MP Update – 18th June

The brutal murder of my fellow MP and friend Jo Cox has left Westminster and many communities across the country in shock. Jo was going about her normal constituency duties and killed in circumstances we never expect to see in this country. She was the best of MPs, a fearless campaigner but also a genuinely caring person, the very nicest you could ever hope to know.

The House of Commons will assemble tomorrow to pay tribute to Jo and across all political parties we will come together to give thanks for the privilege of knowing her and to reinforce our democratic values, which Jo represented so ably. Everyone who knew Jo is devastated by these events but my thoughts are now with her husband Brendan and her two children who have been so cruelly robbed of their mother.

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NOTTINGHAM

  • Nottingham residents have this weekend shown their solidarity not only with a vigil in memory of Jo Cox, but also in response to the terrible news last weekend about the mass shooting in Orlando. This hateful attack on the LGBT community was difficult to comprehend, and with 49 people murdered it is the worst mass shooting in US history. The Council House flew the rainbow flag at half-mast this week, and a book of condolence has been opened for the victims. It is important that we demonstrate that these kind of extremist attacks are unacceptable and have no place in either the USA or the UK. It was also particularly kind of President Obama to telephone Jo Cox’s husband Brendan this weekend to express his condolences – as have many leaders from across the world.
  • In other local news, earlier in the week I had the chance to visit the site of the new biosciences building being constructed at the BioCity site on Pennyfoot Street. The site visit was arranged as part of ‘Open Doors’ week, which aims to encourage people to consider a career in construction. It was really interesting to see how the work is progressing, and I look forward to visiting the new building once it has been completed.
  • On Thursday I was invited to address the pupils at Nottingham Girls High School about the forthcoming EU referendum at their morning assembly. After a question-and-answer session ‘grilling’ it was nice to also have an opportunity to be shown around the school facilities.
  • Although it’s outside the boundaries of the Nottingham East constituency, I also had a chance to visit Trinity School to see their music department in action, where pupils have a greater than normal part of their curriculum time dedicated to music learning – with access to one-to-one tutoring too. Ahead of the roundtable meeting I am convening to discuss music education later in July, I wanted to see first-hand how they have deliver and resource their approach.
  • Yesterday I attended the Armed Forces Day event at the Mapperley Sports Village off Ransom Road where they had stalls, a dance group and other activities raising money for Nottinghamshire charity Forces In The Community. I would like to pay particular tribute to Lesley Gnandte and her friends for putting in the time and effort to arrange the event as a mark of our support for the service and sacrifice of those who serve in our armed forces.

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  • On Saturday I also dropped by the Refugee Week launch event at the Nottingham Contemporary gallery which was a great assembly of a series of charities and voluntary organisations helping support the refugee community including the Refugee Forum, the Red Cross – and thanks to Roger Bromley chair of Nottingham Beyond Borders and Katy Culbard for arranging and coordinating everything.
  • A new children’s TV series filmed in and around Nottingham has been shown on CBBC this week. The programme is called Jamie Johnson and timed to coincide with the Euro 2016 tournament, is based around 11-year old Jamie whose dream is to be a footballer. It’s fantastic to have locations in the city such as St Ann’s Allotments used for the series, and I was pleased to hear that the cast will return to Nottingham this summer to film a second series. If you want to catch up with the series, you can watch it on iPlayer here.
  • Nottinghamshire Deaf Society’s project ‘Hearing Deaf Voices’ is looking for volunteers to help with their work to celebrate local deaf culture and heritage by capturing memories and experiences. They will be holding two volunteer ‘taster sessions’ later this month if you’re interested in helping, on Saturday 25th from 10am and Tuesday 28th June from 2pm until 5pm at 22 Forest Road. To book contact Nic Ramsdale in the Hearing Deaf Voices team email ramsdale@nottsdeaf.org.uk

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Monday the Government was asked to make a statement on the terrorism threat and on wider security measures in the UK in the light of the horrific attacks on the lesbian, gay and bisexual and transgender community in Orlando, USA. This was an act of terrorism that targeted the gay community, where 49 people were killed and a further 53 people were injured at a nightclub in Orlando at the weekend. Both the Government and the Shadow Home Secretary on behalf of the Opposition condemned this attack. My deepest sympathies and solidarity are with the families and friends of those who died. In this country we celebrate diversity and we should never let terror divide our communities. We will continue to fight hate and homophobia in all their forms and stand alongside the LGBT community.
  • Also on Monday the Policing and Crime Bill was debated in the House of Commons. There are some positive developments: measures to give anonymity for victims of forced marriage; improvements on the police bail regime; and the proposed ban on the use of police cells for people in mental health crisis. I was also pleased that the Government listened to the Opposition and strengthened the measures in the Bill on child exploitation, particularly on the licensing regime for private hire vehicles. There were some significant developments in response to the historic verdict of the Hillsborough inquest. I welcome that during the debate the Government indicated that they are prepared take some action on the long-standing loophole of retirement being used by police officers as a route to evade misconduct proceedings and to extend the 12-month limit for exceptional instances of misconduct and will follow progress on this closely.
  • On Tuesday my colleague Andy Burnham the Shadow Home Secretary asked an urgent question on the incidents of English fan violence in Marseille at the Euro 2016 football tournament. The Shadow Home Secretary said that many England fans were clearly the victims of violent extremists and poor security and drew the House’s attention to serious concerns raised by the chairman of the Football Association in a letter to UEFA which identified a number of major security lapses at the stadium. Given the heightened security around the tournament, it is extraordinary that fireworks and flares were taken in and then let off. I am concerned about the potential for further violence amongst fans – something we cannot afford to see and I know people who are out there to enjoy the football will be worried about this. The Home Secretary stated on Monday that the Government would work with the French authorities and echoed the England captain and manager in urging fans to stay out of trouble.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Although this is the final weekend before the EU referendum (this Thursday – with polling stations open between 7am and 10pm), many of the campaigning events have been put on hold out of respect for Jo Cox. The BBC Radio Nottingham debate I was due to take part in will now be rearranged for this coming Tuesday from 6pm.

This is one of the most momentous weeks in modern British politics and, as you will know, I am urging people to vote to Remain in the EU. On Wednesday I published an article for the New Statesman magazine in which I argued that the risk of economic downturn that would follow leaving the EU means voting ‘out’ is not the right answer for those concerned about immigration. You can read my full article at the link here.

Being in the EU brings us great economic benefit: it accounts for 44% of our exports and 53% of imports of goods and services, as well as almost £500 billion foreign direct investment. This is my last MP Update before the referendum on Thursday and I would be interested in your thoughts this week – and if you have any questions I can help with – and I sincerely hope we remain in the European Union in order to maintain our global influence, our national prosperity and our wider security.

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MP Update – 11th June

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

With less a fortnight until the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, it looks like the vote will be a close run thing. While the EU might not fill everyone with excitement, I think it’s a really important club that Britain needs to stay in for serious reasons – so that our economy does well and so we can influence world affairs.

For me, it’s about assessing the risks of severing the link and quitting the European Union. If we leave, will our departure from the single market hit businesses and reduce jobs in the area? If we get a recession as indicated by the Governor of the Bank of England, could we see more downstream cuts for vital public services like the NHS? If you’re a homeowner, will a fall in house prices risk a rise in ‘negative equity’ and problems with mortgage rates and repayments?

