Latest Echo column

August 21, 2014 in Local

My latest column for the Exeter Express and Echo, on a summer of crises without leadership, real wages falling again and a good move by Exeter Citizens’ Advice Bureau, is available to read online here.

July newsletter

August 1, 2014 in Local, Parliament

The latest edition of my monthly newsletter is now available to read online here.

Minutes of South West Rail APPG

July 30, 2014 in Local, Parliament

Below are the minutes for the inaugural meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Rail in the South West, which took place on 15th July.

All-Party Parliamentary Group for Rail in the South West

Minutes of Inaugural meeting, 15th July 2014, 6pm,
Grand Committee Room, Westminster Hall

Present: Ben Bradshaw MP, Lord Berkeley OBE, Lord Teverson, Baroness Crawley.
In attendance: Hugo Sumner and Caroline Elsom (Anne Marie Morris MP’s office), Jonathan Roberts (JRC).

Apologies: Oliver Colvile MP, Rt Hon the Baroness Corston, George Eustice MP, Andrew George MP, Stephen Gilbert MP, Baroness Jolly, Lord Myners, Rt Hon the Lord Owen CH, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Rt Hon the Baroness Royall, Alison Seabeck MP, Gary Streeter MP, Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP.

1. The purpose of the APPG was set out in the attached annex.

2. It was confirmed that the meeting was quorate and had been properly advertised.

3. Apologies had been received from 13 Members and Peers.

4. A list of 35 Members and Peers who had consented to be APPG members is attached.

5. It was agreed to establish the APPG, and to proceed to election of officers.

6. Ben Bradshaw was proposed as Chair, by Lord Berkeley. Agreed.
Vice-Chairs were proposed by Ben Bradshaw as: Oliver Colville, Andrew George, Anne-Marie Morris. Agreed. Their consent was confirmed on 16th July 2014.
Lord Berkeley was proposed as Secretary by Lord Teverson. Agreed.
Lord Teverson was proposed as Treasurer by Ben Bradshaw. Agreed.

7. Ben Bradshaw confirmed that he would be the registered contact with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. His office would put in hand the formal registration of the Group.

8. The APPG invited Jonathan Roberts (JRC) to support the Group in advisory and secretarial matters. Jonathan Roberts accepted with thanks.

9. Ben Bradshaw asked Jonathan Roberts to set out some of the potential early topics for the Group to consider. He proposed:
• Resilience issues, where the West of Exeter report by Network Rail had been published that day, and would be included in the Great Western Route Study to be circulated for consultation in September 2014.
- The economic consequences of the past winter had been considerable. The region required adequate resilience for now and future years. The sea wall was only one of the current topics.
- The APPG could review the analysis and recommendations, seek briefing, and discuss and raise matters. On behalf of Lord Berkeley, Jonathan Roberts had attended the briefing in the Lords at lunchtime. A short note of that would be circulated to members. Network Rail documents were available at:
http://www.networkrail.co.uk/publications/west-of-exeter-route-resilience-study (this is the full study)
http://www.networkrail.co.uk/publications/west-of-exeter-route-resilience-study-presentation.pdf (this is the slide presentation)
• Growth and its implications for new and improved services, facilities, and station and line capacity.
- A summary analysis of changes in rail passenger demand at stations showed faster-than-average growth in many parts of the South West, over the past 5, 10 and 15 years. The analysis would be circulated, with data by section of line and by station, and listing the constituencies served by each station including the wider catchments.
- The APPG could consider the specification for the new GW franchise, priorities and expenditure plans within the current and future investment periods, and what else might merit priority.
• New trains and electrification were potentially important elements within that context, for a more effective railway in the South West.
- At present, towards the South West, Great Western electrification was planned to cease at Bristol and Newbury. The South West Trains route via Salisbury was not electrified beyond Basingstoke. Both routes had older types of trains.
• The wider economic and social case for rail. Transport was a means to an end. Transformation of public transport demand in places such as London and other city regions, with good marketing and facilities such as Oyster, enabled broad changes in travel preferences and area economic activity.
- Rail was capable of being trusted for individual lifestyles, community priorities, inwards business investment and external promotion.
- The recent (7th July 2014) Growth Fund announcements across England included investment for wider economic purposes.
- The South West’s wider case for rail merited stronger evidence. For example, the valuations of project benefits in the West of Exeter resilience report were based primarily on journey time savings and other ‘narrow’ values, not potential wider project impacts.

Members welcomed the topics. The top priorities were seen as following up on resilience, and understanding the evidence for the wider case for rail. Jonathan Roberts was asked to prepare an initial note on the wider case, during the recess.

10. It was agreed to disseminate summaries of proceedings and recommendations, unless there were private or reserved topics. Similarly, APPG officers could invite a broader attendance at meetings, if desired.

