Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter. This covers local issues and developments as well as my actions in Parliament. You’ll find updates on rail fares, local government funding and other issues. As ever, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on these or any other issues.
This is my also last newsletter of 2017 which gives me the opportunity to wish you all both a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
In Birmingham Northfield
Free public transport for WASPI women
Alongside other Birmingham Labour MPs I have written to West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, to call on the Mayor to use his devolved powers to expand free travel on buses and other public transport for the WASPI women who have been disproportionately affected by changes in the state pension age.
The Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition Government’s decision to accelerate the rise in women’s state pension age has meant that women born in the 1950s did not have enough notice of changes to their pension and could not plan for their new circumstances.
Bringing forwarded the age at which women affected by the pension change can claim free travel won’t make up for the delay in receiving their pensions. However, it would be a step in the right direction to ameliorate some of the hardship experienced by an estimated 30,000 WASPI women in Birmingham.
Rail fares to rise again
Local commuters will be all too accustomed to annual rises in the price of fares on our railways. However the announcement this month that train fares will go up by an average of 3.4% from 2 January 2018 is very unwelcome news for rail users.
This is the biggest annual increase in five years and fares have already gone up by 27% since the Conservatives entered Government in 2010. Rail users are now paying more than ever for the failures of this Government’s approach to managing our railways.
This was something that I raised when I appeared as a guest on Sunday Politics West Midlands last weekend. You can catch up with the full episode of that here which also included discussions on healthcare and proposals made by Labour to move parts of the Bank of England to Birmingham.
In recent years, the rise in the number of local people requiring the support of food banks has been alarming. This Christmas is no different. The amount of families relying on foodbanks remains extremely high and many families are now being forced to turn to foodbanks to feed their families while they are waiting for their first Universal Credit payment.
But we are also reminded of the incredible generosity of local people in and around Northfield. At the start of the month I called into Tesco in Rubery to help out with their collection for local food banks which the supermarket chain is running in cooperation with Fare Share, a major national charity fighting hunger and food waste. As the shopping trolleys we were using to collect food quickly filled up, you couldn’t help but be amazed by the real generosity shown by local shoppers. All across Northfield so many people give what they can to donate to food banks as well as giving up their time to help staff food banks.
But it shouldn’t be like this. People shouldn’t have to rely on generosity and it is completely unacceptable that so many people have to rely on food banks. Government policy choices have real effects and have directly led to more and more people having to turn food banks to survive. That is why different policy choices are needed if we are going to address the challenges our country faces and improve the lives of those most in need. In 2018 I will continue to press for those different choices.
Local government funding
This month the Government announced its police and local government finance settlements, which sets out funding plans for the next financial year. Ahead of this announcement, I joined Birmingham Labour MPs in writing to both the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Governmentto urge them to right a historic unfairness in Birmingham City’s Council’s budget.
Birmingham has already suffered the biggest cuts in local government history approaching £700 million. To make matters worse the Government have failed again to address the £100 million that our city is owed. The reality of this is less money for vital services in Birmingham like children’s services and adult social care. I raised this issue with Ministers in the House of Commons this week, you can catch up on that here.
Our Police will not receive a single extra penny from the Government either. In fact, West Midlands Police need an extra £22 million just to stand still so this week’s announcement means another real-terms cut for our Police service.
Police numbers in the West Midlands are the smallest that they have been in the history of the force and it is no surprise that recorded crime is up 14%. Local communities are paying the price for the failure to properly fund our Police force.
Unauthorised Traveller Encampments
The issue of Unauthorised Traveller Encampments has been a persistent problem across the constituency again this year. These encampments are often accompanied by anti-social behaviour and can create huge amounts of mess. This is made even more frustrating for local residents that too often the police and council undertake evictions, only for travellers to pop up 5 minutes down the road.
In the light of the scale of the issues we’ve been experiencing in the West Midlands I have been calling for a review of where the legislative framework could be more effective. I was therefore pleased this month tomeet with Government Ministers Alok Sharma and Marcus Jones alongside West Midlands MPs and David Jamieson, the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, to present our ideas of how the law could be strengthened to tackle unauthorised encampments. The Ministers we met confirmed that in early in the New Year they would be publishing a consultation on possible changes to the law/ways of making existing law more effective. We will be looking out for that to make sure that voices from the West Midlands are heard.
Subscribers of my regular Animal Welfare Round Up will know that the welfare of animals is a cause close to my heart. Earlier this month I was proud to pledge my support to the Dogs Trust campaign to stop puppy smuggling.
Each year thousands of puppies are illegally imported into the UK often under the most horrendous conditions. These puppies are often too young to be sold, with fraudulent veterinary records and transported for days in unsuitable conditions, to then be sold to unsuspecting members of the public.
Dogs Trust have warned that there is a rise in puppies illegally imported during the festive season. If you are considering buying a puppy I would encourage you to visit the Dogs Trust website for their advice on what to look for when buying a puppy, you can find that advice here.
South Birmingham Bus Consultation
Finally, I wanted to share with you that National Express are accepting submissions for the next phase of their consultation on route changes to bus services in south Birmingham. 5,000 passengers have so far took part in the consultation and National Express are now asking passengers in more detail about their preferences to help them finalise how bus services will look next year.
I know how important these bus routes are to the local residents so I would strongly encourage you to have your say in the decision-making process by taking part in the consultation where you can also look at the proposals in more detail.
You can find out more about the consultation and how you can submit your views here.