My view is that the risks outweigh the benefits of leaving. Just look at how the financial markets have reacted since yesterday’s opinion poll suggesting that ‘Leave’ is ahead: the pound was knocked to a seven-week low, with dented share prices and demand fueled for safer assets such as bonds and gold (and that’s just jitters on an opinion poll result!).

But this isn’t just about markets far removed from us. Nottingham directly benefits from EU membership, getting around £100million since 2000 on projects like the refurbishment at Broadway Media Centre and delivering the tram network. And hundreds of Nottingham businesses get easy access to customers across the single market.

I’ll be debating the issues live on BBC Radio Nottingham with representatives from both the ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ sides this coming Thursday evening from 6pm. This is an issue that will affect everybody.

NOTTINGHAM

  • You may recall the incident at the Victoria Centre on 29th May when a suspicious package was identified and the shopping centre had to be evacuated during the busy Bank Holiday weekend. Speaking with some residents in the Victoria Centre flats above the shopping centre it’s clear that they felt they were not kept sufficiently informed during the incident. As well as liaising with the Police, I contacted Nottingham City Homes to ask if procedures would be reviewed in light of the incident and I was pleased to hear that a public meeting is being planned for residents to allow them to air their concerns. Fortunately the suspicious package turned out to be a discarded suitcase, but it is important that residents in the flats, or in any similar tower block, are made fully aware of emergency and evacuation procedures. The residents at Victoria Centre flats deserve to know in advance of all alarms and incidents what procedures should be followed and how they will be informed.
  • This year’s Nottingham Refugee Week is taking place from 17th– 27th June at venues across Nottingham. Refugee Week is a great opportunity to raise awareness about the needs of refugees as well as to showcase local talent from the refugee community. Among the events taking place are film screenings, live music nights, food evenings and theatre performances.
  • This week is National Carers Week, which is an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring, highlight the challenges carers face and to recognise the contribution they make to families and communities. Yesterday I spent much of the day shadowing Heather Dill who is a carer working for Nottingham Community Housing Association as she made home visits to three service users. It was a real eye-opener to spend this time ‘shadowing’ Heather – which was arranged through trade union Unison in the East Midlands (pictured below with Sean Kelly-Walsh from UNISON). Some of those needing care receive four visits a day, helped with getting out of bed, meals, cleaning and shopping – and crucially overseeing administration of medication. These are vital tasks, often unsung, but with thousands depending on this help across the city. I was struck by the attention to detail Heather showed, the need to keep records accurately at each visit and also the rapport she had with each client. I’ll be taking some of the lessons I learned – such as the need for adequate time for each visit – into discussions in Parliament about how social care should be delivered.

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  • It’s the Queen’s official 90th birthday celebrations and I know that there are lots of local events, with schools getting involved and hopefully the weather will be kind! If you’ve got any pictures of street parties or other things going on do email them so I can share on twitter and facebook etc! Enjoy the weekend.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • The two most interesting events in Parliament this week happened outside the Chamber itself – in the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee. Select Committees – groups of backbench MPs – play an important role in holding the Government and many other institutions to account, and the BIS committee did so well this week. On Tuesday it heard from Mike Ashley, who admitted that in certain instances Sports Direct staff were not paid minimum wage, and that the company had outgrown his ability to manage it. Then, on Wednesday they heard from various characters in the BHS retail collapse, a saga of dubious deals and threats between owner and staff. I’m glad that Iain Wright MP and his colleagues have pressed forward with these enquiries.
  • On Monday the Home Secretary made a statement on the Government’s strategy for removing foreign national offenders (FNOs) following the publication of a critical report by the Home Affairs Select Committee. I am concerned that while there has been progress on the deportation of FNOs, it has been slow. The Select Committee said that it was deeply concerned that there were nearly 6,000 FNOs living in communities — the highest figure since 2012. My colleague, the Shadow Home Secretary rightly pressed the Government on what they will do to bring the figure down. This is an issue of Government competence and they urgently need to get a grip on it. Our membership of the EU makes it easier to deport people. The EU prisoner transfer agreement provides a framework to speed up the process, and country-to-country deals are far harder to achieve. Access to the Schengen information system and the European criminal records information system helps us to stop criminals arriving in the UK, and the European arrest warrant means that they can be brought to justice.
  • On Monday and Tuesday the Investigatory Powers Bill returned to the House of Commons. I have consistently supported the principle of new legislation to provide an updated legal framework for investigatory powers with stronger safeguards to better protect our privacy and national security and I have been clear that I will only support new legislation in this area if it strikes the right balance. My colleagues in the Shadow Home Office team secured some important commitments with regards to privacy and human rights. They ensured that Judicial Commissioners will scrutinise the decision to issue a warrant, that NHS records should only be accessed in exceptional circumstances, that there should be stronger protections for lawyers and journalists, and got the Government to commit that trade union activities could not be considered sufficient reason for investigatory powers to be used. There will now be an independent review of all the bulk powers in the Bill. To have voted against the Bill would have denied people those safeguards and left us with a much weaker piece of legislation that does not afford those protections. I therefore voted for the Bill at Third Reading and am glad the Labour frontbench did so as well. It is clear that investigatory powers need updating in a fast-changing world, and it is also clear that greater transparency is needed in how those powers are used. The Bill will now be scrutinised in the House of Lords.
  • The deadline for voter registration for the EU referendum was midnight on Tuesday 7 June. However, on Tuesday evening a technical glitch on the gov.uk voter registration website caused it to crash, meaning many people could not register to vote before the deadline. On Wednesday the Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Registration asked the Government to make a statement on the problems with the gov.uk voter registration website. I welcomed the Government’s announcement on Wednesday that people should continue to register to vote and that their applications would be valid. However, this chaotic situation was unacceptable given the predictable rise in traffic in advance of the deadline. On Thursday the Government brought forward a Statutory Instrument, with full support from the Opposition, in order to pass the relevant legislation to enable the deadline for voter registration for the EU referendum to be extended until midnight on Thursday 9 June. This was approved without a vote.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Nottingham City Transport is an internationally award-winning council-owned bus company that has helped make our city a leader in public transport in the UK. Yet the Government this week indicated that they may try to change the law and forbid local authorities from setting up municipally-owned bus and transport firms. It’s not clear yet whether this could hit Nottingham’s transport planning, because although Ministers claim they’re not intending to ban existing council activities, if we were to get the powers we need to commission and franchise local public transport in the city, this could be viewed as a ‘conflict of interests’ between the council as a ‘client’ and also as a ‘provider’. I’ve discussed this with my colleague Lilian Greenwood MP who is on Labour’s frontbench with shadow transport responsibilities. We will try to amend the Bus Services Bill when it comes to the Commons in the autumn, not least to clarify that NCT won’t be degraded or disadvantaged.

But I’d be interested in your thoughts on NCT and Nottingham generally as a provider of bus service connectivity – how do you think Nottingham compares to other parts of the country when it comes to public transport? Do you agree we should defend the city council ownership of NCT? It’s a detailed issue, but could have ramifications for our local bus services.

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MP Update – 28th May

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

Do you run or work in a small company? Does the government really understand how business works? This is a question being asked by hundreds of small firms in Nottingham as we near one of the most significant regulatory changes that could add time, effort and cost to doing business.

At the end of last year the government published ‘Making Tax Digital’, signalling its intention to i

mplement digital tax accounting by 2020. I am particularly worried about the impact of this transition on the self-employed and small businesses, 3 out 5 of whom keep records on paper or without sophisticated software.

