In Birmingham Northfield
New Engineering Centre at Bournville College
I was privileged to recently open the new Engineering Centre at Bournville College. With state of the art equipment to teach the practical, hands-on skills that employers are always looking for, the centre will initially offer students the opportunity to acquire qualifications from Level 1 to level 3 with potential for university-partnered courses up to level 5 being available – probably as early as next year.
Engineering is in the DNA of Longbridge. Its name has been synonymous with motor manufacturing for over one hundred years. The new centre at Bournville College both celebrates that heritage and demonstrates how world-class engineering can be as much a part of the area’s future as its past. The UK urgently needs more engineers at all levels. They are more important than ever to find solutions to the huge technical challenges that the future holds – in automotive and in the entire spectrum of industries and sectors that drive a modern economy.
Developed in its new role as part of South and City College, Bournville’s Engineering Centre at Longbridge provides the opportunity for local young people to be at the heart of this innovation, opening up opportunities to embark on great careers in modern engineering and manufacturing. It is also great to see the emphasis that the College is putting on demonstrating that those opportunities are every bit relevant to young women as they are to young men. You can see more from Bournville College’s short video of the launch here.
Congratulations to everyone who has made the opening of the Centre a reality and best of luck to all the students who will be starting in September. You can find out more about the range of courses that are on offer here.
As many local residents will personally know, mess and anti-social behavior associated with unauthorised Traveller Encampments have been a serious problem in Northfield and across south Birmingham in recent years.
I have been working closely with the local Police, Birmingham Council and other West Midlands MPs to see how we can reduce the impact caused by these encampments. As part of that, I recently attended a summit on this issue, organised by the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner. The summit was clear that there is a pressing need for more recognised transit sites for travellers and reviewed plans being developed by Birmingham and other local authorities to increase the number in the West Midlands. It also looked at what we can learn in this region from initiatives that have shown themselves to be helpful elsewhere.
Action, is however, also required from Government and, after considerable pressure from West Midlands and other MPs, earlier this year the Government announced a consultation on the powers available for dealing with unauthorised encampments. Along with the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner and 15 West Midlands Labour MPs I wrote to the Government over the summer to set out our recommendations. If accepted, these recommendations would establish a more coherent legal framework that respects both settled and travelling communities who pursue their lifestyles responsibly but which deals effectively with the kinds of mess and anti-social behavior which residents in South West Birmingham have suffered from unauthorised encampments in recent years.
As Ministers have yet to respond to the consultation, the recent West Midlands summit provided the opportunity to discuss these ideas further and to set out how we will continue to put pressure on Government Ministers to respond to the proposals put forward from our region.
Bournville Gardens Health and Wellbeing Centre
Many local residents will be aware that in Autumn 2016 approval was given in principle by NHS England 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.
Delays by NHS England in revising some of its own rules and procedures led to delays in the release of the funding that was required for the go ahead of the new Centre. Throughout that period I was approached by many constituents worried that the proposed new Health & Wellbeing Centre may not be built. This was a point that I made on numerous occasions to NHS England and Ministers when I urged them to clear the procedural blockages that were holding things up.
I am pleased to now report that these delays have been overcome and a planning application has been submitted for the Centre at Bournville Gardens. This is a project which is both needed locally and is also supported by the local Clinical Commissioning Group and NHS England. The Centre would provide the necessary facilities for three local GP Practices to merge to create a 16,000 patient list single practice operating from the new building.
I have written to Birmingham City Council Planning Department to state my support for the new Centre and to emphasise that it is very important that the project proceeds as soon as possible. You can view all the documents relating to the planning application and submit your comments by searching for application reference 2018/06868/PA on the City Council planning website.
Earlier this month I attended a Schools Summit for Birmingham school leaders and parent groups. This gave them the opportunity to discuss and challenge school funding cuts with Birmingham Labour Councillors and MPs as well as with Labour’s Shadow Education Minister Tracy Brabin.
