Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter. If you would like to receive these updates by email, you can sign up here.
In Birmingham Northfield
SMTC/MG at Longbridge
Following the announcement in April that GKN Aerospace would be closing its Kings Norton factory in 2021, May has brought yet more difficult news, with the revelation that Chinese state-owned SAIC, the parent company of MG Motor UK, has initiated discussions around the closure of the SAIC Motor UK Technical Centre (SMTC) in Longbridge.
SAIC established SMTC at Longbridge following its merger with Nanjing Auto, the other Chinese car company that took over the Longbridge plant after the collapse of MG Rover in 2005. Since then SMTC has provided important Research and Development work for MG and other SAIC models sold in both the UK and Chinese markets. At times it has employed over 300 qualified engineers at the site. The current figure is around 180.
I met the head of MG in the UK last week and he told me that the closure of SMTC is part of a global restructuring of SAIC operations to reflect both the current downturn in the Chinese car market (which has apparently also led to SAIC manufacturing cuts in China) and a forward focus on electrically powered vehicles, rather than the petrol and diesel powertrains on which SMTC has concentrated so far. Their plan is to transfer around 20 of the approximately 180 engineers at SMTC to become direct MG employees at Longbridge, working on vehicle certification and after-sales engineering support. SMTC’s design centre at Longbridge is also scheduled for closure, with MG vehicle design moving to the company’s new UK head office in London.
When I met MG, I argued against their shift of R&D away from Longbridge, not only because of their previous stated commitments to the plant, but also in recognition of the growing importance of the West Midlands as a centre of automotive design and innovation. In response to MG telling me that they remain committed to an expanding UK operation and that they are investing heavily in their London base, I argued that forward-looking companies are now expanding their operations in the regions of the UK rather than only focussing on the capital.
Unfortunately, the company gave no indication to me that they are prepared to vary their plans. I therefore also emphasised to the company that, if they do decided to go ahead, they should follow good practice elsewhere in the industry on relocation assistance to those asked to move, and protection of terms and conditions for those redeployed inside Longbridge, as well as on the redundancy terms offered to those who leave the company.
Although the head of MG was non-committal on most of these issues, he confirmed to me that the company are in consultation with staff representatives at SMTC.
I have also asked the Government to make similar representations to the company although, at the time of writing this newsletter, it is still unclear if they are taking any action to do so.
Zero Carbon Conference
Towards the beginning of May, I had the pleasure of attending ‘Route Map to a Zero Carbon Region’, held at Birmingham City University. Organised by the university in conjunction with Liam Byrne, Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, SERA – Labour’s Environment Campaign, and Labour for a Green New Deal, the event provided an opportunity for debate and discussion on Birmingham’s environmental future. It was great to see individuals from across the community coming together to map out a more sustainable way of life, each with the recognition that the environmental challenges of today are of a different magnitude to those faced in the past, and inspired by the belief that the region which first sparked the industrial revolution can and should now become a pioneer in the zero-carbon revolution.
This event was one of many that will continue to push for a more sustainable future. For those keen to get involved, or simply to be kept in the loop, you can join the Labour for a Green New Deal national campaign here, or follow the local Birmingham branch on Twitter. Offering a radical new vision, Labour for a Green New Deal envisages a prosperous, socialist, zero-carbon society as the alternative to our current world, with all its economic and ecological crises. It would be fantastic to see as many people as possible joining the movement, contributing their ideas, and helping to shape a political agenda that is truly fit for the challenges ahead.
Constituency Casework Update
Every day, along with my small but dedicated team of constituency staff, I receive requests for help from constituents. We have already opened over 760 new cases since the start of this year.
They cover all kinds of issues – from anti-social behaviour and crime, to environmental and waste concerns, universal credit, and social care. In all these areas, my caseload has increased, with more and more people now feeling the effects of the Government’s austerity programme of cuts in public services.
Right up there at the top of the list are a huge number of housing cases – including homelessness and overcrowding. The Government’s failure to address the housing crisis and in particular to invest properly in social housing, is the root cause of many of the heart-breaking cases which people bring to me. With over 13,000 people already on Birmingham Council’s housing waiting list, there are often no immediate solutions available for people who come to see me. But we will always try to help, and where that means going into bat against the City Council if they are not helping people as quickly or fairly as they should, then that is what my constituency office team and I will continue to do.
With so many cases on our books, the volume of correspondence I receive is simply immense, and this sometimes mean I am not always able to get back to people as quickly as I would wish. Please be assured, however, that along with my team, I am working hard to respond to all requests for help effectively and, if you’re currently waiting on a query, we will get back to you as soon as we can.
I can often help constituents by writing to the Council, to other agencies such as the Department of Work and Pensions and the Police, and sometimes by raising issues directly with ministers, through questions in Parliament and other means. However, sometimes Members of Parliament are not those best placed to take up every issue, particularly in the first instance. When someone contacts me on an issue that may be better addressed elsewhere, therefore, my team will try to signpost people to the right place.
In the meantime, a brief outline of the kind of issues on which MPs can usually help, together with those that are best directed elsewhere, can be found here.
Last week saw the release of my latest Brexit update, the first since the results of the European Elections, and the subsequent announcement of Prime Minister Theresa May’s impending resignation. In the update, I outlined how recent events should give all parties pause for thought, with the results of the vote merely serving to underline the deep divisions that continue to plague our country, and to reiterate the confusion and uncertainty that we face as a nation in the ongoing Brexit debacle. You can read the update in full here.