A greater concern than digitisation is the other big change proposed: a requirement for businesses to “update HMRC at least quarterly via their digital tax account”. Such a banal phrase has the potential to be something of a Pandora’s Box, and raises many questions that HMRC will have to answer: what is an “update”? How often exactly will businesses be expected to report? Is the government stealthily trying to move towards a pay-as-you-earn system for small business corporation tax? And then there are significant questions around accounting costs – will firms have to hire accountants quarterly?

Small firms have enough to contend with on a daily basis, and juggling the requirements to record their transactions and outgoings is hard enough without HMRC adding to the hassle. Unless there are clear gains for businesses and not just for HMRC there will be a further erosion of trust and confidence from entrepreneurs in the willingness of the government to listen.

I voice my concerns about the potential impact of this change in an article for the Guardian Small Business Network, which you can read here:

http://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2016/may/24/small-business-quarterly-tax-return-hmrc-controversial

NOTTINGHAM

  • You might not know it, but there’s an important firm in Nottingham East helping make sure that the food we all buy from many of the big name supermarkets is tested for quality and safety. On Friday I visited 2 Sisters Food Group’s technical services site at BioCity in Nottingham. The firm carry out 15,000 food safety tests a week on products manufactured for major UK supermarkets including Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer. I had a look around their microbiology laboratory (pictured), and it was really interesting to see how they operate. I was also impressed with the company’s ethical stance and commitment to environmental and ethical standards with their products and employees. I’m grateful to Alan and his team for taking the time to show me around.

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  • Here’s a great Nottingham success story; last week I attended the listing of local company Oncimmune EarlyCDT on the AIM London Stock Exchange. They are a leading early cancer detection company, who have developed technologies that have the potential to allow cancer detection up to four years earlier than traditional methods. I am delighted that this combination of local ingenuity and enterprise are at the frontier of the fight against cancer. This AIM listing is a big deal for the team involved, and crucially unlocks the finance needed to make this a world-leading health technology. The partnership between those who work in our city hospital and the University of Nottingham have much to be proud of.

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  • On Friday I met with Nikki Stevenson of the Nottinghamshire branch of the National Autistic Society. It was really fascinating to find out about the work they do supporting autistic people in the city. They are currently looking for volunteers to assist with a range of duties, so if you have a few hours to spare and have good IT skills, please get in touch with Nikki by emailing Nottinghamshire@nas.org.uk. You can find further information on their Facebook page here. Full training will be provided to all new volunteers.
  • The ‘Trust Building Project’ launched this week in Nottingham, supported by the police, the city council and the Crown Prosecution Service. The project, led by local Imam Dr Musharraf Hussain, aims to create a group of ‘ambassadors’ for the Muslim community, showing the true image of Muslims living in the city through an outreach programme. The volunteer ‘ambassadors’ will go into schools and workplaces to dispel myths about the religion and share stories of their lives. It is hoped that the project will help to further integrate the Muslim community in Nottingham, and I welcome the aims of this project.
  • The Family Medical Centre on Carlton Road was rated as outstanding by the Care Quality Commission this week. The CQC report rated it as outstanding for providing services that were responsive to people’s needs and said that the practice was well-led, and was particularly committed to dealing with people in vulnerable circumstances. I want to congratulation all the staff at the Family Medical Centre for their fantastic work. If you’re interested in reading the full report, you can do so here.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • Last week the Queen’s Speech set out the Government’s agenda for the new session of Parliament. There were a number of debates in the House of Commons this week on the proposed policies and legislation in the speech. On Monday the debate focused on public services. One of the key things missing from the Queen’s Speech was action to tackle the state of the National Health Service. The NHS is in a very precarious position: hospital finances are near breaking point; waiting lists are high; and the NHS is facing a workforce crisis with understaffing. Cuts to nurse training places during the last Parliament have created workforce shortages and led to a reliance on expensive agency staff. NHS Improvement, the body responsible for overseeing hospitals, published figures last week showing that NHS trusts ended 2015-16 with a record £2.45 billion deficit. I am concerned that the decade from 2010 to 2020 is set to be marked by the biggest sustained funding squeeze on the NHS ever.
  • With East Midlands Ambulance Service judged as ‘inadequate’ on safety by the Care Quality Commission, I took the opportunity to challenge Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt about it this week. I pressed him to focus on the quality of this important part of our health service and to give answers about how he would act on the report and do something about it.
  • On Tuesday the Defence Secretary provided an update on the UK’s contribution to military operations and wider efforts to defeat ISIL Daesh. The Defence Secretary stated that the military campaign against Daesh is making progress, and that the RAF has now conducted over 760 precision airstrikes in Iraq and an additional 43 strikes in Syria against Daesh assets. Daesh’s finances have been targeted, its leadership has been struck, and in Iraq around 40% of the territory that Daesh once held has been retaken – with no civilian casualties yet reported as a result of UK action. Even though these issues are not in the news daily, we should still recognise the extraordinary bravery, commitment and skill of the men and women in our Armed Forces.
  • On Thursday the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills made a statement on Britain’s steel industry. The statement also followed a meeting of Tata’s board at which progress was reviewed on the sale. I welcomed confirmation from the Government that Tata is acting as a responsible seller, which is vital for the future of the industry.  I also welcomed the Government’s publication of a consultation on the British Steel Pension Scheme as it is clearly an issue that requires resolution. Any resolution must protect the pensions of the scheme’s 130,000 beneficiaries and avoid setting a potentially dangerous precedent for the millions of other occupational pensioners. Steel is a strategic industry and I will continue to support the action needed so that UK steel can have a bright future.
  • There were two important contributions to the economic EU debate this week. On Monday, a report from Treasury officials was published on the immediate economic impact of leaving the EU. The report looked at three immediate economic impacts of leaving: (1) the ‘transition effect’ of the UK becoming less open to trade and investment (2) uncertainty impacting on economic decisions (3) financial market volatility. Under cautious assumptions, the ‘shock scenario’ leaves GDP 3.6% lower than it would have been after 2 years, with half a million more people unemployed. If those three economic impacts are larger – the ‘severe shock’ scenario – GDP would be 6% lower over two years, with potentially 820,000 more people unemployed, and real wages down 4%. The second contribution was a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which looked at the impact of Brexit on the public finances. They found that leaving the EU would mean “at least an additional one or two years of ‘austerity’ – spending cuts or tax rises”. I raised this in the Commons this week and highlighted the severe shock that would flow if Britain fell back on World Trade Organisation rules and actually left the single market as some advocate.
  • I was deeply saddened last week to see news of floods in Sri Lanka. Three days of torrential rain caused devastation, as landslides and flooding left around 100 people dead and forced half a million to flee their homes. The waters have now receded, and I hope that those who were affected receive the support they need. I am sending my thoughts to those suffering, and Sri Lankans in the UK who have friends or relatives affected.
  • Parliament is now starting the short Whitsun recess and I’ll send the next MP Update report after the week when the Commons returns.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Access to justice is a fundamental right, but the Government’s approach to the justice system has brought it close to “breaking point”, according to a report by the Public Accounts Committee released this week. The group of MPs – from all parties – found that the ill-thought through 26% cut to our criminal justice system since 2010 has hindered the ability of courts to deliver justice. Disgracefully, only 55% of witnesses would be prepared to be a witness again. There are some things that a decent, humane society has to provide to its citizens, and access to a fair justice system is one. The full report is here.

