Regional Arts Funding

October 16, 2014 in Local, Parliament

The Commons Culture Media and Sports Committee on which I sit is currently doing an inquiry into the balance of arts funding in England. This was prompted by a number of recent independent reports showing that both Government and lottery support for the arts and culture is skewed massively in favour of London and that regions like the South West lose out.

At a recent hearing of the Committee, the Chairman of the Arts Council agreed that the current situation was unfair. In fact, every witness who has given evidence has accepted that – except the Arts Minister himself, Ed Vaizey.

So in questions in the Commons today I asked Mr Vaizey why he alone refused to accept the unfairness. I invited him to study the evidence, join the consensus and do something about it.

The South West is one of three English regions that does worst. There’s a massive imbalance in terms of Arts Council funding per head of population in our region compared with London. But there’s also a big imbalance in Lottery funding. In short, we spend much more on lottery tickets than we get back in grants. In London, the opposite is the case. Of course London, with its national and world class cultural institutions is always going to receive more per head of population than other places, but everyone, except, it seems, the Minister, now accepts the gap is indefensibly large.

It is also far easier to raise philanthropic giving in the capital where you have so many big companies and financial institutions that want to associate themselves with some of our great national cultural institutions. That’s why, under this Government, arts bodies in London have managed to keep going while in the English regions many have cut back or closed completely.

In places like Exeter active and supportive local authorities, like Exeter City Council, have also done their best to keep our arts and cultural scene going. But in Somerset, for example, they have cut all support for the arts with devastating consequences.

I hope when our Select Committee publishes our report in the next few weeks the Government will finally listen, accept there’s a gross imbalance in funding and act.

All Party Parliamentary Group on South West Rail

October 15, 2014 in Local, Parliament

The Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, came this afternoon to a meeting of the All Party SW Rail Group, which I chair. He said he recognised the particular transport challenges we face in the Westcountry.

MPs and Peers from across Devon and Cornwall raised a range of issues including the need to address the vulnerability of the line at Dawlish, speeds, capacity and reliability throughout the region, the importance of branch lines and of upgrading the Waterloo to Exeter line. We also told him electrification should not end at Bristol but should be extended into our part of the region. Other rail issues raised included overcrowding and the need for better rolling stock.

There was also discussion of the importance of improving the A303. On this, the Secretary of State said he was “cautiously optimistic” progress would be able to be made.

On Dawlish, he acknowledged, in response to a question from me, that the cost benefit analysis produced on the alternatives needed to be changed because they don’t fully take into account the wider economic benefits of providing an additional line. This was particularly important because the cost benefit produced for the current consultation judges all the additional route options as “unaffordable”. A number of MPs and Peers raised this and I cited the example in Scotland where the old line between Edinburgh and Galashiels in the Borders is being reopened where the cost benefit is less than an additional line avoiding Dawlish would produce. Mr McLoughlin promised to get back to me on this point.

He also held out the prospect that further electrification would be considered in the next long term planning period (known as CP6). In my view, there is no reason why electrification shouldn’t be extended at least as far as Exeter.

The Minister stressed the benefits of the region “speaking with one voice” on its transport priorities, which is one of the reasons I initiated this group in the first place.

MPs and Peers attending were:
Lord Berkely
Ben Bradshaw MP
Baroness Dean
Andrew George MP
Gary Streeter MP
Anne-Marie Morris MP
Hugo Swire MP
Richard Gibson, CrossCountry
Dilip Sinha, Office of Rail Regulation
James Sloan, Political Consultant, DODS
Alison Seabeck MP
Hazel Phillips, Passenger Focus
Oliver Colvile MP
Sir Nick Harvey MP
Lord Teverson
Sheryll Murray MP

Delays in land searches

October 13, 2014 in Local

I have been receiving lots of complaints from individual constituents, businesses and local estate agents in recent months about the amount of time it’s taking to do land searches in Exeter. There seems to have been a problem in Exeter City Council’s land search service. Earlier in this summer I was assured this was being addressed, but the latest figures are showing a rise rather than a fall in the back-log. This is very worrying and should be an absolute priority for the council to address. I completely understand that all local authorities are under serious financial pressure and Exeter in general has managed these pressures extremely well. But delays in completing land searches can have a damaging effect on the local economy, slowing down buying and selling – the wheels of exchange that keep the economy moving. In the light of the latest figures I am asking the council what action they are taking to address this problem and calling on them to do so as a matter of urgency.

Devon County Council failure on weeds

October 3, 2014 in Local

The failure this year by Devon County Council to control Exeter’s weeds has been bad enough, but the proposal from them to do nothing at all next year beggars belief. Exeter City Council is facing equally serious budgetary constraints, yet it manages to do a decent job on street cleaning, parks and its other responsibilities. But the image of the city is completely let down if the county fails in its duty on weed control.

Next year Exeter will be a show case to the world during the Rugby World Cup. It would be completely unacceptable for this year’s fiasco to be repeated. If Devon can’t or won’t do the job they should hand responsibility and funding to the city who I’m sure would be only too happy to do it.

This is another of the many examples where Exeter is badly let down by Tory run Devon and why Exeter would be better off running its own affairs under a single unitary local authority. This was delivered in 2010 by the then Labour Government, only for the coalition to reverse it in one of their first acts in Government. We are now seeing the damaging consequences of that, whether on weeds, the county switching off our street lights and in the worrying news this week that two of Exeter’s well used youth centres might close, even though there are other organisations willing to take them on, because of incompetence by the county council.

Interview with Heart Radio

September 30, 2014 in Local

My interview with Heart Radio at Labour Party Conference last week is now available to watch online here.

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: (this is the full study) (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.