Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter. If you would like to receive these updates by email, you can sign up here.
In Birmingham Northfield
At the start of this month, GKN Aerospace announced that its factory in Kings Norton is to close in 2021, with the loss of over 170 jobs. The news comes only one year after GKN’s hostile takeover by Melrose Industries, at which time Melrose made a series of undertakings to reassure the Takeover Panel of its commitment to UK manufacturing. At the time, the Government’s Business Secretary, Greg Clark, told MPs that while he would not block the takeover, he would look to Melrose to honour the spirit as well as the letter of their promises. In the light of that, the closure of the GKN is a breach of faith by the company with its employees, their families, and suppliers to the Kings Norton Plant. Simply put, it is not good enough. Last Wednesday, a year to the day since the Business Secretary told the House of the undertakings he had received, I questioned Ministers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, demanding a full explanation – into who knew about these plans, whether alternatives have been suggested, and most importantly, why GKN employees came to be informed only three weeks ago. You can read the debate here. In the coming weeks, I will be meeting with both GKN and Ministers to press the case for the company to think again.
It is indicative of the scale of the problem facing Birmingham that knife crime continues to be a regular feature of my newsletter. Nevertheless, April has also seen important initiatives take place to help tackle the scourge of knife crime locally and across the West Midlands. At a local level, last Tuesday I joined Assistant West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Ashley Bertie, at the launch of a new knife surrender bin at Morrisons on Birmingham Great Park – the 15th surrender bin to be installed across the West Midlands, with the others having received around 340 weapons thus far. That so many weapons have been handed in is a sobering reminder of underlining just how many dangerous weapons are out there. That said, every knife surrendered is a knife off our streets, and sends a powerful message that carrying a knife for self-protection is a misguided and deluded pursuit, creating more danger, not less.
Knife surrender bins help save lives but they are only one small part of what is needed to tackle the scale of a problem which has seen 269 knife crimes recorded in Birmingham in the first two months of this year alone. It requires families, social workers and schools to be vigilant to the warning signs of young people who could be at risk – maybe because they live in a troubled family, or they are bullied at school, or because they are being targeted by gangs. Of particular concern is the correlation between young people excluded from school and those who turn to crime, and far more attention needs to be given to alternatives to exclusion for young people showing severe behavioural problems at school.
The importance of working across different fronts was highlighted at summit on Knife Crime that I also attended last week. Organised by Parliament’s All Party Group on Knife Crime, the summit heard about important initiatives being taken in the West Midlands, including placing youth workers in hospital A&E departments to help identify young people at risk, school mentoring programmes with young people and a range of other community responses to reduce violent crime.
Effective policing is, however, still central to any successful strategy to combat knife crime and there is no doubt that the Police’s ability to keep our streets safe has been compromised by 8 years of cuts which have left West Midlands Police with 2,000 fewer officers. Last month Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced an injection of £6m to help West Midlands Police tackle violent crime. While any money is welcome, to describe the £6m as “extra” would be misleading. It nowhere near makes up for the £175m reduction in Government support that West Midlands Police has suffered since 2010. The impact on our region has been disproportionately severe, with West Midlands Police hit by cuts around twice as hard as more affluent and low-crime areas like Surrey.
It is time for Government to put that right – not by one-off announcements but by giving our Police the sustainable funding they need.
The urgent need to tackle climate change has rightly been much in the news recently and it has been young people who have taken centre stage in providing the wake-up call. Inspired by the example of Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg, school students up and down the UK have organised monthly one day strikes to highlight both the urgency and scale of the challenge facing our planet. Greta Thunberg herself was also in the UK recently, calling for change with startling eloquence and effectiveness. Meanwhile, some of London’s busiest streets were brought to a standstill over Easter by a series of Extinction Rebellion protests. Whether you agree with their tactics or not, they too have helped focus attention on the consequences of failing to act on climate change.
Along with other local Labour MPs, I met up with some of the organisers of the school climate protests in Birmingham recently. On 9th May, a public event will also be held at Birmingham City University to look at practical steps that can be taken to help make Birmingham a zero-carbon city. Organised by SERA – Labour’s Environment Campaign, and Labour for a Green New Deal, the message of the event is that the region that first sparked the industrial revolution should now lead the zero-carbon revolution. You can register for the event here.
Pride of Longbridge
As usual, I was delighted to attend the annual Pride of Longbridge (POL) celebration in Cofton Park earlier this month. This year’s POL celebrated 60 years of the Mini, and 30 years of the Rover R8 series, bringing car enthusiasts, ex-workers and the local community together in what is always a wonderful celebration of our local heritage. It was a pleasure to exchange stories with some of the many attendees, and to be present amongst the hope and optimism that never fails to return year on year.