I’d be interested if you or those you know have experienced difficulties accessing fair justice because of the costs of getting legal advice that used to be more available? Or have you noticed other ways in which our local criminal or civil courts have been affected in recent years? This is an issue not just for those seeking redress or facing financial problems, but also victims and witnesses of crimes too.

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MP Update – 21st May

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 21st May 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at
https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp )

With just five weeks to go until the EU Referendum, it was great to have the ‘Labour In’ campaign bus visiting Nottingham this week. Our trade with the EU brings significant benefits to Nottingham. Treasury officials calculate that the hit to our trade and revenues if we leave the EU could create a £36billion black hole in the funding for our public services nationwide. This means that Nottingham’s share of losses could be around £166million a year – money lost for our NHS, council services, schools, pensioners and those in need of social security.

People in Nottingham will lose out if we sever these links to the EU and see our economy shrink back as a result. On Friday, I took part in an EU debate organised by Nottingham Professional Services where I spoke on the ‘Remain’ side, talking about why we are stronger, safer and better off in the EU. It was a lively debate and there were lots of interesting questions from the audience on this issue that will increasingly dominate the news over the month ahead.

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NOTTINGHAM

  • This week it was formally announced that Nottinghamshire Police plan to scrap the City of Nottingham police division, meaning that the police force would operate a single senior management system across the county and there would no longer be a chief superintendent based in the city. I have voiced my concerns about the impact this decision could have on policing and crime in the city, and other Nottingham MPs, councillors and the public have also voiced their feelings on this. As a result of the concerns I met with Chief Constable Chris Eyre on Thursday at Police headquarters to discuss the situation and asked him to explain the process behind this decision. Like many public services across the country, the police are being forced to make budget efficiencies and Nottinghamshire Police say organisational change is the only way to realise further substantial savings. Specifically, I sought assurances on officer numbers in the city not being affected, and that a continuing named senior Superintendent clearly accountable and accessible for citywide policing issues could genuinely give clarity on the city specific management issues we have. I will be keeping a close eye on this situation, and remain in contact with the police, but I would be interested to know what you think about the plans.
  • On Friday I attended the launch of Wellness in Mind, a new service offering support for mental health and wellbeing issues for people in Nottingham. During Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s important to remember that mental health services are not always as easy to access as physical health services. Wellness in Mind aims to end the ‘you’ve come to the wrong place’ culture, helping to signpost people to the right services when they need it most. For more information about the service, visit their website here.

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  • Tobacco production ceased in Nottingham this week after 140 years with the closure of the Imperial Tobacco With production stopping at this firm with such strong local I am conscious that efforts must be made to help the workforce who have been made redundant. I’m pleased to hear that many of the staff are being supported by Futures Advice, Skills & Employment to help them find new jobs.
  • Bread & Roses – a theatre collective based in Nottingham – are putting on a performance next week as part of Font Festival, which is being held in Hockley. The performance is taking place at The Lofthouse at 6.30pm on Wednesday 25th For more information on the event and other performances taking place at Font Festival, visit their website here.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • This week saw the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech, where the Government set out their agenda for the new session of Parliament, outlining proposed policies and legislation. I have now seen a lot of Queen’s Speeches, and I can’t think of one that was lighter on new legislation and ideas than this one was; it’s as though there was large referendum-shaped shadow hanging over it!

Here are some selected highlights from the Government’s announcements:

  • an Education for All Bill in which they officially dropped plans to force all schools to become academies;
  • a Children and Social Work Bill that introduces new indicators for measuring life chances;
  • a Prison and Courts and Reform Bill that gives prison governors more autonomy and increases focus on rehabilitation and prisoner education;
  • a Criminal Finances Bill that aims to tackle tax evasion.
  • a Bus Services Bill to extend London-style bus powers to the rest of the country;
  • a Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill that includes a consultation that could privatise the Land Registry;
  • a Local Growth and Jobs Bill that gives greater powers to local authorities;
  • a Digital Economy Bill to improve UK broadband;
  • a Modern Transport Bill to encourage a move towards driverless cars;

There is some good news in there – confirmation of the Government’s U-turn on academies and attempts to tackle tax evasion – but many worrying elements as well, such as measures allowing universities in England to increase tuition fees above £9,000 from autumn 2017, if they have high-quality teaching. I am sure I will be writing to you a lot more on these Bills as they pass through Parliament, where my colleagues and I will scrutinise them closely.

  • On Thursday the Health Secretary made a statement on junior doctors in the House of Commons following an agreement reached on Wednesday between Government negotiators and the British Medical Association after talks at conciliation service Acas. While it is massively disappointing we ended up with an all-out strike of junior doctors to get the Government back to the negotiating table, I am pleased and relieved that an agreement has now been reached. A revised contract will be published, and this will be put to a ballot of junior doctors next month. This is a dispute that has gone on for far too long, and caused unnecessary distress for both patients and doctors. I believe it is now clear that a negotiated settlement was possible all along. Instead the Government insisted on trying to bulldoze through an imposed contract and as a result has left the NHS workforce demoralised and eroded trust.
  • Thanks to those who commented with their thoughts and feedback about the issue of school holidays I asked about last week. On Thursday the Government was asked to make a statement on that recent decision by the High Court on the right of parents to take their children on holiday during term time. Last week the High Court ruled that a father who did not pay a £120 fine for taking his daughter on an unauthorised term-time holiday had no case to answer, because overall his daughter attended school regularly. Regular attendance at school is crucial to ensuring children fulfil their potential, and 100% attendance records should be the ambition for all children in all schools. The existing system wasn’t perfect; while parents and headteachers have had a clear signal that children should be in school, it is also sensible that headteachers who know their parents and school community well, and are accountable for their children and school, should have appropriate discretion.  I hope that we can find a common sense balanced approach when the new rules are drawn up as part of the new legislation.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

One of the least discussed but most important issues in public health was under the spotlight this week when Treasury Minister Jim O’Neill published his report into ‘antimicrobial resistance’ or AMR. The danger that the antibiotic medicines we’ve grown used to as a society since the mid 20th century will become less effective, as bugs become resistant to their impact, presents some very worrying problems. Already 700,000 people die of resistant infections every year across the world. Antibiotics are a special category of antimicrobial drugs that underpin modern medicine as we know it: if they lose their effectiveness, key medical procedures (such as gut surgery, caesarean sections, joint replacements, and treatments that depress the immune system, such as chemotherapy for cancer) could become too dangerous to perform.

Lord O’Neill’s report makes for interesting reading (see link here http://amr-review.org/ ) and recommends some significant things, including more careful prescription to minimise use of antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, to new drug development and even potentially ‘taxing’ or raising a levy on antibiotics. I’d be interested to know generally what you’ve experienced on this issue: is there an awareness of the need to take care to avoid over-use of antibiotics? Are GPs being too free – or too cautious – when it comes to prescription? Do we need more public education here? I’d be interested in any observations you might have.

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MP Update – 14th May

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

This week’s inspection report on East Midlands Ambulance Service is, unfortunately, quite damning. While the Care Quality Commission’s report finds that the staff are both ‘exceptionally caring’ and ‘hard-working’, overall they say that the system is clearly struggling. The Trust is finding it hard to keep pace with rising demand as resources are so limited – so the ambulance trust is rated ‘inadequate’ on basic safety. This is unacceptable. I’m going to meet with East Midlands Ambulance Service and MPs across the East Midlands to look at addressing these serious problems.