Throughout the summit parents and teachers repeatedly told me their concerns about the impact that decisions made by the Conservative Government are having on the quality of local children’s education and their future life chances. Government cuts to education have resulted in local schools losing out on hundreds of pounds per pupil and have stretched our schools to the limit.
It doesn’t have to be like this. We all want the best for our children. But year after year, Ministers have made it harder for young people to achieve. That is why our message to the Government was clear stop the cuts to school funding and give all children in Birmingham the great start in life that they deserve.
Crime and Policing
Along with a group of local MPs, I recently met with the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, David Jamieson, to discuss the rise in violent crime in the West Midlands.
The Police and Crime Commissioner has pledged an extra £2 million to tackle gangs and violence over the next two years by expanding the delivery of projects that are aimed at reducing violence in the West Midlands. In our meeting with the Home Secretary, we called on the Government to match this funding to help make local communities safer.
Funding for our Police has been slashed and West Midlands Police have lost over 2,000 officers since 2010. Police numbers in the West Midlands are the smallest that they have been in the history of the force and one of the results of these cuts have been increased violent crime and gang violence. Local communities are paying the price for the failure to properly fund our Police force which is we we made the case for the West Midlands to get its share of funding from the Government
Many local people have spoken to me about their concerns about gang activity and violent crime in South West Birmingham and I am in regular contact with both the local Police force and Police and Crime Commissioner about this issue. I can reassure people that targeted Police operations are in place with targeted actions ongoing to disrupt the activities of those involved in these activities, and after a number of significant convictions, incidents of gang violence have reduced.
The Rohingya Crisis
Earlier this year, the International Development Committee, which I am a member of, visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. The enormity of the humanitarian emergency has to be experienced first-hand to be fully appreciated. When we visited these camps we were warned that the coming monsoon rains would cause floods, mudslides and landslips that would simply sweep away many of the makeshift shacks. You can find out more about what I saw visiting the camps here.
Following our visit, the Committee made representations to Government ministers about the urgency of work to protect the camps from the impact of the monsoon. I am pleased to report that international action to improve infrastructure in the camps together with the evacuation of some Rohingya to safer ground, has had an impact and that, so far, the monsoon rains have not led to the loss of life that feared. The second phase of the cyclone season has yet to hit Bangladesh, though, and it is important that there is no let-up in efforts to protect those living in the camps.
Whilst the immediate priority for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh remains protective and mitigating arrangements, our Inquiry has also given us the opportunity to raise the important issue of the Rohingya’s longer term future, including their right to return to their native Burma, in security, free from persecution and with their status as full citizens guaranteed. You can find out more about the International Development Committee’s follow-up inquiry into Bangladesh, Burma and the Rohingya here.
Israel and Palestine
In my role as chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, I visited Israel and Palestine this month on a delegation organised by the Council for Arab-British Understanding and Medical Aid for Palestinians. In Israel, we heard from representatives of the country’s Palestinian minority about the discrimination they face and their fears that this will be entrenched further by the new Nation State Law that has been passed by Israel’s Parliament. In the Occupied West Bank, we visited the segregated town of Hebron, met with Palestinian communities whose homes are under threat of demolition to make way for illegal settlement-building and we saw the important work being undertaken by mobile clinics supported by Medical Aid for Palestinians. We also heard from Breaking the Silence, a group Israeli ex-servicemen and women who campaign for an end to occupation. We also met with representatives of both The Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel. A report of our visit published by MAP is here.
Labour Party Conference
Last week the Labour Party hosted our annual party conference where we continued to set out our plan to rebuild our economy, our public services and our communities. Too many parts of the country have been neglected after eight years of austerity under the Conservative government and Labour would put investment in communities like Northfield at the heart of our policy in Government.
Labour has used its conference in Liverpool to announce a series of policies which would rebuild and transform Britain including expanding free childcare to benefit more than a million children and their families. The current patchy support for childcare is holding back too many parents and families and Labour would ensure that 30 hours of high quality and free childcare is available to all 2, 3 and 4 years in addition to additional subsided hours of childcare on top of the free 30 hour allowance.
You can find out more about Labour’s plan transform Britain here.