11. The next meeting was proposed for the first two parliamentary weeks in October, when both Houses were back. The Secretary of State for Transport would be invited to discuss the resilience topic.

12. The meeting concluded at 6:30pm.

Members and Peers who have consented to be named as APPG Members for Rail in the South West

Members and Peers who have consented to be named as APPG Members for Rail in the South West.

Purpose of an APPG for railways in the South West

(Discussion note circulated June 2014)

It has been proposed that an All Party Parliamentary South West Rail Group be formed.

This is part of a chain reaction to the area’s severe transport difficulties last winter which have had profound economic consequences. Damage to the Dawlish sea wall and flooding across the Somerset Levels were disastrous locally and regionally, interrupting communications, and damaging reputation and forward investment via tourism and business plans. There was other disruption as well. Recovery is still underway.

The underlying objective is to help channel the wider sense of purpose now existing across the South West, to place the region and its constituent areas strongly on a better connected and funded transport infrastructure, that will underpin economic growth, ‘gross value added’ and social inclusivity.

Rail will be an important part of overall transport solutions, alongside digital communications and specialisms, knowledge and science expansion. The geography embraces the Great Western/M4 and SWT/A303 corridors, the ‘Far South West’ counties and unitaries, and within the West of England city region and the Severn Valley‘s south western counties.

So that we focus on what it ‘says on the box’, it is proposed that the APPG’s terms of reference should be:

“To examine issues concerning rail facilities and infrastructure in the South West, and rail’s role in enabling economic growth, a sustainable environment and social inclusivity, to raise awareness of those issues among parliamentarians and provide a focus for discussion and debate, and generate recommendations for the government, Parliament and other bodies to consider”.

My question on patient safety

June 25, 2014 in Local, Parliament

My question to the Secretary of State for Health during yesterday’s Urgent Question on patient safety.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): An Exeter psychiatric nurse of more than 20 years’ standing wrote to me in despair this week saying that “mental health services are in collapse”, and that patients are regularly placed in “life threatening” situations or sent as far away as Bradford because there are no beds locally. Vulnerable people are waiting a shocking three months for the co-ordination of their care. How dare the Secretary of State come to the House today and claim that our mental health services are not in crisis?

Mr Hunt: There are real pressures in our mental health services, but the right hon. Gentleman should recognise the progress that the Government have made. That includes doubling the money going into talking therapies, having global summits on dementia and putting a massive amount of money towards raising the profile of dementia in this country and across the globe, and legislating for parity of esteem between mental and physical health—something that never happened under the previous Government. There is a lot of work to do, but I think he should give credit where it is due.

Exterior of the Houses of Parliament

Latest edition of monthly newsletter

June 19, 2014 in Local, Parliament

The latest edition of my monthly newsletter is now available to read online here.

Closure of Devon’s Care Homes

June 19, 2014 in Local

The Devon County Labour Group have called in Devon County Council’s decision to close 20 care homes, leaving more than 400 vulnerable adults with an uncertain future and more than 1,000 employees without a job, so that it will be debated and scrutinized at the County Councils Cabinet meeting.
County Labour Leader Cllr Richard Westlake stated;

“ Tory controlled Devon County Council have now agreed this latest wave of cuts to essential services, that includes closing these council residential homes. The proposals have generated a great deal of concern amongst service users, staff , local unions and other concerned stakeholders , who have campaigned hard to ensure that the services are protected through the council’s public consultations.”

“ Yet today we learn that the Council has largely ignored those efforts and the risks highlighted. We have huge concerns that now these services will be privatised away from the council that there will be a drop in the availability and standards of care and services for people that really need them in our local communities, and reductions in the pay and conditions for the care givers, so we will be doing our best across all the scrutiny committees to closely monitor these important issues.”

Cllr Andy Hannan , who serves on the People Scrutiny Committee and represents Priory and St Leonards stated;

“This is a hugely difficult and stressful time for the service users and all the effected staff who are very worried about these changes. The key issue is what will happen to these very vulnerable people when the county council walks away from them. Its also not clear what will happen to those who still require a building based service if there are no longer any buildings left. If this is all forced through its essential that as part of the commissioning process we scrutinise the quality, standards and delivery of these services in the independent homes that we are using.”

Letter on shale gas extraction

June 18, 2014 in Local, Parliament

Below is the letter I have sent to constituents who have recently contacted me regarding shale gas extraction:

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding shale gas extraction and the Government’s announcement in the Queen’s Speech.

Labour believes shale gas extraction should only go ahead if there is robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement, and in a way which is consistent with decarbonising our electricity supply by 2030.

Gas is a fuel which remains vital to the operation of our homes, services and businesses in the UK. 80% of our homes rely on gas for heating, while around 30% of our electricity comes from gas fired power stations. While low carbon power generation will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels over time, we will still need flexible power to help manage peaks in demand. Projections from the National Grid expect gas continuing to play an important role in our energy system for many years to come.

