In this, my first Parliamentary Newsletter since the General Election, I want to say thank you to the people of Birmingham Northfield Constituency for re-electing me as your MP. To have been re- elected with a majority that was almost double that of the previous election is an even greater honour.
So in saying a personal thank you to all who voted for me, I also want to underline that I am the MP for everyone in the constituency, whoever you voted for at election time. My priority has always been to be a good local MP, with solid roots in the area. If there is any issue you would like to bring to my attention, please do not hesitate to get in touch. You can find out how you can get in touch, here.
I hope you all have a wonderful and restful summer.
Children’s Health and Wellbeing services
Over the past month Birmingham City Council have been consulting on changes to Early Years Health and Wellbeing services. Their stated objective is to better integrate family health services with support provided through children’s centres. The bad news is that, faced with massive Government cuts, they are also proposing to reduce the number of children’s centres across Birmingham by 26 – including 4 in Birmingham Northfield.
I am continuing to demand a better funding deal for Birmingham because there is no doubt that the impact of Government cuts to our city is a root cause of this Council proposal. Even so, I have real concerns about the way the Council are going about this reorganisation.
In the course of their responses to me, they have emphasised that they genuinely want to hear views and that that they are prepared to consider alternative proposals. I am working with children centres in the Northfield area to identify the alternatives to put to the Council, but you can also respond directly to the City Council’s consultation before 17th August: https://www.birminghambeheard.org.uk/people-1/eyconsultation/
Like so many other people who live in Birmingham, I and my family have been experiencing problems with missed bin collections. As an MP, I have been inundated with calls and e-mails from residents who have been going through the same thing. Every time a resident contacts my office with details of where collections have been missed, we also report this to the Council and ask them to go out to pick up the rubbish as soon as possible.
Obviously, not being a party to the dispute, neither I nor any of my Birmingham Labour MP colleagues have it in our power to solve it directly. What I can tell you is that, between us, we are in touch with both the city council and the unions to emphasise the importance of bringing the dispute to an end as soon as possible.
In the meantime, the council have set up a web link on which people can report missed collections here. https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/info/20009/waste_and_recycling/99/report_a_missed_bin_or_sack_collection
Planned New Health and Wellbeing Centre at College Green
Government cuts to public services are bad enough but it is even worse when investment is approved for projects, only to then be delayed and threatened through unnecessary bureaucratic wrangles.
That, however, is what is happening on the Bournville Village Trust College Green development on the site of the former Bournville College on Bristol Road South. A new Health and Wellbeing centre is planned for the site and investment to construct the centre has been approved in principle by NHS England. Now, though, delays by NHS England in revising some if its own rules and procedures are delaying the investment needed for the new centre. The danger is that if those delays go on much longer they could even prevent the centre being built at all. It is a crazy situation. Nobody seems to be questioning the need for the new centre or that it aligns with the strategic priorities of NHS England. It seems to be an entirely procedural wrangle that is holding things up.
I have written both to the Chief Executive of NHS England and to Health Ministers urging them to unblock whatever procedural blockages are holding things up.
Many of you – particularly living in the Kings Norton area – will have seen an increase in the number of unauthorised travellers’ encampments in recent months. Each time an encampment is brought to my attention I have got on to both the Council and the Police to press them to move the encampments on. Too often, though, after evictions take place, new encampments then pop up 5 minutes down the road. Long term solutions do, of course, have to amount to more than moving travellers on and there is no doubt more sites need to be identified for encampments to take place responsibly and without causing problems for the settled community. This was something I raised in Parliament this month: http://richardburden.com/2017/07/raising-issue-of-illegal-traveller-encampments-in-parliament/
In the meantime though I have been calling for a review of what has been happening in South Birmingham. A summit is now being scheduled to bring together senior Police officers, Council Cabinet representation, senior Council officers and local MPs to review existing strategies, including learning from best practice elsewhere.
Longbridge Connectivity Project: Highways work
Some of you may have noticed that Birmingham City Council have started a series of roadworks in and around the Longbridge area.
The programme of road works, which will be carried out over the coming year, includes seven schemes and sees a number of changes including to the Bristol Road South/Lickey Road junction, Longbridge Lane, Tessall Lane and Farren Road.