If you have found issues with the ambulance service lately, do please let me know. As I say, I know that the staff are trying their hardest to cope but they can only do as much as the system supports them. Here are some of the key findings from the Care Quality Commission inspection report:

– The trust was working hard to improve response times for emergency calls but these were consistently below the national target.

– There were insufficient staff and a lack of appropriate skill mix to meet the needs of patients in a timely manner.

– All staff, especially those at the frontline, were passionate about and committed to providing high quality, safe care for patients. At the same time they were open and honest about the challenges they were facing.

– Staff morale was low and they often did not feel valued. There was an unrelenting demand for emergency services combined with a lack of staff and resources to meet the need.

– There was a clear statement of vision and values driven by quality and safety. The trust board functioned effectively.

There is a link to the full report (which has a summary as well) here.

EMAS

NOTTINGHAM

  • Our Police Chief Constable Chris Eyre is to retire from the force shortly following his six years in Nottinghamshire. He will be moving to take over the helm at the forces base in Cyprus – and I would like to wish him well. Chris Eyre has always been open and available for dialogue with local MPs and councillors and I have been very impressed with the leadership he has shown.
  • The finals of BBC Young Musician of the Year are taking place this Sunday, and I’m pleased to say that Sheku Kanneh-Mason, from Nottingham, is one of the three finalists. The finals are on BBC4 this Sunday 15th May at 7pm – I’m sure many of you will be tuning in. For those interested, Nottingham Symphony Orchestra conductor Derek Williams has organised a series of lunchtime concerts featuring previous BBC Young Musician of the Year winners. The first of the series took place on Friday, but if you missed that there are further concerts on Friday 17th June and Friday 15th July. The concerts are all being held at Nottingham Playhouse from 1.05-1.50pm, and tickets cost ?7.50, with free tickets available for under 26s. Further information is available on the Nottingham Playhouse website.
  • Work to create an extension to Nottingham’s BioCity research centre is due to finish ahead of schedule. The expansion of the site will allow space for more high tech start-up businesses in the biosciences industry, equating to over 700 additional jobs over the next 30 years. I hope this expansion will continue to cement Nottingham’s place as a leader in life sciences.
  • Summer work experiences placements are being offered to more than 120 students in an attempt to improve graduate retention in Nottingham. You may recall I mentioned in my MP Update a couple of weeks ago that Nottingham has one of the lowest graduate retention rates in England, and this scheme, run by Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham City Council and Boots, aims to show what the city has to offer as a graduate employer by offering students a two week work placement with a local firm.
  • A new venue in Sneinton is due to open later in the year which will provide workshops, offices, meeting rooms and studio units to small or start-up creative and digital businesses. Among the companies due to use the venue, called Space 2, are the experimental dance organisation Dance4 and Confetti Media Group. The project has been partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund, and is another good example of EU funding bringing benefits to our city’s economy.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • I pressed Ministers on Monday in the Commons to do more for the self-employed who are now 15% of the workforce but only a third of whom are saving into a regular pension pot. The self-employed are an increasingly large section of those working but have fewer rights and protections than many other employees. I asked the Pensions Minister to do more to develop schemes and incentives for the self-employed, along the lines called for by the Federation for Small Business recently.
  • On Wednesday, during an Urgent Question about the BBC, I pressed the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the Government’s changes the BBC, which you can see here. I was concerned that the Government were going to implement some of the extreme proposals they suggested last year. On Thursday, the Government published their proposals for the next BBC Royal Charter, which will replace the current Charter which expires at the end of December. While I am pleased that the Government have been forced to backtrack on many of its proposals, I am concerned there is still much in the White Paper which falls short of the three tests set by my Shadow Frontbench colleagues for the new Charter – on the BBC’s editorial independence, financial independence, and helping it to fulfil its mission to inform, educate and entertain. On governance, I believe it is unacceptable that up to half of the new unitary board, which will have major influence over output and therefore over editorial decisions, will be appointed by the Government. I believe all of the Government’s appointments must be made by an independent process overseen by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. On financial independence, I believe the funding agreement struck by the Chancellor with the BBC last year must be met in full by the Government, with no more top-slicing and no siphoning off of licence fee payers’ money into funds to be given to other broadcasters. I am very concerned that the Secretary of State wants to change the mission of the BBC when it has worked well for more than 90 years and is supported by the public. The BBC is one of our most successful and loved institutions and there is a feeling, both inside and outside of Parliament, that the Government are seeking inappropriate influence over the BBC.
  • On Monday the Secretary of State for Education made a statement on academies and the Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper. Hidden under last Friday’s local election results, the Government performed yet another U-turn, and announced that they would be abandoning their plans to force all of England’s schools to become academies, following determined opposition. I suspected they might reverse their position on this, and I am pleased they have done so. However, there is still some concerning ‘small print’ here. It should be noted that the Government’s aim is still for every school to become an academy by 2022 and they may start to target particular local authorities. Rather than dealing with the serious problems facing schools – chronic shortages of teachers, school budgets falling in real terms for the first time in twenty years, problems in the exam system and a lack of school places – the Government are obsessed with changing structures. Now is time to address these problems, rather than fixating on reorganisation.
  • On Monday and Tuesday this week the Energy Bill ‘ping-ponged’ between the House of Commons and Lords. Parliamentary ‘ping-pong’ is when amendments go back and forth between the two Houses. While I support elements of this Bill, it is deeply damaging to wind energy, which I think should play an important role in our energy mix. The Government’s early closure of subsidies for onshore wind farms is deeply damaging to investor confidence in the energy sector as a whole, and is likely to increase energy bills and cause job losses. Their proposals mean that wind farms that have already won approval from their local communities but which did not obtain the final planning certificate until after 18 June 2015 will be rejected. These are projects that worked on the assumption that the Renewables Obligation scheme would end in 2017 and on which considerable sums of money have been spent passing through every regulatory hurdle, yet will still be rejected. In the House of Lords the Opposition won backing for a concession focused on grace periods for the handful of wind farm projects that were well advanced in the planning process before the Government’s changes were announced. I voted for this amendment, but it was defeated. On Tuesday, there was another attempt to reinstate the amendment on grace periods, but this time the Lords voted to accept the Government’s proposals. The Bill has completed its passage through both Houses and is now an Act of Parliament having received Royal Assent on Thursday.
  • The Housing and Planning Bill also ‘ping-ponged’ between the House of Commons and House of Lords between Monday and Wednesday this week. On Monday I voted for a Lords amendment that would have allowed councils to negotiate with developers to build shared ownership and other low-cost homes for ownership, alongside ‘starter homes’. Disappointingly, the Government opposed this amendment and it was defeated. I also voted to support amendments that attempted to ensure like-for-like replacement of council homes which the Government is forcing councils to sell to fund the extension of the right to buy. Disappointingly, both of these amendments were defeated. The Bill, which became law (an Act) on Thursday, presents real risks for social housing, and will be a big let-down for young people and families on ordinary incomes who want to buy a home of their own.
  • On Monday the Immigration Bill returned to the House of Commons to consider a number of amendments on unaccompanied child refugees and immigration detention. The Government has changed its position resettling unaccompanied child refugees, and accepted Lord Alf Dubs’ new amendment, which requires their resettlement in the UK. This is due to the hard work of Lord Dubs, Save the Children, and Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of the Opposition’s Refugee Taskforce. It is important that actions now match words, and the Government act swiftly. I supported an amendment made in the Lords which would have placed a 28-day limit on immigration detention unless extended in exceptional circumstances. However, the Government’s alternative amendment provided for a four-month limit, which is markedly different – but it was added to the Bill nonetheless. Furthermore, on the issue of the detention of pregnant women in the immigration system, a Lords amendment to the Bill provided for a limit of 72 hours on detention, reflecting a concession by the Government.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Parents across Nottingham do their best to ensure their children attend school and from the visits I’ve made recently lots of schools place great emphasis on very high attendance rates. But there are real pressures on parents particularly from excessively high costs of holidays out of term time and sometimes there are exceptional reasons for a child to be out of school for a few days.

