Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter. This covers local issues and developments as well as my actions in Parliament. You’ll find updates on children centres, World Mental Health Day and other issues. As ever, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on these or any other issues.
In Birmingham Northfield
Children’s Health and Wellbeing services
Earlier this month Birmingham City Council published proposals following its Early Years Health and Wellbeing Review. Under the review Birmingham City Council proposes to contract out children’s centre services to a consortium of the Community Healthcare NHS Trust, Barnardo’s Spurgeons children’s charity and St Paul’s Community Trust. The City Council say the plan will better integrate health visiting and children’s centre services, but it will see a number of children’s centres de-registered by the Council.
In Northfield Constituency, the good news is that both Frankley Plus and Wychall children’s centres will remain as hubs for early years services and, after consultation, their original proposal to close Merrishaw children’s centre has now been changed to so that services will continue to be delivered from there on a sessional basis. Kings Norton, Kings Norton Camp Lane and Weoley Castle children’s centres are however, still to be de-registered. This does not affect Weoley Castle, Dame Edith Cadbury and Kings Norton Camp Lane remaining as highly regarded nursery schools in the area.
Nobody should be under any illusions that the responsibility of cuts to children’s centres in Birmingham lies anywhere other than, at root, with the Conservative Government. Together with other Labour MPs and the City Council, I will continue to demand that ministers change course. However, I still believe that the City Council have taken the wrong approach with this reorganization and many of the questions raised by parents and from people who actually deliver early years services during the consultation period still appear to have gone unanswered.
Unfortunately, the process has already gone so far as to preclude an overall rethink of plans that I urged on the Council, with uncertainty about the future having already reduced the capacity of children’s services listed for decommissioning. Even so, the Council have insisted to me and other MPs that, along with their new partners, they remain open to dialogue over ongoing concerns about how the new set up is intended to work and I will be having further meetings on this in the coming weeks.
Bournville Gardens Health and Wellbeing Centre
As you may recall from previous reports, approval was given in principle by NHS England last autumn for a new Health and Wellbeing Centre on the Bournville Village Trust College Green development on the site of the former Bournville College on Bristol Road South.
However, delays by NHS England in revising some of its own rules and procedures appear to be delaying the go ahead 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.
In Parliament, I urged Ministers to step in to clear whatever procedural blockages are holding things up and make sure Bournville Gardens Health and Wellbeing Centre is built as planned. You can watch my question and the Government’s response here.
Proposed closure of The Fairway Day Centre
Birmingham City Council have announced plans to close the Fairway Day Centre in Kings Norton which provides support for around 70 adults with physical and mental disabilities.
I am deeply concerned about this proposal. I have visited the centre to listen to what care staff and people who use the services provided there have to say. I was left in no doubt that the centre plays an important role in improving the quality of life of people with a range of learning disabilities and physical disabilities as well as a number of older people.
The Council also has serious questions to answer about how they have arrived at their proposal to close the centre and about the extent to which they have consulted anyone up to now. This is something I raised in a meeting with the City Council’s Director of Adult of Services. There is little doubt in my mind that once again, central government cuts to Birmingham are at the root of the threat to the Fairway but that does not make the proposal to close the centre the right response. That’s why I’m pressing for a rethink on the part of the Council.
The suspension of bus stops in and around Northfield Town Centre
Many bus users & businesses are unhappy about the suspension of several popular bus stops in and around Northfield Town Centre. The bus stops were decommissioned on 1st October as part of a 6 month pilot scheme by Transport for West Midlands. However local bus users have reported a lack of accessible consultation which has caused disruption to both local businesses and bus users, particularly those with disabilities, who were unaware of any plans to suspend the bus stops.
Northfield Business Improvement District (BID) have launched a petition calling for Transport for West Midlands to suspend the pilot and reinstate the stops immediately. You can sign that petition here. I have also written to the Managing Director of Transport for West Midlands to encourage them to consider the request of the Northfield BID to suspend its pilot and reinstate the bus stops that were decommissioned on 1st October.
Public consultation on proposed changes to flight paths into Birmingham Airport
Birmingham Airport have extended the public consultation on proposed changes to flight paths into Birmingham Airport to Thursday 16th November. The Airport are proposing to change two of the flight paths into the airport and have informed me that some parts of the Selly Oak and Weoley area could be affected.
The Flight path is called MOSUN and you can see the areas affected via this link to a map provided by the airport. More information on the new flightpath and the consultation documents published by the Airport, where you can submit your views, can be also found here.
Weoley Labour Councilor, Julie Johnson, and I met with the Airport recently to discuss the proposed changes and raise issues that have been brought to our attention by residents.
The changes in flightpaths arise from developments in the technology used to manage airspace. It is expected that the new technology will mean that flights will be concentrated over much narrower “corridors” in the future than is presently the case. This should all mean that smaller areas of Selly Oak and Weoley will be overflown compared to now, thereby benefitting the residents concerned. However, it also means that those beneath the new centreline of the narrower flightpath corridor flightpath will experience more aircraft directly overhead.
