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JANUARY NEWSLETTER

In Birmingham Northfield

Police and crime meeting

Last week I held a meeting on crime and policing in response to residents’ concerns in the Frankley and Great Park area of Longbridge. The meeting was well attended by local people and we were joined by West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson as well as the Longbridge Neighbourhood Police Team. Thank you to all those who attended and shared their views.

There were a number of useful ideas that came out of the meeting about initiatives we can take locally – including encouraging more people to get involved with Longbridge Neighbourhood Watch. We also discussed how local Streetwatch initiatives can help keep communities safe (see more on that here.) Police Community Support Officers can help local people who may be interested in setting up a Streetwatch in their neighbourhood, so please email me if you are interested.

Understandably, there was also a great deal of anger expressed by residents who came along to the meeting about levels of crime and about the number of offences locally that either appear to go undetected or where residents believe the consequences for offenders too often do not provide a sufficient deterrent to re-offending. In relation to youth crime, several people also emphasised the importance of Police and schools working closely together and of the key role parents also need to play. Time and time again, however, the meeting noted how the cuts that have taken place in our public services make all this more difficult.

The most direct example of this has been the loss of 2,000 Police officers across the West Midlands since 2010 which has without doubt hampered their ability to combat crime as effectively as they want and as the public has a right to expect. In addition though the cuts to local authority budgets has decimated youth services while cuts to early years funding has hit vital support for parents and families through programmes such as Sure Start.  It is no coincidence that when Police numbers were rising, and programmes like Sure Start were brought in with decisive Government support in the years of Labour Government between 1997 and 2010, crime levels fell and levels of child poverty was more effectively tackled.

Along with other Labour MPs, I will continue to press the Government to give West Midlands Police a fairer funding deal and for an end to the austerity policies of the present Government which have caused – and continue to cause – so much damage in our communities. You can see a short video of my speech at the meeting here.

Unemployment

As much as the Government keep trumpeting about employment in other parts of the UK, they continue to ignore the fact that we have worsening unemployment in Birmingham, and particularly our part of South West Birmingham. Figures out this week show that the unemployment rate in Birmingham Northfield is more than double the rate for the UK as a whole (7.4%) compared to 3%).

The West Midlands has faced a higher than average growth in unemployment than the rest of the country and this trend is becoming a real concern. In its response to the latest jobless figures, for example, The Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce noted last week that “while we can expect some fluctuation in the unemployment rate, this trend is becoming a real cause for concern” and that “during this time the country has experienced a significant slowdown in the automotive industry (a key sector for our region).”

Although the Chamber also noted some positive signs from its most recent survey of Birmingham businesses, its warning was clear when it said “The statistics from the wider region are worrying, coming as they do at a time when Brexit related uncertainty is at its peak and concerns about global economic headwinds are growing.

Beyond its impact on business, of course, all this has a real human impact in the serious levels of poverty now being experienced in our region. The spiralling numbers relying on food banks underlines how Government policies are seriously failing people in Birmingham. There needs to be a real effort by the Government to acknowledge and address this trend, redoubling efforts to support local businesses, families and boosting productivity, skills and growth. I will be working with other MPs in the coming months to address this issue and will keep you updated.

Visit to Turves Green Girls’ School

This week I popped into Turves Green Girls’ School to present certificates and prizes for the winner of my Christmas Card competition. You can see the winning entry and runners-up here. Special thanks again to Chloe, Nula and Maria for their fantastic entries. I hope you all enjoy your prizes!

In Parliament

Universal Credit

The impact of Universal Credit rollout continues to hit households across the country. Birmingham Northfield has been no exception. There have been a whole host of problems with UC rollout and the transfer of those from legacy benefits like JSA onto UC. Last week, I raised the particular issue of those with more than two children being told they must migrate onto UC, but when they try to migrate they are told that they can’t. But by the time the application goes through the whole process, their other benefits have already been stopped, causing serious hardship in the meantime. You can see my question to the Government here.

