Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter.
Space prevents the newsletter covering all of what I have been doing over the past month. However, hopefully it provides a flavour of some of the local issues I have taken up as well as my actions in Parliament. You’ll find updates on North Worcestershire Golf Club, local government funding and other issues. As ever, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on these or any other issues.
In Birmingham Northfield
North Worcestershire Golf Club
Residents living close to North Worcestershire Golf Club will know that in August 2017 a renewed application by Bloor Homes to build 950 homes on the site of the old golf course was rejected by Birmingham City Council. Bloor Homes have now lodged an appeal with the government, in an attempt to overturn this decision.
If you submitted comments to Birmingham City Council when the planning application was in front of them, those comments will be forwarded to the Planning Inspector. However, you can also submit comments direct to the Planning Inspectorate – regardless of whether you have already sent in comments to the City Council. You can do that by entering the application reference number 3192918 on the Planning Inspectorate website.
You can also view all of the documents related to the application by visiting the Birmingham City Council planning website and searching for application reference: 2017/02724/PA.
The deadline for comments is 13th March 2018. Residents can also submit written contributions to Tim Salter (Case Officer), The Planning Inspectorate, Room 3o Kite Wing, Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Temple Quay, Bristol, BS1 6PN or by email Tim.Salter@pins.gsi.gov.uk.
Child burial charges
This month Birmingham City Council announced that it is to remove charges for child burials and cremations. No parent who has gone through the heart breaking experience of losing a child should be left struggling to cover the cost of a funeral. I am proud of our City and its Labour Council Leader, Ian Ward for leading by example in scrapping these fees.
Every year around 10,000 parents have to face the unimaginable grief of losing a child. Nobody expects to bury their own child and when struggling to cope with the worst possible experience they will ever have to face, bereaved parents have the added worry of finding funds for a funeral they never expected to be planning.
That is why I have also joined with a cross-party groups of MPs to call for the creation of a nationwide Children’s Funeral Fund to ensure that no more parents face the added uncertainty of debt, when they are already struggling to cope with the cruelest fate life has dealt them. This is a matter of compassion which is why we are calling on the Government to establish this fund to end child burial charges for good.
West Heath Primary School
It was a privilege this month to join staff, governors and children at West Heath Primary School to celebrate the first day of construction for the rebuilding of the school.
This marks the opening of an exciting new chapter for the school and work is now well under way on the rebuilding of the primary school. It is no surprise that students and staff alike can’t wait to start learning in their new building.
Local Government Funding
This month Parliament voted on the Local Government Finance settlement which set out Government’s funding for local authorities from 2018 to 2019. Figures published in the provisional Local Government Finance Settlement show that Birmingham’s core spending power will drop by 2% over the period between 2015/16 to 2019/20. In comparison, in leafy Surrey spending power will increase by 4.7%.
Government funding to Birmingham City Council has been cut by almost £650 million since 2010. This is the biggest cut in local government history and is more than 75 per cent of the City Council’s current net budget.
To make matters worse, due to unfairness in the way local government funding has been allocated by the Conservative Government, Birmingham is £100 million a year worse off than if cuts were made fairly.
In Parliament I asked the Government that all local authorities are treated equally in terms of the level of cuts made annually. That would mean that Birmingham City Council receives the extra £100 million extra funding it deserves.
Seven months after the Grenfell fire tragedy, Birmingham is still waiting for the Government to confirm whether or not it will provide our city with funding to undertake vital fire safety work.
Acting upon the advice of the West Midlands fire service, Birmingham City Council wants to carry out extensive works to 213 tower blocks containing 10,000 households. The council is ready to pay £11.6 million towards the £31 million cost of fitting sprinklers and has asked the Government to provide additional funding so that necessary works can start immediately. This is to prevent further money coming out of the City Council’s budget which as I explained before has already been reduced by over 75 per cent.
The Government had provided assurances to local authorities that it would provide financial support for necessary works to take place. Birmingham however is yet to receive a response from the Government. In the Commons I asked the Government will they provide Birmingham with the additional funding that is required for these vital works to begin.
As I raised in last month’s newsletter GKN are an engineering group making automotive and aerospace components with a plant based in Kings Norton. GKN have been subject to a hostile takeover bid that has been put to the shareholders of GKN by Melrose.
I remain extremely concerned that this takeover would most likely see the firm broken up and various units sold off to different buyers over time. It would be bad for the UK’s aerospace and automotive sectors and bad for employees of GKN.
Earlier this week, alongside a group of West Midlands Labour MPs I met with the Business Secretary Greg Clark to press the Government to intervene in the takeover. We are calling for the Government to use existing powers under the 2002 Enterprise Act to review the takeover. This has also been echoed by the Leader of Birmingham City Council, Ian Ward and Brett O’Reilly, Cabinet Member for Jobs and Skills, in a letter to the Business Secretary.
The Act allows for the Secretary of State to intervene in mergers where they give rise to certain specified public interest concerns, including issues of national security. Along with other MPs, I am continuing to call on Ministers to do so.
Exploitation in the aid sector
The recent revelations of abuse and sexual exploitation in the aid sector have rightly caused outrage and, as a Member of the House of Commons International Development Committee, I was last week at a special committee hearing to look into what has gone on.
The hearing did not only provide the opportunity for the Committee to take evidence from charities and the Government about what they have done to address the historic cases that have featured in the news in recent days. It also enabled us to question them on what they are going to do to prevent instances like these happening again. Recognising that the whole issue of how to improve safeguarding in the aid sector needs more depth investigation, we have also confirmed that the Committee will be holding a full inquiry into the issue of sexual abuse and exploitation in the aid sector in the coming weeks. You can see more about that here.
The Government also made a statement to the House last week, during which I took up these themes with the Secretary of State for International Development, including calling for the establishment of an international register of humanitarian workers to promote consistency in safeguarding mechanisms across the aid sector.
Recent examples of misconduct and abuse are awful and need to be called out. We should also remember, however, that the vast majority of people working in the aid sector do so for the best of motives and that they do amazing work in some of the most difficult and dangerous environments on earth, often at considerable personal risk to themselves.
So too we should reject the arguments of those who are cynically using recent events to discredit the UK’s work in the developing world and to cut international aid. UK Aid matters and it is a lifeline helping some of the most vulnerable people in the most horrific of circumstances. That includes in places like Yemen, where more than 8 million people are on the brink of famine. It also includes the Rohingya crisis where over 680,000 people have been forced to flee from Burma to Bangladesh and where women and girls have reported the most appalling cases of sexual and gender based violence. Cutting international aid would hit people in situations like these hardest and it is something we must not do.
100 years of women votes
This month we celebrated the 100 year anniversary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which gave 8.5 million women the vote for the first time.
The Representation of the People Act 1918 was a vital step towards enabling women to have a say in the way our country is governed. Ten years later the Equal Franchise Act 1928 gave women the vote on the same terms as men. Together these are two of the most important milestones in British democratic history.
But there is still a long way to go to achieve full equality. That is why Labour have launched a year-long campaign that will celebrate the great achievements of the women suffrage movement and look at how we can take the next steps to achieve full equality for women.
Throughout the year Parliament will also be running a series of free events to celebrate 100 years of women votes. You can find out more about these events here.