short-term, temporary work is often provided without the long term security that once existed.

Today’s Court of Appeal ruling which backed up the case of a plumber who wanted to reduce his working days following a heart attack was instructive; the court ruled that even though the plumber was technically ‘self-employed’ he was entitled to basic workers’ rights. This was the case of an individual who worked solely for Pimlico Plumbers for six years, even though he was separately registered for VAT and paid tax on a self-employed basis.

I’d be interested to know if you or those you know have had any experiences with this emerging ‘grey area’ of the ‘flexible’ labour market. Are the concepts of ‘part-time’ or ‘fixed-term’ contracts now disappearing in favour of the zero-hours arrangement? Or are employers and employees finding new flexibilities to suit new circumstances? Is the law providing the right safeguards? I’d be interested in your thoughts.

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