Thanks to all who help make POL such a success. At a personal level, I also want to give special thanks to all those who gave me valuable advice on courses of action I could take to put right my own 2001 MGF Trophy, which was sadly unable to attend the event this year as it awaited replacement parts. It is my hope that 2020 will signal its return to the Pride of Longbridge celebration.
A couple of weeks ago, I sent out my latest Brexit update. The update covered recent developments in Parliament, including the importance of efforts to avoid the UK leaving the EU without a deal, the talks that have commenced between Government and Opposition to try to break the current deadlock, and the debate around whether the public should be given the final say over what the UK should do from here. The update also highlights the ugly abuse and threats that are now disfiguring some of the public debate around Brexit and warns about the danger that this could pose for democracy itself. Whatever our sincerely-held different opinions over Brexit, it is vital that we all try to approach the decisions ahead in ways that promote reconciliation rather than deepen division. The update is available here for those that haven’t yet seen it. Within, I expressed optimism that ministers are now working cross-party to build consensus, and to achieve a Brexit resolution – the next step after already ruling out what would have been a damaging No Deal scenario. But any optimism must be tempered with caution, and it is important not to get ahead of ourselves, or forget that there is much work still to be done. The ongoing talks between Prime Minister Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are yet to yield a positive result, with the public growing ever more frustrated amid the continued deadlock.
As the UK has not yet agreed the terms of Brexit, we remain a full member of the EU in the meantime and, as such, have the same obligation as any other EU state to elect MEPs to the European Parliament, as the existing Parliament’s term of office expires at the end of June.
European elections are therefore still scheduled to take place on 23rd May. Remember that these elections are an important opportunity for you to make your voice heard so, if you haven’t already registered to vote, you can still do so. But hurry. The deadline to register to vote in the European elections is 7 May. All the relevant information is available here.
International Development Committee
News broke on Easter Sunday that Faye Mooney, a communications working with the Mercy Corps, had been tragically shot dead in north-central Nigeria on Friday 20th April. A Nigerian citizen was also killed, while three others were kidnapped. The statement from Neal Keny-Guyer, Mercy Corps’s Chief Executive, said that as “a graduate of University College London and the London School of Economics who had taught in Iraq and worked in Kosovo to combat human trafficking, Faye was deeply committed to fostering cross-cultural collaboration and was an inspiration to us all.”
At this time, my thoughts go out to Faye’s family and friends for what is a stark reminder of the courage and bravery that all our aid workers must summon on a daily basis, and the danger to which they subject themselves in order to improve the lives of others overseas. Faye’s death comes less than a month after the Commons International Development Committee, of which I am a member, heard evidence from development stakeholders on the level of risk that aid workers face in the environments within which they operate, and serves as a crucial reminder of the vital importance of the Committee’s work. The session was designed to examine the safety measures currently in place to protect aid workers from the international aid community, and to consider what more the UK Government could do to safeguard those delivering. A transcript of the session is available here, with a full video here. Clearly, there is significant work to be done.
Since then, the Committee has been active, publishing its letter to Penny Mordaunt, Secretary of State for International Development, to highlight its concerns with the UK’s Voluntary National Review on the Sustainable Development Goals, and has heard further evidence from academic and development stakeholders on the Department for International Development’s work on disability. The Committee is inquiring into all aspects of this topic but particularly focusing on how effective DFID’s strategy and spend has been and whether the new disability strategy provides an adequate framework for approaching disability-inclusive development.
Loan Charge Debate
On Thursday 4 April I was present in the House of Commons as MPs debated a motion relating to the introduction of the 2019 Loan Charge. Although ostensibly an effort to tackle tax avoidance through ‘disguised remuneration’ (DR) schemes, opposition to the charge has been considerable. I am one of over 150 MPs to have signed EDM #1239 regarding my concerns over the retrospective application of this charge back to 1999, and the lack of consideration that has been given to how these new regulations are likely to punish ordinary working people who acted in good faith, rather than the client organisations, agencies or umbrella companies who were the prime beneficiaries of the DR schemes. As things stand, the charge is likely to cause financial distress and bankruptcies, impeding HMRC’s ability to recover these tax liabilities and causing a devastating impact on people.
This latest debate marked an important step in raising these concerns with the House, and hopefully moving towards a proper, independent investigation into the legality of the Loan Charge. A full transcript of the proceedings, including my contribution, is available here.