Current Labour Party Policy

November 11, 2014 in Local, Parliament

Below is a summary of current Labour Party policy.

Cost of Living

- Increase the Minimum Wage to at least £8 an hour within one Parliament.
- Companies bidding for Government contracts required to pay the Living Wage.
- Extend free childcare to 25 hours a week for the 3 and 4 year old children of working parents.
- Freeze energy bills and reform the market so it works for consumers.
- Cap rail fare increases and give local government the power to control spiralling bus fares.

NHS

- Repeal the Government’s disastrous Health and Social Care Act.
- Invest £2.5 billion from a levy on tobacco companies and a clampdown on tax avoidance to address the NHS funding crisis and help it boost the number of nurses, midwives, care workers and doctors.
- Improve the early diagnosis of cancer by ensuring people get their tests and results within a week.
- Full integration of health and social care.

Housing and local Government

- Devolve power and resources in England bringing power closer to local people.
- Build 200,000 homes a year by 2020.
- Reform planning laws to end the building free for all in and around cites like Exeter.
- Repeal the bedroom tax.
- Three or five-year budgets for local councils, so councils can plan long term.

Jobs, growth and supporting business

- Compulsory Jobs Guarantee – a paid job for unemployed young people and the long-term unemployed that they have to take or lose benefits. Funded through a bankers’ bonus tax.
- Cut and then freeze business rates.
- Deliver equal rights for the self-employed in Britain.
- Only allocate major Government contracts to companies with apprenticeships.
- We will not risk jobs and investment in the UK by flirting with leaving the EU. We’ll support our continued membership of a reformed EU.

Fairer taxes

- A levy on homes above £2 million.
- Re-instating the 50p tax bracket for earnings over £150,000 a year.
- Lower 10p starting rate of tax to cut taxes for 24 million working people.
- Reform executive bonuses including requiring payments to be approved by 75% of shareholders.
- Clamp down on tax avoidance including tax loopholes by the hedge funds to raise over £1 billion.

Schools and families

- Ensure all teachers in publicly funded schools are properly qualified.
- More breakfast and after-school clubs to help working parents.
- Keep AS-levels, which evidence shows help social mobility.

Environment and Energy

- Support a binding CO2 reduction target removing all carbon from our electricity by 2030.
- Restore political support for renewable energy.
- More support for walking and cycling.
- Provide support for Green Investment Bank.
- Insulate 5 million homes over the next ten years.
- Protect our seas with a network of Marine Conservation Zones.
- Ensure Britain meets EU air quality standards – currently badly missed under this Government.

Political Reform

- Complete reform of the House of Lords as part of a major package of constitutional reform, establishing an elected senate with senators from the English regions.
- Establish a constitutional convention to agree further political reform including the issue of English votes on English laws
- Extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds.
- Legislate for the power for the public to “recall” (sack) their MP if they have misbehaved or neglected their constituents.

Royal College of Surgeons concerns about NHS in Devon

November 7, 2014 in Local

The Royal College of Surgeons has expressed extreme concern at plans to deny operations to patients in Devon.

Commenting on the new Devon CCGs proposals to limit access to surgical services, Miss Clare Marx, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said:

“Access to routine surgery should always be based on an individual’s clinical need . The Government has been clear that restricting clinically necessary treatment on the basis of financial considerations is unacceptable. We urge the Department of Health and NHS England to review the situation in Devon if the CCG is indeed intending to deny patients treatment without enabling the clinicians and patients involved to make informed choices about their care.

“Patients should be encouraged by their surgeons to take positive steps to improve their own health, especially where it can improve the outcome of their surgery. Evidence-based guidance should be used when determining the provision of surgery. For example it is unacceptable for any CCG to have a blanket ban on elective surgery for people above a certain weight – a patient may have made substantial efforts and been successful in losing weight but in some cases it might be difficult for a patient to continue to lose weight without, for example, a hip or knee operation.

“We produce clear commissioning guidance accredited by NICE to support CCGs when commissioning surgery. Please access the full guidance here.”

Earlier this year the College published a report which found that many CCGs were ignoring clinical evidence in their commissioning policies to impose arbitrary referral criteria in their commissioning policies. This was acting to restrict access to surgery for patients. The report can be read online here.

My question on local NHS

November 6, 2014 in Local, Parliament

At yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, I asked the Prime Minister about the impact of the financial crisis in Devon NHS.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): People in Devon face being denied operations if they are overweight or smokers, as well as the loss of all fertility treatment, cataract operations restricted to just one eye, and the closure of Exeter’s very successful walk-in centre, all because of the unprecedented financial crisis facing my local NHS. Does the Prime Minister still think that his massive and costly reorganisation has been a success?