As is well known, the problems with UC just make things harder for people to make ends meet. Around 20% of people in the UK now live below the poverty line and food bank usage has shot up by 13% in the last year. Worse still, 42% of children in Birmingham are growing up in households that are in poverty. It becomes clearer and clearer by the month that UC is not working and that its rollout is having a disastrous effect on people’s lives. The Government have shown reluctance to acknowledge the systematic problems with UC and only take action after being pressed into it for months and months by MPs, campaign groups and individuals up and down the country. We must continue to press them into action.

Brexit update

As will be all too clear to you, Brexit continues to dominate events and debate in Parliament. It has been an eventful month where it sounds and feels like a lot has happened, but in effect it hasn’t really. We are no further along than when Theresa May delayed the vote on the Brexit deal that should have taken place in Parliament in mid-December. The only thing that has changed is that we now have even less time to sort out the mess.

The House of Commons eventually got to vote on the Prime Ministers Brexit deal a fortnight ago, resulting in the biggest defeat for a sitting Prime Minister – 432 votes to 202. Since then the Prime Minister has claimed to be consulting other parties as well as businesses, trade unions and others in an attempt to reach consensus on a way forward. In practice though, she has shown little sign of moving on the key elements of the approach to Brexit she has taken all along and which have got us into the mess we are facing.

In the Birmingham Mail in December, I set out my thoughts on the issues at stake and why – if Parliament remains unable to agree a way forward – there may be little alternative but to put the choices facing the UK back to the people for decision.

There are different opinions about that and about whether there are other ways to break the logjam. In the meantime, though, there is a more urgent issue to address. If nothing else is agreed, Britain will leave the EU without a deal on 29th March. If that happens, severe damage will be inflicted on our manufacturing industries – on which so many jobs in the Midlands depend. It is my belief that we cannot allow a no deal Brexit to happen by accident because time has run out. The truth is that – whether you back the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, an alternative Brexit deal, a General Election or a another referendum, none of these things are likely to be sorted by 29th March, so we need to buy ourselves more time.

If Theresa May is not prepared to act to rule out a no deal Brexit – and there is no sign so far that she is prepared to do so – Parliament itself will have to force the issue. Deciding how we can do that is likely to be at the centre of what happens in the House of Commons this Tuesday 29th January. Yes, all this should have been sorted out long ago and we should not be stuck where we are today. But the reality is that we are where we are. We need to stop the clock ticking towards 29th March, not only to stop the damage a no deal Brexit would do to our country, but to also try to create an environment in which a divided country can be brought back together. We need to do that not only to sort out Brexit, but also to focus on all the other important issues that matter to people up and down the country.

Continuing meetings with motor industry

As chair of Parliament’s All Party Motor Group, I have been meeting frequently with representatives from the automotive industry in the UK in recent months and not surprisingly Brexit has dominated those discussions. The message from them has been clear that the uncertainty over Brexit and the looming prospect of no deal are no really starting to bite and key investment decisions are being jeopardised.

The industry needs to be placing orders now for parts which will be shipped in and out of the UK in April. The days of stocks of parts being stored in large warehouses are long gone and the industry relies on “just in time” deliveries to keep production lines going. As things stand, though, they don’t know what tariffs will add to the cost of those orders or whether deliveries will be held up in queues at the ports in the event of Brexit taking place without a deal on 29th March. Millions could be added to costs and production lines could be stopped – with employees being put onto short time working or worse. In the medium term it could be even worse

Automotive companies make investment decisions about where and how they will produce new models years in advance and Britain’s Brexit uncertainty is already leading a number of firms to question whether they should move more of their operations overseas. Jaguar Land Rover is a company which has already invested millions in the Midlands economy and it retains a forward programme that promises to bring in millions more in the development of new generations of electric, connected and autonomous vehicles. Even JLR, however, has announced that it is cutting 4,500 jobs. Brexit is not the only cause of the challenges faced by JLR. A downturn in the Chinese market and a dramatic drop in sales of new diesels are also key factors. But Brexit uncertainties are part of the picture too and they must be addressed. These issues were in the forefront of my mind when I spoke in the Commons a fortnight ago about the importance to the motor industry of ruling out a no deal Brexit.