The judgement this week in the High Court has hit the headlines because judges said that – if a child already has very good attendance levels – then a few days out of school with parents does not constitute the ‘criminal offence’ set out in the legislation. In other words, it would be wrong to fine parents with a ?60 truancy penalty notice for a single day’s absence.

Some have interpreted this ruling as giving a green light to take children with regular attendance on holidays during term time. But there are still worries about the disruption to the school and the class if children are not there.

I’d be interested to know how you think the balance should be struck here, as the Department for Education say they now will come back to clarify the legislation. I believe there is a link between educational attainment and attendance and that we need strong incentives for children to come to school and learn. But I also think that, at the discretion of the headteacher, it should be possible for a rare absence for good reasons without it constituting a criminal offence. Most parents know what is common sense here and want their children in school all the time. But Ministers ought to clarify the rules urgently.

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MP Update – 8th May

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP –  Sunday 8th May 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at
https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp )

I’m delighted that Paddy Tipping has been re-elected as the Police & Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire following a strong record fighting for local police visibility and trying to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour across the whole of the county. It was great to get a good response out on the doorstep across Nottingham East (pictured below) and while the turnout was 21% it was a good result; the full details of Thursday’s poll are at the BBC website link here.

In London Sadiq Khan triumphed over a divisive campaign by his opponents and is now Mayor of London with the greatest personal mandate of any politician in Britain; he’s written about his win here in the Guardian yesterday. Forgive me a moment of partisan commentary, but I don’t sense there is any great enthusiasm across the country for the current Conservative administration especially after recent weeks of u-turns on disability cuts, academisation, steel industry mishandling, Ministerial resignations, the Panama Papers, doctors’ strikes and so on. So while Labour hung on in some areas, I’m disappointed we didn’t make the advances we yet need to put us on course for evicting the Tories in 2020 nationwide. Sadiq Khan is right to point out that Labour must reach out and persuade people from a wider range of views and backgrounds to support us and I will continue to argue that it’s our duty to confront these challenges because above all we need a change of government to deliver better public services and social justice.

DalesCampaigning

NOTTINGHAM

  • Small Steps Big Changes, an initiative run by Nottingham CityCare Partnership designed to give children the best start in life, is to receive £1.8 million of funding to deliver a ‘family mentor’ service to families in St Ann’s and Arboretum. The mentors – local mums, dads, grandads and grandmas – will work alongside existing services to help support a baby’s development from pregnancy through to 3 years old.
  • Some local residents in Carrington are running a wildlife project called Swift Street to try and stem the decline of swifts due to urban development. The aim of the project is to install new swift nest boxes and nest box cameras on Church Drive, and by doing so raise awareness about the birds, inspire children from local schools and improve future prospects for swifts migrating to the area. If you would like to find out more about the project, you can visit their website here.
  • Jobs and businesses in Nottingham and across the East Midlands would benefit from a serious boost in road, rail and infrastructure That’s why I challenged Business Secretary Sajid Javid this week to address the blockages in the Government’s infrastructure plan during Commons Questions (click on picture below to watch). As Co-Chair of the East Midlands All-Party Parliamentary Group, it is clear to me that the plans for a ‘Midlands Engine’ will only succeed if we do something about how far behind we are in investment compared with other parts of the country. For instance, in the East Midlands we have only £37 per head invested in rail, compared to £294 per head in London. While of course the capital city will have intensive public transport network needs, the East Midlands has been overlooked for too long. If we want growth and in turn the resources for improved public services, unlocking the potential of our local economy is essential.

JobsParl

  • Plans are now progressing for the big ‘Nottingham in Parliament’ day, which is taking place on 25th October thanks to coordination by the University of Nottingham. The idea is that we will have a series of events in the Palace of Westminster that will highlight research in the city and showcase Nottingham generally. There was lots of interest from those present at our recent discussion with organisations from across the public sector, business community and voluntary sector, and I look forward to seeing how plans progress: more details at the website here http://www.nottinghaminparliamentday.uk/npd/index.aspx
  • I was concerned to hear this week that the larger Co-op store at the top end of Mansfield Road in Sherwood (pictured) is due to be sold to a rival retailer. The Sherwood store is incredibly popular and it would be concerning for local residents if their choice and range of shopping is scaled back. As a Cooperative Party & Labour MP I am particularly keen to see a strong cooperative movement in our community and while I know that the wider Co-op Group has had its share of problems in recent years, I know that there are many people who’ve stuck with them as loyal customers because of their ethical approach to doing business. I will of course be seeking assurances about the future of the store and the staff – and to find out more about the future of this particular shop.

Co-opSherwood

  • It would be remiss to not congratulate Leicester City on their 5000-1 win of the Premier League title. It’s a very big deal and judging by the worldwide media interest will probably be a tourism boost for the East Midlands too. Former Forest defender Frank Clark told the Post this week: “If Leicester can win the Champions League a couple of times in the next few years, then we can compare their achievements. I do not want to downplay what they have done; it is an amazing achievement. It is fantastic.”