The Prime Minister: What we did by reducing the bureaucracy in the NHS is save £5 billion in this Parliament. That is why, nationally, there are over 8,000 more doctors and 2,500 more nurses. We have been able to do that only because there are 20,000 fewer administrators in the NHS. Those are the figures.

Mr Bradshaw indicated dissent.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but those are the figures. His local clinical commissioning group is getting an £18 million cash increase in the next year, and it is going to get an additional £19 million through the Better Care fund, so locally there should be improvements in services rather than the picture he paints.

Committee report on arts funding

November 5, 2014 in Committee, Local

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee, on which I sit, has today published a report calling for the funding imbalance between London and the regions to be urgently rectified. The report, and a summary of its findings and proposals, can be read online here.

Labour will move real power to regions

October 31, 2014 in Local, Parliament

Ed Miliband is today unveiling the next steps in Labour’s Plan to spread power and prosperity across England’s regions so that the economic recovery benefits everyday working people – not just a wealthy few.

He is announcing that Labour’s election manifesto will commit the next government to:

• Giving city and county regions more power over their public transport networks so they are able to set the right bus routes and have fairer fares, as well as integrate their transport services to help working people and businesses succeed in their areas. This will give regions similar powers to regulate their bus services as those in London.

• Passing an English Devolution Act to reverse a century of centralisation. This will secure devolution to the people of English regions, transfer £30 billion-worth of funding over five years, and build on the achievements of the last government in devolving power away from Westminster to Scotland and Wales.

• Putting devolution at the heart of the next Labour government with regular meetings of a new English Regional Cabinet Committee chaired by the Prime Minister. This will be attended by relevant Secretaries of State and leaders from major City and County Regions.

Speaking in Manchester where Mr Miliband is chairing a preparatory meeting of the Shadow English Regional Cabinet Committee, he will say:

“The Tories will tell you that everything has been fixed and the country is on the right track. But people who are working hard feel they are struggling to keep their heads above water.

“The recovery may be helping the most powerful and privileged but, in cities and towns across our country, everyday working people are feeling the pain of the longest cost-of-living crisis in a century as sharply as ever.

“Labour has a radical plan for spreading power and prosperity across England’s city and county regions, so that the recovery reaches your town square – not just the Square Mile of the City of London.

“Our plan already goes further than anything this Government can offer and today I am announcing the next steps which build on the work of the Adonis Review to help city and county regions drive growth in their areas.

“For too long powers to regulate and integrate bus services have been enjoyed only by London.

“For too long, the other regions of England have been unable to plan ahead or join up their transport networks to help secure the prosperity they need.

“For too long everyday working people have found their journey to work made harder and more expensive than it needs to be by a deregulated system that fails to serve the public interest.

“And for too long this issue has been ignored by Westminster: prosperity in one party of the country; power devolved in one part of the country; services not run for the public interest everywhere else. That stops today.

“The next Labour government will hand regions that want it the power to regulate their bus services so that local people and local businesses get the public transport system they need to succeed.

“Labour will legislate so that city and county regions can set fares, decide routes, and integrate bus services with trams, trains and the wider public transport network.

“Bus services and public transport should be the arteries that keep our regional economics moving, our roads less clogged with cars, and working people travelling to where businesses need them. We will put the public interest back on our buses.

“At this first preparatory meeting of our new English Regional Shadow Cabinet Committee, we are discussing plans for an England Act to mainstream this devolution agenda into the next government’s programme.

“Our plan will enable every region that comes together as a Combined Authorities like they have here in Greater Manchester to have extra powers and move to electing a leader if they wish.

“It will devolve funding equivalent to £30 billion over five years in areas like transport and housing infrastructure, business support, skills, and employment.

“And it will reverse a century of centralisation so that every region of England can benefit from the local planning and support the last Labour government delivered for Scotland and Wales.”

Policy detail:

1. New powers for city and county regions to regulate bus services

At present most regions have a strong in-built bias towards heavily deregulated bus provision preventing them from delivering integrated public transport plans that would allow Oyster card-style ticketing and joined up networks with rail or tram services. It also prevents them combining a transport plan with a growth strategy.

The existing approach through Quality Partnerships and Quality Contracts has proved ineffective at allowing local areas to better regulate or integrate their bus services.

But in London, a regulated bus system with fares and routes set by an accountable transport authority, has helped see passenger numbers rise in the capital even as they have fallen in the other English metropolitan areas.

Labour’s plan would allow city or county regions which come together in combined authorities to use a simple and swift procedure for getting greater control over local bus services – setting routes and fares, introducing smarter ticketing, and integrating those services with wider public transport and growth plans.

