Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter. In my first newsletter since Christmas and the New Year, let me wish you all a Happy New Year.
In Birmingham Northfield
Birmingham Council Budget
In recent weeks, Birmingham City Council published their budget proposals. Faced with over £800m being cut from the grant they receive from Government, the Council are in an impossible position with rising demand for key services like care for older people but without the money they need to fund those services. This in turn is increasing the already severe pressure faced by our NHS. There is no doubt that the grossly unfair way Birmingham is being treated by Theresa May’s Government is at the root of the budget problems which Birmingham faces in the coming years.
I made these points at the South Birmingham budget consultation that the Council organised. In a letter to Council leader John Clancy, I also put forward concerns that local people have been raising with me about some of the choices that the Council are considering in response to the financial pressures imposed on them by the Government. In particular I have urged the Council to do all they can to protect services that serve the most vulnerable people in our city – people hit by homelessness, mental health, drug or alcohol problems, and domestic violence – as well as older people facing isolation. I am also asking the Council to reconsider the level of cuts to our parks and ranger services and to make sure the problems which parents face last year in the reorganisation of home to school transport for children with special needs are not repeated.
Birmingham Universities Student Manifesto for Brexit
Birmingham is proudly among the UK’s largest student cities. Before Christmas, I hosted a summit meeting between local MPs and student leaders from across the city. They have now published a ‘Birmingham Universities Manifesto’ which sets out their prioirities and calls for the debate around Britain’s exit from the EU to be refocused to better take into account the concerns of young people and all those involved in further and higher education. The manifesto sends a powerful message about the kinds of things that need to be done to make sure that Brexit does not inflict irreparable damage to higher and further education in the city.
Their manifesto for Brexit has five key demands:
- Supporting community cohesion through investment in cultural celebrations and exchanges.
- Making it clear that EU citizens who have built their lives in the UK can stay here to live and work.
- Ensuring the UK stays in the Erasmus scheme, which helps students across the EU to study in other EU countries.
- Replacing the research funding that currently goes to UK universities via the EU.
- Continuing to provide apprenticeships, many of which are currently connected to EU exports.
If you would like to know more about the manifesto and read the coverage from the Birmingham Mail, please see here.
Visit to The Project Advice and Support Centre in Longbridge
This month I had the pleasure of catching up with staff at The Project, formerly known as the South Birmingham Young Homeless Project, in Rubery. The Project is a charity providing essential support and advice to the people of Birmingham, helping local people with a wide variety of issues such as housing and benefit problems and also by running a food bank.
I visited them to discuss their work, improving partnership across the sector, and the challenging financial climate ahead. We are so fortunate to have such a tremendous organisation in our constituency and we are indebted to the dedication and hard work of Helen and her staff. You can read more about their work here, or if you require support or an appointment you can call them on 0121 453 0606.
New Community Hub in Price’s Square
It is brilliant news for our area that the City Council has now agreed terms for vacant offices above Price’s Square to become a Community Hub, offering advice and support services for local people.
I have backed this project from the start and the fact that it has now come to fruition is the result of well over a year’s hard work, spearheaded by Rev Dave Tubby and the Northfield Community Partnership coordinated by Rebecca Debenham. Thanks are also due to local Northfield Councillor and City Council Cabinet member Brett O’Reilly and others who have done so much to win Council support for the hub.
The keys were handed over just a couple of weeks ago, so watch this space as the community hub takes shape over the coming months.
Rail Fares Campaign
In early January, Labour Councillors and party members were at rail stations across Northfield to raise awareness about the staggering and unwelcome rises in fares on our railways. Commuters have faced a 27% average fare rise since 2010 – three times faster than average wages. The cost of some season tickets will have risen by over 40% thanks to decisions made by this Government.
We were at Northfield station talking to commuters about Labour’s alternative plans for our railways. If we are serious about encouraging people to use public transport, helping to alleviate congestion and improve air quality in our city, the Government must get to grips with rising rail fares that are pricing people out of public transport.
Brexit and Article 50 Update
This week’s Supreme Court decision confirms what many people who voted to leave the European Union wanted, for our sovereign Parliament to have the final say on matters of such significance to the future of our country – not Government Ministers on their own with no accountability or scrutiny.
It is no secret that I voted to stay in the EU and have not changed my view, but I accept the result of the referendum. As I said in my Huffington Post article a couple of months ago, it is not about if we leave the EU, but how. The referendum decided on Brexit, but it was silent on how best we can go about leaving the EU to achieve the kind of future we want for ourselves and our children. Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, is right to confirm that, as democrats respecting the referendum result, Labour won’t seek to frustrate the triggering of Article 50. However, it is our duty to ensure that the Government is held accountable as they pursue Brexit negotiations. Parliament must be able to scrutinise and, where appropriate, amend the Government’s plans in the weeks and months ahead.
Mobile Phone Market Competition
A huge number of constituents have been in touch with me this month to express their concerns about a lack of competition in the mobile phone market and the choices available to them as consumers. I’ve written to OFCOM to share these concerns and I will update you all on their response when I receive it.
Last week I sent out my first Animal Welfare Round Up of 2017. Issues included were puppies and kittens, bats, sea bass and hunting trophies. If you have any suggestions for animal welfare issues I should raise in future, please do reply and let me know. You can read my Animal Welfare Round Up here.