Although the quantity of aircraft using the narrower corridor will increase, Airport representatives have told us that there should be no discernible increase in the level of aircraft noise to residents in this area as aircraft using the new flightpath will already be at 7,000 feet or more when they fly over this part of south west Birmingham.
We also asked if there would be any impact on air quality. The reply we received from the Airport is that once aircraft are above 1,000 feet, the dispersal of airborne pollutants is such that there is no impact on the ground. As noted above, with aircraft at around 7,000 feet or higher by the time they reach the area above Selly Oak and Weoley, there will be no impact on air quality around here resulting from the proposed changes. On the issue of the impact of aviation on Birmingham’s air quality as a whole, airport representatives told us that the Aiprort monitors air quality from a permanent monitoring station located next to the runway and that the results, which show no breaches of permitted pollution limits and that all results are publicly available on the Birmingham Airport website.
Along with other Labour MPs in Parliament I voted to tell the Government to pause the rollout of its Universal Credit scheme in order to fix the problems which have already been experienced in parts of the country already piloting the new system, before more hardship is caused to thousands of people in Birmingham and millions nationwide. These issues were comprehensively set out by Debbie Abrahams Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary in a debate on 18th October here.
Our proposal to pause the rollout and fix Universal credit was carried by the House of Commons by 299 votes to zero. Without a majority in the House of Commons, Conservative ministers were not confident of being able to win the vote and instructed Conservative MPs to stay away from the vote altogether. They then insisted that the overwhelming vote of the Commons was simply an expression of view and not binding on ministers. Although this is procedurally correct under Commons rules, the fact is that MPs are elected by people across the country to represent them and that is what we did on 18th October. Not only will the Government’s stance hit vulnerable people who will lose out from a botched rollout of Universal Credit, it is also a slap in the face for democracy that Ministers should behave as they have. Unfortunately, the Universal credit debate was not the first time Theresa May’s government has behaved in this way and it is unlikely to be the last.
Unauthorised Traveller Encampments
The issue of Unauthorised Traveller Encampments has been a persistent problem across the constituency – particularly for residents living in the Kings Norton area. At the start of the month, I held a summit to bring together senior Police officers, the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office, Council Cabinet representation, senior Council officers and local MPs to review existing strategies, and plan for the future, including learning from best practice elsewhere.
The Government have now announced a consultation on the effectiveness of enforcement against unauthorised developments and encampments. I welcome this decision, however any consultation must be a real exercise that brings forwards proposals to address the issues we’ve been experiencing in West Midlands.
The issue of unauthorised encampments has also been raised in a recent Parliamentary debate. Although the time available for MPs to speak in the debate was severely limited, I was able to use the opportunity to press Ministers to meet with West Midlands MPs and David Jamieson, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, to hear our ideas for where the legislative framework could be more effective. You can catch up with what I said in Parliament here.
Race Disparity Audit
This month the Government released its finding from its Race Disparity Audit, which laid bare the extent of racial inequality and disparities between different ethnic communities in the UK.
The report made acted as an important reminder that much more needs to be done tackle racial inequalities in the UK. This also means addressing the serious issue of educational under attainment among the white working class. The Government’s report revealed that only 32 per cent of white children who receive free schools reach their expected level of attainment at Key Stage 2. This is something I raised with the Government, you can catch up on that here.
Calling for spare Wembley tickets to be given to schools
For England games where the Football Association expects or knows that there will be a large number of empty seats, these should be given to schools. That is why I added my name to a letter drafted by Labour’s Shadow Sports Minister, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, calling on the Football Association to fill empty seats at England matches with free tickets for schoolchildren.
Wembley Stadium had 28,000 empty seats during the last England match and there are many schools in Northfield that would welcome the chance to offer young people the opportunity to be at Wembley to see England Play.
When the FA can foresee large blocks of empty seats at Wembley these should be given to schools across the country.
World Mental Health Day
Earlier this month, it was the 25th anniversary of World Mental Health Day – a day dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues and mobilising efforts in support of mental health.
To mark World Mental Health Day I joined with 160 Labour MPs to ask the Prime Minister that she ring-fences mental health funding. Since most mental health funding is not ring-fenced, all too often scare recourses are used to plug gaps elsewhere. Funding for mental should not come second to physical health. Ring-fencing mental health funding is so important because it would get us one step closer to real equality for those with mental health conditions. You can find our letter to the Prime Minister here.
Balfour Centenary – Time for a New Approach
This week marks the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in which the then UK Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, promised British support for the creation of a national homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people on the understanding that nothing should be done which would prejudice the civil and religious rights of the Palestinian Arabs.
The first promise has been fulfilled with the creation of the State of Israel and its international recognition. The second part remains unfulfilled and, because of that, has been a key cause of ongoing conflict in the Middle East. On the centenary of Balfour I have supported calls for a new approach by Britain and the international community to uphold international law to ensure equal rights for all and to recognise the State of Palestine alongside Israel. In support of that I have signed a statement by Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, you can find that statement here. I was proud to also speak at a major event in Westminster calling for the new approach which you can read about here.