Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter. If you would like to receive these updates by email, you can sign up here.
In Birmingham Northfield
Supreme Court Homelessness Decision
This June saw a landmark Supreme Court ruling about a lone Birmingham mother who was evicted from her privately rented home when she could not afford to pay her rent. Government cuts meant there was a £151.49 gap between what Terryann Samuels received in Housing Benefit and what she had to pay out in rent. After her eviction, Ms Samuels applied to Birmingham City Council for rehousing but she was not accepted on to the Council’s waiting list. The Council claimed that she was “intentionally homeless” because she had not used benefits, intended to cover the family’s other living costs, to make up the shortfall in what she received to cover her rent.
I am pleased to report that Ms Samuels won her case, with the Court ruling that the other benefits Ms Samuels received were calculated to provide just enough to cover food and other expenses for her and her children, and that there was no surplus she could be reasonably expected to divert to cover the gap between housing benefit and her rent.
Birmingham City Council were wrong to interpret Government Benefit rules in the way they did. But it will take more than a change in Council procedures to tackling the roots and continues to roots of the problem that hit Ms Samuels and continues to affect thousands of others. The Government must face up to the fact that Housing Benefit often bears little relationship to the reality of rents in the Private sector and change its policies accordingly. Not only that, but with over 12,000 households on the council’s waiting list in Birmingham alone, there is an urgent need to invest in the construction of a lot more socially rented homes than our country has manged in recent decades. Again, that will take political will, and a big change of direction by the Government.
I raised these points during a House of Commons debate shortly after the Supreme Court ruling. You can read a transcript of the full debate on the Parliament website, here.
In early July, I was privileged to speak at Birmingham’s St. Phillip’s Cathedral at a special event to commemorate the 24th anniversary of the genocide that took place in Srebrenica during the conflict in Bosnia – in which over 8,000 men and boys were systematically slaughtered by Serb paramilitaries in just a few days. They were murdered simply because they were Muslims. It was the biggest single act of slaughter on European soil since the end of the Second World War.
The enormity of the carnage that took place in Bosnia during the 1990s is difficult for most of us to comprehend. However, the clear and humbling message from the survivors who addressed commemorations in Birmingham and elsewhere last month is that you can never defeat hate with more hate. Instead, we must bridge the divides between people in which hatred can too easily breed.
These are important lessons for us too. Here in Britain there is a worrying growth of Far Right politics that ferment mistrust and hostility against people simply because of who they are – maybe their religion, their race or their sexuality. Meanwhile, we too often see genuinely political disagreements expressed through online and other abuse. Sometimes it can descend into threats or worse. It is only three years since Jo Cox MP was murdered by a Far Right activist and this year another Far Right activist was jailed for plotting to murder another of my colleagues.
Britain today is not Bosnia in the 1990s but the message is the same. Every year, the Remembering Srebrenica charity brings thousands of people together across the UK for Srebrenica Memorial week to unite in acts of unity and solidarity. The commemoration gives us the opportunity to remember and honour the victims of genocide, and ensure that survivors have the space and time to share their testimonies. Above all, it is living proof that when we work together, we can bridge divides and challenge hatred.
Last month, I had the pleasure to attend the official opening of the improvements to Longbridge station. The station has a new frontage, better lighting inside and a much bigger ticket office concourse, and the new ticket office counter and toilets have also been re-designed to make the station accessible for all.
The £1.7 million-pound project has been delivered by Network Rail as part of the national Railway Upgrade Plan, and it has been funded by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
Along with other local stakeholders I have been pressing for years for the transformation of this station both to provide today’s Longbridge town centre with the welcoming gateway it deserves and to create a modern public transport hub serving local residents, businesses and Bournville College. There is more yet to be done to realise the vision of a public transport hub at Longbridge. Even so, these improvements mark an important step towards it.
Campaigning for Better Buses
Last month, local Labour Councillors and others from Northfield’s Labour team were out in Northfield town centre campaigning for better bus services as part of Birmingham’s Bus Manifesto. A Labour Government would invest £1.3bn in improving bus services. More information is available on the Labour website.
North Worcestershire Golf Club
Just over a week ago, the Government announced that it has upheld the appeal by Bloor homes to build a major housing estate on the site of the former North Worcestershire Golf Course following the rejection of their plans by Birmingham City Council. You can see more details of the decision in this B31 Voices article here.
There are real concerns about the environmental sustainability of Bloor’s plans to build a housing estate of this magnitude on green land locally and about whether the local road and other infrastructure will be able to cope. The decision by the government is, therefore, very disappointing.
Northfield Labour councillor Olly Armstrong and I therefore organised two public meetings for residents to discuss the news and to plan next steps.
The grounds on which Planning Appeal decisions can be challenged in law are very narrow and the initial assessment of Birmingham City Council has been that no such grounds exist in this case. However, following a recent case from another part of the country in which the Court overturned a Government decision – on issues which appear to have parallels in the NWGC case – we are asking the Council to look again.
The NWGC appeal decision also specified a number of conditions that Bloor have to satisfy before going ahead with the development. We will therefore be approaching Bloor for assurances about how they intend to do so, and to press them to consult fully with the community when planning the detail of the estate they hope to build. We will also be asking them what action they will take to ensure the development contributes to the requirement for the UK to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest, and how it responds to Birmingham City Council’s declaration of a climate emergency.