This will mean that rather than different private companies or Whitehall taking decisions about public transport, local areas would be put in the driving seat. Similar models exist successfully in many other countries, including Denmark, and local areas already franchise for some other services in a similar way, for example the Tyne and Wear Metro.

2. An English Devolution Act

This will be a manifesto commitment for legislation making necessary changes to devolve power and funding worth at least £30 billion over five years in areas recommended by the Adonis Review including:

• Transport and Housing – infrastructure funding would be devolved to city and county region authorities

• Business support – funding for business support and enterprise projects would flow directly to strong independent LEPs in return for matched private sector funding and/or in-kind contribution

• Skills – city and county region authorities would also be allocated funding to commission 19+ further education provision based on local commissioning plans

• Employment support – city and county authorities would commission the Work Programme, getting the long term unemployed back to work

And Labour would go much further than the Government in also devolving taxation, integrating health and social care at a local level, as well as seeking to devolve powers beyond our cities to county regions.

Measures include:

• Business Rates – give control over the full revenue from business rates to city and county regions and allowing them to retain 100 per cent of additional money raised

• Health and Social Care – join up commissioning between councils and the NHS for care for people with long-term conditions, disability and frailty

• County regions – the Government talks exclusively about city regions, we will also seek to devolve funding and powers to county regions where councils come together to form combined authorities

Unlike this government which has tried and failed to bring in new mayors for existing local authorities without granting them additional powers, Labour believes that the devolved powers should be granted to Combined Authorities.

They should then be allowed to explore what forms of accountability works for them, including being allowed to elect their own leader if they wish and with the agreement of local councils.

3. An English Regional Cabinet Committee

A Labour Government will convene an English Regional Cabinet Committee chaired by the Prime Minister, and attended by the relevant Secretaries of State and leaders from the major English cities and county regions.

A preparatory meeting of this committee, charged with delivering plans for devolution to England, is meeting in Shadow form in Manchester today.

Those attending include Ed Miliband, Jon Cruddas, Hilary Benn, and Mary Creagh, as well as the leaders of core cities in England, the chairs of the existing combined authorities, and representatives from the LGA, ALC and the English counties.

The first full meeting to be held in January would include a report from Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, on how this devolution will be mainstreamed into the first Spending Review of the Labour Government.

Crisis facing Devon NHS

October 29, 2014 in Local

The NHS in Devon has warned it might have to restrict certain treatments and operations and stop others completely because of the financial crisis it finds itself in.

The Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the new organisation set up to commission (buy) care on behalf of the public, is facing a £14.7 million deficit this year and the situation is only expected to get worse.

Among the measures it is considering are:

- Ending completely IVF treatment for couples finding it difficult to have a baby, in spite of the official national guidance from NICE (The National Institute for Clinical Excellence) that couples should be entitled to at least 3 cycles of IVF.

- Restricting cataract operations to just one eye and stopping some varicose veins treatment.

- Denying or delaying certain operations like hip and knee replacements with people who are morbidly obese.

- Denying or delaying certain operations and treatments to smokers.

- Closing down the very popular and successful NHS Walk-In-Centre in Sidwell Street. This has seen big annual increases in use every year since it opened by people who find it difficult to get to see their GP quickly or at a time that’s convenient to them.

This is all extremely worrying and anyone who has concerns about the proposals should make sure their voices are heard by emailing the CCG or writing to:

NHS Northern Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group
Newcourt House
Old Rydon Lane
Exeter
Devon
EX2 7JU

While Devon CCG is not the only one in serious financial trouble, it has one of the worst deficits in the country. NHS England (the new body set up by this Government to oversee the NHS in England), along with the health regulators, sent in a task force earlier this year to examine Devon CCG’s finances. They were supposed to be trying to identify any areas where work could be done more efficiently and to see if there was an underlying underfunding problem affecting Devon because of things like our high number of very elderly residents.

All that seems to have happened is the CCG has been told it’s got to save money by cutting services. This is not good enough.

I have today written to the Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, asking for an explanation. If Devon is not being underfunded and our local CCG is not doing anything wrong – this shows the seriousness of the crisis now affecting the NHS.

Mr Stevens himself warned in an important speech last week that the next Government would have to find an extra £8 billion to fill the NHS funding gap in the next Parliament. But that funding gap is there now and the public in Devon are suffering as a result.

Local NHS staff, who haven’t had a pay rise for years, do a fantastic job at providing care in increasingly difficult circumstances.

It would be nice if this Government now admitted publicly what it does privately – that its huge top down re-organisation of the NHS – which nobody voted for – has been a costly and catastrophic mistake.

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.