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • It was hidden away under the local election result news, but as predicted, Nicky Morgan the Education Secretary undertook a major u-turn on Friday with the decision to drop the forcing of academy status on schools that are already judged to be ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by OFSTED. This is a big relief and clearly something that recognises the sheer common sense of those of us saying it was ridiculous to foist expensive structural change on headteachers and governors when they are already making great strides with their existing management systems.
  • On Tuesday the House of Commons considered the Housing and Planning Bill. The Housing and Planning Bill does little to fix the causes of the last six years of failure on housing and in many areas will make things much worse. Since 2010, home ownership has fallen, rough sleeping has doubled, private rents have soared, housing benefit costs have ballooned, and during the last Parliament, fewer new homes were built than under any peacetime Government since the 1920s. This Bill doesn’t do enough to tackle the overall housing shortage or produce more housing across all tenures, including housing to rent as well as buy. With the exception of provisions on rogue landlords, it does nothing to improve the private rented sector on which so many people now rely. Ahead of Tuesday’s debate, the Government was forced to make a string of concessions in the House of Lords and was defeated 13 times, showing the extent of opposition to this Bill. And on Wednesday, the Bill returned to the Lords where the Government suffered five further defeats. The Bill will return to the Commons tomorrow. I support measures to help people own their own home, however, I am concerned that so-called ‘starter homes’ costing up to £450,000 will be a big let-down and simply out of reach for young people and families on ordinary incomes. The number of home-owners rose by a million under the previous Labour Government. The Opposition’s attempts to make starter homes more affordable have been blocked by the Government. I voted for an amendment to the Bill to permit an English planning authority to decide how many starter homes are built, based on its own assessment of local housing need and viability. It is sensible that the need for starter homes should be assessed locally and then delivered, rather than ordered from on high. I also voted to support an amendment, to ensure like-for-like replacement of council homes which the Government is forcing councils to sell to fund the extension of the right-to-buy- vital to ensuring that housing need is met across the range and that homes for social rent are not simply replaced by starter homes or homes at higher rents. Again, the Government opposed this amendment and it was defeated. It was also disappointing that the Government defeated an amendment which would require one million new homes to be built with sustainable drainage systems. This would have helped to protect homeowners against flooding and delivered wider environmental benefits. The Government showed on Tuesday that it still had no answers to concerns from housing experts and campaigners. The Government should now listen to the opposition coming from all sides and rethink their damaging plans.
  • On Wednesday the House of Commons debated an Opposition motion on NHS bursaries.  Under plans announced by the Government in November, bursaries for student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals will be scrapped from 2017. I recognise the contribution of these staff to our NHS and I have serious concerns about the potential impact of removing bursaries on the recruitment and retention of staff. There is already a shortage of nurses in the NHS. The Government’s decision to cut nurse training places during the last Parliament has left hospital wards dangerously understaffed, with patient care suffering as a result. If the Government presses ahead with their plans I believe it will end up discouraging the future frontline staff we so desperately need. Not only are NHS students’ courses long, but students are required to spend a significant amount of their course working with patients in clinical practice, including night and weekend shifts as a normal part of their studies. Many student nurses have family or caring commitments. Because of the hours they study and work many are unable to get a part-time job to supplement their income, as many non-NHS students do.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

As I mentioned earlier in this email, I am keen we really focus on the transport, road and rail improvements residents and businesses need to give Nottingham the real boost we need. The city council have been making great strides with the tram network and defending the bus services but we now need to look at our connectivity with the rest of the country. The HS2 rail link to Toton will potentially improve the ‘east-west’ service with Birmingham as well as the north-south linkages. My colleague Lilian Greenwood (MP for Nottingham South) has been arguing in today’s Sunday Times for Ministers to defend the East Midlands and north of England investment in HS2 – something that could be at stake if rumours are correct. Apparently Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has been asked to slim down some of the northerly parts of the HS2 plan including ditching the Meadowhall station at Sheffield and moving the route eastwards after Toton. We will see what eventually emerges.

But in general I’d be interested in your thoughts about transport infrastructure across the north Midlands area. Do we have good enough links to Derby / Lincoln / Sheffield and Leicester? What about connection to East Midlands Airport? Will the tram link to Toton be good enough? Setting out the next wave of our transport aspirations is really important – including where the tram should go next eastwards from the city centre – because unless we campaign hard we will stay at the back of the queue.

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MP Update – 1st May

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 1st May 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at
https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp )

The big vote in Parliament this week came on the question of child refugees stranded across Europe. The Government’s Immigration Bill came back from the House of Lords where Peers had tried to temper the legislation with amendments that would have had a humanising, more civilising impact, but all opposition amendments were rejected.

The amendment that received the most attention was the so-called ‘Dubs amendment’, which asked the Home Secretary to allow 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children from Europe to be given sanctuary in the UK. Lord Alf Dubs, who fled Czechoslovakia on the Kindertransport, tabled this important amendment, which aimed to protect vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees in Europe, of which an estimated 10,000 have already gone missing.

I supported the Dubs Amendment, but the Government defeated it (294-276), sticking to the line that relocating anyone already in Europe creates an incentive for people to make the dangerous journey in the first place. Even if there is an element of an argument there, it doesn’t diminish the urgency of the needs of those individual children who need help now – and there are better ways of managing the crisis than turning a blind eye to the fate of these children. Yvette Cooper made this case powerfully during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, which you can see here.

Our treatment of some immigrants and asylum seekers in the UK is far from satisfactory. While it is of course necessary for us to have properly controlled and managed immigration systems especially for economic migration, we have to always be sensitive to humanitarian and genuine asylum needs.

When this Bill comes back again in the coming days I really hope Ministers can think through some alternative options that will ensure Britain does its part in helping the most vulnerable children stranded and at risk on our continent.

NOTTINGHAM

  • Across the city of Nottingham there is unity in respect and solidarity for the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy and the families who have fought so hard for truth and justice. The jury’s verdict confirmed that the 96 fans were killed unlawfully during the scenes at the FA Cup semi-final between Forest and Liverpool in April 1989. I pay tribute to the steadfast commitment of the Hillsborough families in their long fight for justice and many local people in Nottingham feel strongly that the events and those who died must never be forgotten.
  • I received information this week that the NHS look set to decommission the Nottingham City mobile dental service at the end of August. The service, which covered the whole city but was mainly focussed in the St Ann’s area, aimed to promote oral health and provide treatment in areas where people weren’t using NHS dental services. There was a campaign several years ago for improved dentistry access precisely because dental issues were so prevalent particularly in St Ann’s where there was a problem facing many patients. However, the local NHS management say that service is being decommissioned due to sustained low take up, and the money saved will be reinvested in other NHS dental services. I’d be interested to know what you think of this decision.
  • You may recall that I’ve been making a special effort to visit as many local schools as I can in recent months to get up to speed about the issues and challenges facing our education system. This week it was a real pleasure to visit Berridge Primary School and have a chance to look around some of the classes and discuss with headteacher Jamie Tee their improvement plans and how things are settling since the infant and junior schools came together under the same management structure a few years ago. I met with pupils (pictured below) to talk about how Parliament works as well as hearing about their own views of living in the neighbourhood. I also am grateful to Jenny Brown the headteacher at the Nottingham Free School for talking to me about how this new secondary school based in the Courtaulds Building on Haydn Road is developing, now with three-forms of entry each year and around 200 pupils since their establishment in 2014. They have an active School Council and I enjoyed joining them for lunch and answering their questions (again pictured below).