While demand for gas continues to be high, our ability to source this fuel from within our own borders has been steadily declining. In 2004, the UK became a net importer of gas for the first time since North Sea extraction began. For those reasons, the possibility to source gas from the UK should not be ruled out without careful consideration, especially given the recent behaviour of President Putin and the reliance of much of the rest of Europe on Russian gas.

The Government’s Infrastructure Bill proposes changes to the regulations on extracting shale gas. Conventional oil and gas exploration and production mostly involves vertical or near-vertical drilling from one spot at the surface. A well for shale gas, however, will usually run vertically down and then extend horizontally for some distance – this could be as much as 2 miles, or even more. This would mean that companies would have to seek permission from a large number of landowners. As it stands, the existing legislation allows coal mining, water, sewage and gas transportation pipelines to have underground access without needing the permission of the landowner, but not shale gas or deep geothermal. In reality it would provide an effective block on extracting shale gas and deep geothermal in the UK.

At the end of May the government published a consultation on changes to trespass regulations and confirmed their intention to legislate in the forthcoming Infrastructure Bill. These changes will mean that while shale gas companies will still need the permission of landowners for surface access and still require local planning consent, underpinned by environmental impact assessments, they will not need permission for underground access at depths of 300m or more. Labour does not oppose these reforms. However, the issue of underground access rights is separate from the environmental and safety framework. Only by fully addressing legitimate environmental and safety concerns about extracting shale gas with robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement will people have confidence that the exploration and possible extraction of shale gas is a safe and reliable source that can contribute to the UK’s energy mix.

I will therefore continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened. In 2012 Labour set out six tough environmental conditions which should be in place prior to any shale gas extraction taking place in the UK. While the government accepted four of the six conditions in December 2012, we still believe that the regulatory framework is not sufficiently robust. It is clear that the level of methane in groundwater should be assessed prior to any drilling. Methane can occur naturally in groundwater, so it is important that robust baseline information exists to monitor activity against. Further, all monitoring activity should take place over a twelve month period, to allow sufficient time to gather all of the evidence required to make an informed decision on whether to proceed with exploration. Labour will continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened in these areas and for assurances that the responsibility for clean-up costs and liability for any untoward consequences rests fairly and squarely with the industry, not with taxpayers or homeowners. Many other concerns remain, particularly regarding the effectiveness of the monitoring process and the capacity of the relevant bodies to undertake that monitoring and enforce the regulations, which must be addressed.

Finally, it goes without saying that UK energy policy needs a massive shift towards low and zero carbon generation. So I have been dismayed by the decline in the growth of the renewables sector under this Government. Labour is committed to revitalising the renewables sector and to a binding carbon reduction target by 2030.

I hope that this is helpful.

With very best wishes,

Ben Bradshaw MP

Fall in proportion of offences brought to justice

June 9, 2014 in Local

Latest statistics show a big fall in the percentage of crimes solved in Devon and Cornwall under this Government.

-

Police officer full time equivalents (FTEs), police recorded crime, offences brought to justice, by police force area 2010-2013. Police Force area – Devon and Cornwall

Police officers (FTEs) at March each year
2010 – 3,556
2011 – 3,436
2012 – 3,225
2013 – 3,082
% Change 2010-2013 – 13.3

Offences brought to justice as a % of recorded crime
2010 – 35.1
2011 – 33.7
2012 – 29.2
2013 – 27.2

Message from Matthew Vizard, Chair of Exeter Labour Party

May 28, 2014 in Local

Dear All,

I hope by now most of you will have heard about the great election results in Exeter. I wanted to send you details and thank everyone who gave their time over the past months and/or on election day to enable us to retain control of Exeter City Council and help regain a Labour MEP – the excellent Clare Moody – for the South West

A third of the 40 City Council ward seats were contested on Thursday and Labour gained three councillors. We now hold 27 of the 40 City Council seats, giving Labour amajority of 14 – a record as far as we know. Gaining three additional women councillors also means we have achieved virtual parity of women and men in our council team – a ratio of 13:14 – which may be a first for a ruling council group in the UK.

European Election Results

Clare Moody has been elected as Labour MEP for the South West, an important gain after Labour lost its one SW MEP in 2009. We have sent Clare our congratulations and hope to see her in Exeter again soon.

The Lib Dems have lost their MEP – a remarkable result in one of their few heartlands. The Tories lost one of their three MEPs and the Greens gained their first.