Digital Autopsy Scanners
I am pleased to be able to announce that Birmingham City Council has successfully negotiated a deal that will provide the city with access to a Computed Tomography Post Mortems (CTPM) scanner on a trial basis.
CTPM scanners can have a transformational effect, ensuring that post mortems can frequently be carried out without the need to perform an invasive post mortem, producing digital images that can be viewed and interpreted by various pathologists and specialists. Where scanning facilities are available, the deceased can be released to families within 48 hours, meaning their dignity can be preserved and their right to a funeral can carried out without delay.
The news follows months of campaigning by two Birmingham residents, Elaine Gordon and Lucy Harrison, along with my colleague Preet Kaur Gill, Labour MP for Edgbaston. I have been pleased to back Elaine and Lucy in their campaign, and thanks must go out them, together with everyone else whose efforts have brought about this important result.
Britain’s new Prime Minister and Brexit
The first two weeks since Boris Johnson’s arrival in Downing Street have been marked by a his trademark bluster, with a flurry of promises being made and little indication that he has the faintest idea about precisely how he is going to keep them.
It has also dramatically increased the chances of Britain crashing out of the European Union without a deal on 31st October. It has long been my view that a No Deal Brexit would be reckless in the extreme. From pharmaceuticals to food, faming and manufacturing both unions and employers have warned about the likely impact of a no deal Brexit on prices and jobs here in the UK. Of particular importance to the West Midlands, the warnings from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders of an existential threat to the automotive sector could not be clearer.
Indeed, Britain’s standing in the world is already being hit with the value of the £ slumping on international markets – something that holiday makers are already experiencing when they try to change money.
Faced with all this, it is vital that Parliament does everything we can to stop the Government from taking our country over a cliff as it currently seems determined to do. The first priority will be to make sure that a No Deal Brexit is ruled out. Boris Johnson knows there that there is no majority in Parliament for a No Deal Brexit and there have been suggestions he may even try to suspend the House of Commons to stop a vote going against him. For him to try something like that would be undemocratic in the extreme, and we must not allow him to do so.
While it is clear that Parliament will not vote for a No Deal Brexit, however, there is little sign that there is any end in sight to the deadlock which has stopped the House of Commons agreeing an alternative until now. But the deadlock has gone on long enough and a way forward has to be found. If Parliament cannot do that on its own, the only democratic way I can see to settle the issue is to give the people the final say in another referendum. This is something I have argued for months in the Brexit updates for constituents that I publish regularly on my website.
The Time Is Now
June 26th was a remarkable day for climate action, with over twelve thousand people making their way to Westminster to call on Government to end our contribution to the climate crisis, and to ask MPs to focus minds towards the creation of a new Environment Bill that can stop the proliferation of greenhouse gasses, better protect our natural environment, cut plastic pollution and improve air quality. I was pleased to be able to meet with local constituents who made the trip, and to listen to their specific concerns on local, national and international levels. I know also that there were some who I didn’t get a chance to hear. To those, and to anyone else, I encourage you to write to me expressing your concerns.
This summer Britain made the commitment to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. That was a welcome step, but there is increasing evidence that if we are going to tackle global warming effectively we need to be more ambitious still. Birmingham is one of a growing number of councils up and down the UK who are recognising this by declaring a climate emergency. Labour is also making combatting climate change a centrepiece of our own strategy for the future with our Labour for a Green New Deal plan.
Let’s face it: there is nothing more important than the future of the planet on which we live, and which we hold in trust for future generations.
Last week, it was announced that more than 5,000 head teachers from across England are promising to walk out of their schools to take part in a mass march on Westminster to highlight once again the shortfall in education funding. It is the second such protest, and an issue that has been making headlines for months if not years.
At the start of July, I joined other Labour MPs & head teachers representing schools across the West Midlands at Downing St, calling for an end to the cuts which have been, and continue to prove, so damaging to children’s education. At the time, more than 50 schools across the country had become part-time or going part-time because of a lack of funding. Many are asking parents for regular donations to keep their schools afloat.
Our demand was that the new Chancellor does the right thing by our children by investing in schools when he presents is first Budget in the autumn. We have heard the promises in recent weeks but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles
The automotive sector is a key part of the UK economy, supporting over 850,000 jobs. But transport was also responsible for an estimated 33% of the UK’s carbon emissions in 2018. As Chair of Parliament’s All-Party Motor Group, therefore, a major focus of my work in Parliament is to work for sustainability in the automotive industry, both in its relationship to the environment and to the health of our economy.
In the last month, therefore, I was pleased to host a Parliamentary Briefing to launch the 20th Sustainability Report on the UK’s automotive sector, produced by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and available here.
July also saw me contribute to debates in Parliament on how to expand the proportion of ultra-low and zero emission vehicles on our roads, focussing on the need to expand the numbers, locations usability of charging points and other infrastructure, together with incentives to make it more affordable for more people to make the switch to electric and other ultra-low emission vehicles. You can read my speech in the debate that took place in the Commons on July 4th here.