MP Update – 19th March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTTINGHAM

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

Scotholme

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

HighSchool

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

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

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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

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

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MP Update – 13th March

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

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

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

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

NOTTINGHAM

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

 TescoSurgery

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

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

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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

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

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

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MP Update – 5th March

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

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

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

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

Ashiana

NOTTINGHAM

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

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

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

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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

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

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

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

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MP Update – 27th February

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

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

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

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

ParlEU

NOTTINGHAM

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

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

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

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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

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

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

Edale
Sycamore

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MP Update – 14th February

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

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

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

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

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

NOTTINGHAM

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

NottmCityHomesTenants

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

 Elmswood

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

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

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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

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

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MP Update – 6th February

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTTINGHAM

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

DjanoglyNorthgate

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

BitetheBallot

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

Sneinton event

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

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

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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

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MP Update – 30th January

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTTINGHAM

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

HeartUK

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

 

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

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

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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

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

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

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MP Update – 24th January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTTINGHAM

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

NottmHospCharity

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

WildlifeTrust2

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

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

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

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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

ChrisParl

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

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

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

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MP Update – 16th January

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

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

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

Djanogly

NOTTINGHAM

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

FamilyLives

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

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

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

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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

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MP Update – 9th January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QMC

NOTTINGHAM

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

LabGroup Dinner

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

Stonebridge

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

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

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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