Exeter Poll -
Labour – 9608
UKIP – 8801
Conservatives – 7587
Greens – 5244
Lib Dems – 2760

Overall South West Poll -
UKIP – 484,184
Conservatives – 433,151
Labour – 206,124
Greens – 166,447
Lib Dems – 160,376

Breakdown of 6 South West MEPs -
UKIP = 2 (no change)
Conservatives = 2 (-1)
Labour = 1 (+1)
Greens = 1 (+1)

Exeter City Council Elections

You can find the full breakdown of results on the Exeter City Council website -

http://www.exeter.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=15054

Labour Gains

Alphington – Suaad George was elected, a Labour gain from the Lib Dems. We now hold all 3 City Council seats in Alphington as well as the County Council Alphington/Cowick seat.

Heavitree – Olwen Foggin was elected, a Labour gain from the Tories. We now hold both City Council seats in Heavitree as well as the Heavitree/Whipton Barton County Council seat.

Polsloe – Christine Raybould-Gooding was elected, a Labour gain from the Tories, defeating the long-serving Tory group leader Yolonda Henson. We now hold both City Council seats in Polsloe as well as the Newtown/Polsloe County Council seat.

Young Labour Victories

We have two new committed young councillors from our brilliant Exeter University student group -

Mincinglake – Stephen Brimble held the seat for Labour.

Pinhoe – Meg Williams was elected seeing off the Tory challenge in a key swing seat.

Labour continues to hold all the Mincinglake and Pinhoe seats. Our huge thanks to Moira McDonald and Ian Martin – high profile voices on Exeter City Council who both decided to step down as councillors this year but I’m sure will continue to play a big role in Exeter Labour Party. I know they will both be delighted with their young successors.

Hard Working Labour Councillors Rewarded

Our returning councillors all held their seats comfortably -

Cowick – Heather Morris held her seat for Labour.

Exwick – Rachel Sutton held her seat for Labour.

Newtown – Roger Spackman held his seat for Labour.

Priory – Lesley Robson held her seat for Labour.

Whipton Barton – Labour Council Leader Pete Edwards held his seat.

Next Time!

Our success in the last few years, includes increasingly strong showings in seats where we have not traditionally had our biggest support.

Duryard – John Chilvers, another of our talented young students came an excellent second to the Tories in a seat we did not target.

Pennsylvania – In a key target seat for the Tories, Dan Richards continued to prove there is good Labour support there. Peter Holland took the seat from the Lib Dem Tim Payne.

St Davids – Despite her incredibly hard working team, Natalie Vizard narrowly missed being elected in a titanic battle with the Lib Dems who had to pour their limited resources into the area in order to defend it. This cost them vital effort in Alphington and Pennsylvania, where they lost both councillors. Stella Brock held her seat but Labour holds the other City seat and the St Davids/St James County seat.

Thank you

Thank you to all of our candidates and to their teams; to Ben Bradshaw and his team for their tireless efforts over virtually the entire city; to all those who helped at Clifton Hill led by Pete King and the indefatigable Eddie Lopez and to those who generously hosted committee rooms in their homes.

Finally thank you to our supreme strategist and Campaign Organiser Dom Collins for a brilliant job once again. Calm, organised and authoritative, he is always a pleasure to work with.

The campaign continues…

I hope everyone has a chance to enjoy some well earned rest ahead of the vital campaign towards the 2015 general election where we hope to get our MP Ben Bradshaw elected for a fifth time. There will also be further city council ward elections next year and members are invited to contact us if you would be interested in standing.

Celebrations

We hope to see many of you at our post-election celebration party this Friday (30th May) from 7.30pm at 26B Clifton Hill. Entry is free. Buffet food (contributions welcome) and bar.

And don’t forget the fabulous Exeter Respect Festival next weekend – celebrating our city’s diversity.

Saturday 31st May – Sunday 1st June in Belmont Park.

Come and help out on our stall or just say hello.

http://www.exeter-respect.org/

Thank you all.

European election results

May 26, 2014 in Local

Many congratulations to the South West’s new Labour MEP, Clare Moody, who worked tirelessly during the campaign (including several visits to Exeter) and who will make a great representative for our region in Europe.

Congratulations too to Exeter Party for ensuring our city was one of a very small number of places in the region where Labour topped the European poll.

I am also pleased that instead of UKIP gaining any seats in the South West it was the Greens who were the other winners, with the Tories and Lib Dems losing out.

In a region where renewable energy is vital for our future prosperity and to deal with dangerous climate change, and with a Prime Minister who claimed he’d run the greenest Government ever, but talks now of “cutting the Green crap”, having a Green MEP is far preferable to any other non-Labour alternative.

But elsewhere, with the exception of London, these election results were not as good as I would have liked to see for Labour.

I wrote a blog on Friday after the local election results (which can be read here) on how Labour can replicate the successes we’ve had in Exeter elsewhere and don’t really have anything to add. It’s quite simple really, but essential if we’re to have a hope of winning next year’s general election and getting rid of this dreadful Government.