Some of the proposed works will be of long term benefit to the area but I am less convinced about others. In particular, with local Labour Councillor, Brett O’Reilly, I opposed the Council’s plan to radically change two of the junctions on Longbridge Lane to accommodate new traffic lights. The Council are, however, going ahead with all the changes and temporary traffic management measures will be in place whilst the work is undertaken. You can find more information and regular updates on the highways work here: https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/longbridge-lgf.
Grenfell Tower Fire
All of us have been deeply affected by the Grenfell Tower disaster. It was a tragedy that should never have happened and it must never be allowed to happen again.
It is not surprising that the disaster prompted concerns about the safety of tower blocks in other parts of the country. Here in Birmingham, the City Council have completed a variety of measures following the incident to reassure tenants that their homes are safe. They have also written to tenants and circulated a briefing on fire safety precautions already in place in the 213 tower blocks they manage.
The City Council have completed assessments of all their tower blocks and confirmed that combustible cladding like that at Grenfell Tower is not used when renovating tower blocks in Birmingham. They have also confirmed to me that they work closely with West Midlands Fire Service to make sure that high standards of fire precautions are in place. I also urged the City Council to retrofit sprinkler systems in its blocks and am pleased to report that they have confirmed that this will happen. Birmingham has made clear it will go ahead with the fitting of sprinklers with or without Government support but it is only right that Ministers should make a contribution.
You can see more about what Birmingham City Council have been doing and saying in their briefing here: https://goo.gl/Rg3vHJ
My New Role
My role as constituency MP for Birmingham Northfield has always come first for me in the 25 years I have been in Parliament. Like all MPs though, I also work on the national stage and in that context I have recently been re-appointed to the House of Commons International Development Committee (IDC) on which I last served for 8 years between 2005 and 2013.
The IDC’s job is to scrutinize the UK’s work in tackling global poverty including its overseas aid budget. It’s a controversial area but, I have seen for myself the difference which the UK’s international development work makes – bringing clean water and sanitation to millions of people, enabling children to go to school, tackling the conflicts that keep millions in poverty and which fuel instability and mass migration crises that end up affecting us here in the UK.
In defending the UK’s development role, however, I know that the people also rightly expect aid spending to be transparent, accountable and to deliver value for money. The International Development Committee’s investigations shine a spotlight on government to help make those things a reality. You can find out more about the IDC here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/international-development-committee/role/
The safe use of drones
It’s nice to be able to report what looks like a success. Alongside the pilots union BALPA and others, for the last two years I have been campaigning for the Government to bring in safety regulations covering the use of drones. Don’t get me wrong, drones have huge potential in a range of areas in addition to being a leisure activity. But drones can also be a threat to privacy and a real hazard to aircraft. Last year 0ver 70 near misses with aircraft were reported.
It was therefore good to hear last week that the Government have now confirmed that they will bring in a registration and training scheme for those buying larger drones, together with new technological safeguards to prevent drones flying close to airports and other sensitive sites. Obviously it will be important to see the full details of the Government’s proposals, but they have taken too long to get to this stage, so it is good news that there has finally been some progress.
The public sector pay cap
During the General Election campaign Theresa May told a nurse who asked her about the long-standing freeze on public sector pay that there was “no magic money tree” to reverse the freeze. Not for public service workers perhaps, but the Government was still miraculously able to find over £1 billion to secure the votes of the DUP to keep them in office. Public sector workers are rightly outraged.
Since 2010, millions of public service workers have endured a pay cap of 1%. With the cap continuing to stay in place, and the cost of living rising, the dedicated public servants who keep our services going around the clock will have lost 9% of the value of their wages by 2020.
In Parliament, I voted for Labour’s amendment to the Queen’s speech to call for an end to the public sector cap. The Government voted against lifting the public sector pay cap but alongside other Labour MPs I will continue to demand that public sector workers get the pay rise that they deserve.
July marked 22 years since the appalling massacre of 8,372 Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica. It was the biggest act of mass murder in Europe since the Nazi Holocaust and a crime now internationally acknowledged as genocide. It is something that should never be forgotten – out of respect for the victims, to hold those responsible to account and as an ongoing warning to all of us about where the politics of hate and division can lead. I was privileged to be invited to visit Bosnia last year with the Remembering Srebrenica charity who are based in Birmingham. This is a piece I wrote on my return – http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2016/10/warnings-bosnian-gravestones-carry-us-2016. You can also find out more about Remembering Srebrenica here – https://www.srebrenica.org.uk