October Parliamentary Newsletter
In Birmingham Northfield
North Worcestershire Golf Course (NWGC) Inquiry
Earlier this month there was a public inquiry to look into Bloor Homes’ appeal against Birmingham City Council’s rejection of their planning application to build 800 houses on the NWGC. Together with Councillor Olly Armstrong and a number of local residents, I argued that the area will not be able to cope with a development of that size, particularly with the amount of extra traffic that it would generate.
The Planning Inspector who heard the appeal will now submit a report to the Government and we now await this decision. Whichever way this goes, though, it will still be important for local people to have a say in what happens from here. If the development does go ahead, there will still be a lot of detail to consider about it. If it doesn’t go ahead, something still needs to happen to the golf course site. It cannot continue to be left to deteriorate. Either way, what happens to the site will have an impact on people who live in the area. It is time for the focus to shift from what should not happen there to what can and should.
You can read my full submission to the Inquiry here.
Local Government Funding
You won’t need me to tell you that austerity has hit areas like Northfield particularly hard. Birmingham is at breaking point. The Government has been all too keen to take money away from councils and telling them and local communities like ours to just deal with the consequences. Those consequences of austerity have meant that child poverty has increased, homelessness has doubled, public services have been slashed, over 1 million elderly people aren’t getting the care they need, and wages have stagnated. It is communities that are paying the price for the failure to properly fund our services.
That is why I joined with other Labour colleagues and local government figures in Downing Street last week to send the message to the Government that Birmingham is at breaking point and that the Government must change course when the Chancellor delivers his Budget next week.
I regularly visit local schools to discuss a range of issues with local pupils and teachers. It was great to meet with the newly-elected members of the School Parliament at Princethorpe Junior School in Weoley last month. They were a really enthusiastic group of pupils, who I know will play an important role in helping to shape the future of their school and community.
Meeting parents is also important. Earlier this week, Cllr Olly Armstrong, Cllr Alex Aitken and I were at Bellfield Junior School to discuss the impact Conservative policies are having on our schools. On current projections, Bellfield will have lost £65,000 through Government cuts by 2019/20. Another 65,000 reasons for the Chancellor to change course in next week’s Budget. I am very pleased parents from Bellfield will be adding their voices to the campaign for fair funding of our schools that has been launched by Save Our Schools West Midlands.
Speaking up for our motor industry in Parliament
While on the subject of the Budget, along with other MPs with an interest in the motor industry, I have been lobbying ministers to end the confused signals it is sending out about diesel engines, which are doing serious damage to our the automotive industry – and particularly firms in our region like Jaguar Land Rover (JLR). There is rightly a growing public concern about the damage older diesels engines do to air quality, particularly in cities like Birmingham. Government has a responsibility to discourage their use and to help drivers make the transition to vehicles that are both low carbon and cleaner. The problem is that the way the Government has structured Vehicle Excise Duty, it penalises the most modern and cleanest diesel engines hardest. That ends up creating a perverse incentive for drivers to hang on to vehicles with older, dirtier engines. As well as being bad for the environment, this has depressed sales of new and nearly new cars, threatening jobs at JLR and elsewhere.
Not only that, but the Government is also cutting grants which can help offset the cost of buying a new electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle at a time when it should be encouraging more motorists to make the switch to those vehicles. Frankly, it is all a mess. That is why, along with my colleagues, I am calling on ministers to use the Budget and beyond to rethink its policies and adopt a coherent strategy towards a low carbon, low emission future which safeguards jobs in our automotive industry.
In developing this strategy, Government should work more closely with cities like Birmingham that are developing Clean Air Zones in which older, dirtier vehicles are charged but not those with the cleanest engines. Again, however, there is a real role for Government here in helping people to make the switch rather than hindering them, particularly where livelihoods are involved, and in boosting the quality and availability of public transport alternatives.
Universal Credit update
Many of you will have been following developments relating to Universal Credit in recent weeks. Indeed, many of you may have been personally affected by the changes brought in by the Government. This is a system that is failing, but the Government is still refusing to put it right. Claimants are still experiencing hardship as a result of delays to payments, while many others are losing out on money they were previously getting by switching to UC. The DWP secretary was reported to have said in private that many families could lose as much as £2,400 a year as a result of transferring.
This Government is unfairly playing games with the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society. Labour have been clear – the Government must stop the roll out of Universal Credit. It is a vehicle for cuts and is causing severe hardship for many people as it is rolled out. It was apparently designed to lift people out of poverty, but is instead leaving people in debt, rent arrears or being forced to turn to food banks to survive.
It has also recently been announced that there was a widespread miscalculation of entitlements for those during the process of moving people from incapacity benefit and severe disability allowance on to employment and support allowance (ESA). You can find out more on that here and find out more if you or someone you know may be affected.
We are now in the key period in Brexit negotiations and preparations. Yet the Government have dithered, squabbled with themselves, marched up and down the hill time and time again, everything but making the effective decisions that are sorely needed. It is extraordinary that over 2 years on from the referendum and after over 18 months of negotiation, the Government still have no credible or coherent plan for Brexit.
Negotiations were supposed to conclude this month, but with the Government fighting itself and stuck in a state of paralysis, that deadline was missed and a new one to be set in either November or December. By that point, we will be just a few months away from the date set in March 2019 for the UK to leave the EU. We will then have a mad rush to get ready, and Ministers look like they are preparing to try to railroad a half-baked Brexit deal – or the prospect of no deal at all – through Parliament, without giving MPs the meaningful say that was promised only a few months ago. That isn’t good enough. No government has the right to plunge the country into chaos as a result of their own failure and Labour will continue to judge what Theresa May brings forward against the tests we believe any Brexit deal should address.
Earlier this month, Cllr Alex Aitken and I were invited to hold a discussion forum on Brexit at Cadbury College in Kings Norton, where Alex himself was a student some years ago. It was an excellent discussion with some of the contributions made by students rather more to the point than I sometimes hear from Ministers.
I will be on Sunday Politics West Midlands this weekend. You can tune in live on Sunday 28th October at 11am on BBC One West Midlands. Alternatively you can watch it on catch-up afterwards here.