With each passing day, and however you read the results of the elections, one way or another, the future of Brexit has yet to be resolved.
Unfortunately, the noise coming out of the current Conservative leadership election to find a replacement for Theresa May offers little hope of that happening any time soon. Indeed, it is disturbing that the next Prime Minister should not be decided by the people of this country as whole, but rather by around 160,000 members of the Conservative Party alone, from a shortlist of two drawn up solely by just over 300 Conservative MPs.
Faced with this situation, you might think that the people should be given a say about who should lead the country, and the policies that should be pursued, not only on Brexit but on so much more besides, through a General Election. I would agree with you. Unfortunately, however, there is no sign that any prospective Conservative leader or the majority of Conservative MPs would allow a motion to that effect to pass through the Commons. Indeed, some of the more hard-line Tory leadership contenders are even talking about asking the queen to suspend Parliament to prevent it passing measures they don’t like. So much for democracy!
The reality is, however, that Parliament is in deadlock about the course that should be taken on Brexit. Faced with the reality that there is no clear majority for a course of action in Parliament therefore, I can now see no other realistic alternative to putting the issue back to the people via another referendum. I explain the full reasons for this and the issues facing my party in a piece I wrote for the online magazine, Labour List, here.
Of course, the same deadlock that prevents Parliament deciding on a course of action itself, could also prevent it agreeing to hold another referendum. But I appeal to my colleagues to think again before blocking such a referendum. None of us know which way the vote would go. But three years on from the last referendum, and with knowledge of what Brexit would look like in practice rather than the theoretical promises that were made at the time, there are compelling democratic reasons why the people should now be given the final say.
In the meantime, to me the priority is to avoid Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal, not because anybody has voted for that, but simply because we have run out of time to agree anything else before 31st October. Why do I believe a no deal Brexit would be such a bad deal? I cannot put it better, than Make UK, who represent British manufacturing industry, who issued this stark warning only a week or two ago.
Working for Peace in the Middle East
As with most MPs, local and national issues take up most of my and my team’s time. However, there is also a world around us, and I think it is important for the British Parliament to stand up for human rights and democracy abroad, just as we would hope other countries would do if our human rights were under threat here. Not only that, but by taking an active interest in promoting peace and stability abroad, we also help keep our country safe when the consequences of international conflict affect us here in the UK.
One such conflict is that between Israel and Palestine, for which I chair the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). The APPG has had a particularly busy month, hosting several events covering different aspects of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In May, the APPG hosted a meeting between British MPs and Members of the House of Lords with Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Riad Maliki, looking at current developments in the region. A major focus of the discussion was the importance of international efforts to seek a resolution of the conflict based on maintaining equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis, including securing wider international recognition of the State of Palestine alongside the existing international recognition of Israel. 137 countries, making up 71 per cent of Member states of the United Nations, already recognise Palestine’s statehood. Unfortunately, the UK is not yet amongst them, despite the House of Commons voting overwhelmingly to do so nearly five years ago. Upholding equal rights and international law as bedrocks of a sustainable peace process will be even more important in the months ahead as President Trump increasingly takes US policy in a partisan direction, recognising Israel’s annexation of occupied territory in violation of international law and withdrawing much needed humanitarian support for Palestinian refugees.
The latter issue was also the centrepiece of a meeting which the APPG held recently with the Commissioner General of the United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). UNRWA provides support to millions of the most vulnerable Palestinians in the Israeli occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Over 3m rely on UNWA for health care while around half a million Palestinian students are educated in UNRWA schools. Last year President Trump withdrew all US funding for UNRWA leaving a hole of $446m in the agency’s budget. Britain was amongst several countries that stepped in with emergency funding packages to keep UNRWA afloat. In thanking the UK for this vital support which staved off a humanitarian crisis, the Commissioner emphasised the importance of the international community putting in place sustainable funding to enable UNRWA to continue its vital work going forward.
Although pressing for a sustainable peace and an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza remain the major focus of the APPG’s work, we also monitor human rights in Israel itself, recently holding a meeting on worrying trends in institutionalised discrimination against Israel’s minority Palestinian Arab citizens.
International Development Committee
As with the APPG, so too has the Commons International Development Committee, of which I am a member, seen a busy month. Amid numerous evidence sessions, the standout achievement of the Committee was the publication Wednesday 8th May of its Report: ‘UK aid for combating climate change’. The importance of this cannot be understated. With each year, a growing body of scientific evidence has shown with increasing clarity the importance of high ambition and the need for rapid action if we are to tackle the growing impacts of climate change. In 2018, climate scientists working with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that even global warming of 1.5°C would result in risks to natural and human systems and many of these risks would be greater at 2°C. The message of the report – one that cannot have come soon enough – is that it is now imperative that the international community recognises and steps up to the task.
The product of a long and detailed inquiry, the report looks in detail at the full scale of the challenge that the international community is facing, and in particular whether the UK Government has fully come to terms with the demands of this already-established ecological crisis, and whether or not more funds need directing into so-called ‘climate finance’. It ends by looking ahead to the UN Secretary General’s upcoming Climate Summit in 2019, identifying some key areas where the UK can, and should, press for progress.
A PDF of the full report, together with formal minutes relating to it, can be found here.