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.

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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.

Local election results

May 23, 2014 in Local

Once again Exeter Labour has shown how to win elections.

We gained two seats, Heavitree and Polsloe, from the Tories and one, Alphington, from the Liberal Democrats.

In Polsloe, Labour beat the veteran and widely respected leader of the Tory group on the council.

Labour now holds 27 of the 40 seats, an all time record. Our majority is higher than at the height of Labour’s national popularity in the early years of Tony Blair’s leadership.

Exeter returned a Tory Member of Parliament before 1997 and is the sort of Southern English seat outside London we must win more of to win next year’s election.

We also have our first Exeter University undergraduates elected councillors – which is great in a city where the university plays such an important role – and our first ethnic minority councillor.

So, what’s the secret of Labour’s consistent success in Exeter over the years?

Three things: organisation, reputation and communication.

Organisation: We don’t just work at election time, but Labour volunteers and councillors are out all year round listening to people, doing their casework and identifying our support.

Reputation: Labour has run Exeter very well. We have one of the lowest council taxes in England, well-run services and a strong relationship with business, which has attracted inward investment and growth.

Communication: We do our own local communication focussing on Exeter’s local success and Labour’s appealing national policies. Our messaging is centrist, positive and forward looking. People don’t want political slogans but a credible, positive alternative to this Government.

A last word on UKIP. Exeter is no different from many places where UKIP has done well in these elections. The reason they haven’t here is because we work hard in those wards where they might otherwise make inroads. The consequence is they hurt the Tories much more than us.

Thank you so much to all the wonderful Labour volunteers, candidates and councillors in Exeter for all your hard work and to the people of Exeter for putting their trust in us again.

If any Labour colleagues from the rest of the country would like to come and learn how it’s done, you’d be most welcome.

Exeter Citizens Advice on zero-hours contracts

May 15, 2014 in Local

Exeter Citizens Advice Bureau has warned that forcing people to accept zero hours contracts or face benefit sanctions could leave jobseekers with no income and little chance of securing stable employment in the long term.

Exeter CAB Chief Executive, Steve Barriball, said:
“Zero hours can mean zero prospects and zero income. Forcing people to accept a role which offers little or no guarantee of an income could leave jobseekers facing the daunting choice between a tough financial sanction and the Russian roulette of a zero-hour contract. The 60 per cent rise in people coming to Citizens Advice for help with JSA sanctions shows that this system is causing anxiety whilst doing little to help people get work.

“Getting people into stable employment is the surest way of reducing the cost of out-of-work support. Financial support needs to be paired with help to develop skills and increase the likelihood of finding work in the long-term. A role with few hours of work and no guaranteed income could mean hard-pressed families find their gains from work outweighed by childcare and transport costs.

“As part of the Government’s review of zero-hour contracts, ministers have a responsibility to tighten the rules so workers have decent rights and a guarantee of a minimum income.”

Why progressive pro-Europeans should vote Labour in the European elections in the South West

May 15, 2014 in Local

We currently have 3 Tory, 2 UKIP and 1 Liberal Democrat MEP in our region. Labour narrowly lost our only MEP in the elections 5 years ago in 2009, when we did disastrously across the country as a whole. So we have high hopes of winning a seat back this time and our top candidate, Clare Moody, would make an excellent MEP.

Because of the regional list system, a party needs to win a reasonable overall percentage of the votes to secure an MEP. Based on current regional and national opinion polls, the Liberal Democrats could well lose their only SW MEP. UKIP could well gain a seat from the Tories. Labour is the only progressive, pro European Party, that has a chance of actually gaining a seat. The reason this matters is that if progressive people vote for one of the other smaller parties rather than Labour, the result could be a region represented only by Tory and UKIP MEPs. That would be a nightmare scenario, not least because of the importance of EU support for our region, particularly the massive economic help that Cornwall receives.