Berridge

  • This week the Commons environment committee has said powers to enforce ‘clean air zones’ that target drivers of high-polluting vehicles should be extended to more cities in England. Nottingham was among the cities proposed to benefit from these additional powers, which would allow the city to charge high-polluting vehicles to enter the city centre. ‘Clean air zones’ would affect older buses, lorries and taxis, but would not apply to private cars. This seems to me like a sensible step to help lower carbon emissions in the city, but I’d be interested to know people’s views on this.
  • Research commissioned by Nottingham Business School and the Nottingham Post has shown that Nottingham has one of the lowest graduate retention rates in England, despite there being demand for high-skilled workers. What can we do to retain more of the graduates of our two universities? When those who’ve studied locally find employment opportunities then they can find settling in Nottingham permanently is enjoyable and rewarding – and it would be great if we could keep the locally educated talent in Nottingham for longer. We’ve always been successful in attracting students from other parts of the UK, so for our own longer term prosperity I’ll be talking with the business community in particular about how they can link up with graduates and research departments at the universities more effectively in the future.
  • There is a jobs fairtaking place on Friday 13th May at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham. This free event takes place from 10am-2pm, and a number of local and national employers will be present. You can find further information on the Jobs Fair website here.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • Education Secretary Nicky Morgan seems to still be pressing ahead with her unpopular plan to force good or outstanding schools into academy status – although as I wrote last week I do expect eventually that she’ll realise the lack of support from her own backbenches on this. On Monday I pressed her about the baffling idea of allowing schools to exclude parent governors from the management of academies – which seems to me essential if schools are to be held accountable by the families using them on a daily basis. I asked Nicky Morgan to set out in what circumstances was it a good idea not to have parent governors – but sadly to no avail! (see link to the question here).
  • On Monday, the Health Secretary made a Statement on junior doctors’ contracts ahead of this week’s strike. My colleague Heidi Alexander MP presented Jeremy Hunt with a genuine and constructive cross-party proposal to pilot the contract that could have averted the strike. The proposal had the support of several medical royal colleges, including the Royal College of Surgeons, and, crucially, the BMA had indicated it was prepared to meet the Government to discuss calling off the strike. However, even at the eleventh hour, the Health Secretary refused to back this plan and the strike went ahead. The Government must start listening to the views of medical and patient voices who are urging them to think again. Instead, they are determined to force the contract through, with all its associated implications, rather than testing it and working with junior doctors and hospital managers.
  • On Monday the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise made a statement following the announcement that British Home Stores (BHS) had filed for administration. With 164 stores across the country that’s potentially 11,000 staff (that’s nearly three times the number working at the Port Talbot steel works) whose jobs could be at risk. It is the greatest setback for high street retail since the demise of Woolworths. I hope that a way forward can be found to minimise job losses and that the Government is alert to the support that might be required for staff, given so many livelihoods could be at stake here. The former owners of BHS took hundreds of millions of dividends out of the business. BHS has an estimated pension deficit of £571 million and last month the scheme passed into the hands of the Pension Protection Fund, leaving many of its 20,000 members facing cuts of 10 per cent, or caps, on their retirement income. The Pensions Regulator is investigating the shortfall and the Work and Pensions committee has launched an inquiry into BHS pension liabilities. I believe BHS workers who are facing redundancy and cuts to their pensions will rightfully be raising questions about how the business has been managed.
  • On Tuesday the Attorney General responded to an Urgent Question on the UK’s membership of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The debate followed a speech given by the Home Secretary on Monday, in which she called into question the future of the UK’s membership of the ECHR. This caused confusion, because the Ministry of Justice said in February that its plans “do not involve leaving the convention”. The Attorney General confirmed on Tuesday that the Government will consult on the future of the UK’s human rights framework and my colleague the Shadow Justice Minister sought clarity on when the consultation will be published, and what the Government’s policy now is on this important issue. The ECHR is one of Winston Churchill’s greatest legacies and Amnesty International have said that leaving it would “strike at the very architecture of international protections” and play into the hands of dictators. I believe the Home Secretary was wrong about the ECHR and ignored the fact that the Human Rights Act which incorporated the ECHR into British law, has successfully given a remedy to vulnerable people suffering discrimination.
  • On Tuesday the Policing and Crime Bill returned to the House of Commons. This Bill covers a wide range of subjects and contains elements that I broadly support but feel the Government should take further action on, such as improvements to the police complaints system, placing time limits on police bail, and changes to the rules governing how police deal with people suffering mental health crises. I supported a number of Shadow Frontbench amendments, for example, to make sure that local people or their local representatives had to give approval before a Police Commissioner can take over a Fire and Rescue service; and to make sure that police funding was protected before proposals to grant additional police powers to volunteers could be brought forward. All of these amendments were defeated by Government MPs. It is vital that we have Police Commissioners who are in touch with local concerns which is why I hope that Paddy Tipping – our current Police Commissioner – will be successful again in Thursday’s elections.
  • On Wednesday the Trade Union Bill returned to the House of Commons to consider amendments made in the House of Lords. Despite some of the Government concessions that were achieved, it remains a bad and unnecessary piece of legislation. There were two important amendments from the Lords. The first would have required the Government to commission a review of electronic voting in industrial action ballots and conduct pilots, after which the Government would have to publish a strategy for rolling out electronic voting. Unfortunately, while the Government accepted the need for a review, they have refused to publish a strategy to roll out electronic balloting – so I voted against the Government’s amendment. It is clear that the Government’s objection to e-balloting is because it would reduce costs for unions and allow them to increase turnouts, making it easier to reach the new minimum 50 per cent turnout in ballots for industrial action. Although I was disappointed that the Opposition’s amendment was rejected, the changes the Government have made to their proposals are significant and have achieved most of what was agreed in the House of Lords. The second significant Lords Amendment would have removed the Government’s power to impose a cap on union facilities time. A Government review found that workplaces with union representatives tend to have lower rates of work related illness, injuries, tribunals, voluntary turnover and dismissal. All this saves the taxpayer money. I was disappointed that the Government defeated the Lords Amendment but the Government’s new amendment, which provides that no cap could be imposed for three years, will at least make some improvement to the Bill.
  • Sadly this week the news has been dominated by Ken Livingstone’s awful remarks, suggesting that anti-semitism isn’t the same thing as racism and that Hitler was a Zionist. I’m completely appalled at this saga and am shocked that journalists seem able to uncover other examples of extreme left anti-zionist generalisation and prejudice. Criticism of the policies of the Israeli Government can be legitimate, but that should not lead on to wider intolerance voiced about the Jewish community or questioning the right of Israel to exist at all. It has long been obvious that the middle east peace process is not going to be furthered unless we focus on a two state solution where Israel and Palestine can co-exist peacefully and respectfully side-by-side. Those at the top of Labour must acknowledge the problem is ongoing, be proactive in rooting it out and state clearly that intolerance of this sort is not acceptable.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Not content with their crass top-down re-organisations of the NHS and the school system, the Sunday Times now reports on the Government’s latest plan for undermining the BBC – another of our country’s greatest institutions. The BBC is the world’s leading public service broadcaster and has a great balance of educational, informative and entertaining programming. Ministers are reportedly planning to pull the BBC back from scheduling programmes that might dare to compete with the output of the other channels.

But there’s a danger here that this will just make those other commercial programmes of poorer quality – because there won’t be a need for them to fight for ratings in the same way. The BBC provides strong competition that raises the standards and quality of the other channels as they fight to keep up. It doesn’t make sense to hobble the BBC.

We should have a strong a vibrant public service broadcaster driving up standards across the sector. But I suspect that there is a long-harboured resentment among Ministers against the independence and progressive content of some BBC output – a resentment which is now showing its face.

What do you think about the proposals from the Minister John Whittingdale to stop the BBC from putting popular shows (Strictly is the one often mentioned) up against ITV during prime time? Should the BBC really be restrained from putting on its popular content because the private broadcasters find it tough? I’d be interested in your views.

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MP Update – 24th April

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

Here’s a prediction: I think before long David Cameron and Education Secretary Nick Morgan will back down on their plan to force the remaining local authority ‘maintained’ schools to convert into freestanding academies. The reason? Conservative MPs themselves are starting to realise that bullying already OFSTED-rated ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools into a wholly changed governance structure is a distraction from the work they are already doing well as community maintained schools overseen by the elected local council.

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

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

NOTTINGHAM

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

REMOURBAN

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

SNEINTON

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

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

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

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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

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

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

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

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

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MP Update – 16th April

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

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

NOTTINGHAM

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

IMG_1880

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

FrameworkSUF

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

 Stonebridge

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

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

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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

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

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MP Update – 26th March

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

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

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

NOTTINGHAM

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

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

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

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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

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

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

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