- Budget For Sloth
- Middle East
- High Speed 2
- Human Trafficking
- Probation Services
Budget For Sloth
It was billed as the ‘growth’ budget, that would get Britain moving again. The problem was the central message was that growth is being revised down for the second time – for last year, this year and next year. This time last year the economy was beginning to recover, growth was positive and unemployment was falling. A year on the Chancellor is presiding over an economy which is hardly growing, inflation at a 20 year high and unemployment rising to a 17 year high.
It’s clear that the Chancellor is taking an almighty gamble with the economy through the choices his Government is making. By cutting so deep and so fast Osborne is causing unnecessary suffering to families and great and permanent damage to the economy. The cuts that start from 1 April include everything from tax credits to Sure Start Centres, with police and health services still waiting to see how many clinicians and constables are being laid off - a week before the financial year starts. Unprecedented savings of £81 billion will be made before the next election.
Some poor attempts to shield this with ‘giveaways’ lasted only a few hours before Osborne was rumbled. A £45 a year cut in tax from April 2012 is balanced by changing the uprating of allowances to a lower rate (CPI not RPI). Within three years this will claw back the ‘cut’, which is in any case one tenth of the £450 a year the average family is paying through higher VAT. In boasting a 1p cut in fuel duty the chancellor forgot he has added 3p to a litre of petrol through the VAT rise.
This is economic policy driven by ideology, and lacking credibility. We are already seeing the longest squeeze in living standards since the 1920s, and Wednesday's budget will do nothing to ease the concerns of families up and down the country working hard to make ends meet.
My visit to Cairo last weekend coincided with the national referendum on changes to the Egyptian constitution – the first time that most Egyptian people had taken part in a fair election. The process of election was almost more important than the outcome with long queues forming and judges in place at polling stations to see fair play.
The cross-party visit, led by Lord David Steel, was also an opportunity to discuss the current situation in Libya and the effect changes in the region will have on the peace process. We met several of the presidential candidates, the interim government and opposition parties, some of them still forming out of the crucible of the revolution in Tahrir Square.
I drew on the opinions I heard in making my speech in the debate on intervention in Libya on Monday HERE. I support the UN resolution in that it gives permission for humanitarian intervention to prevent the massacre of civilians, but not military action to achieve regime change.
On Wednesday I met the Syrian ambassador to raise the attacks on civilians in Daraa, and also raised this and Israeli attacks on Gaza with William Hague HERE. This weekend I am again meeting the local Arab community and on Monday attending a national meeting of British Arab community leaders at the Commons.
High Speed 2
On Tuesday I visited the proposed site of the new High Speed 2 London interchange at Old Oak Common. Following consultation – the plans will be on display outside Shepherds Bush Overground station 8am to 8pm on 1 April - it is hoped that approval in principle and for the proposed route will be agreed by the end of this year. There will then be a Bill through Parliament between 2013 and 2015.
Once funding is secure construction will start around 2017, with the Old Oak Common interchange coming early in the construction phase.
The building work will involve moving the existing lines to put in six new platforms to connect Crossrail and Great Western with the new HS2 platforms which are being constructed in an open tunnel.
With a total of fourteen platforms, the Old Oak station will be the country’s major rail interchange, allowing anyone arriving there to choose from a number of destinations, including the West Country, Heathrow, Crossrail stations and international destinations. The travel time to Birmingham will be 42 minutes.
I fully back the proposals and believe they will not only benefit the country by vastly improving the transport infrastructure, but will also provide a much needed boost to the local economy in Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush.
On Thursday morning I attended a day at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College celebrating the contribution that ESOL(English as a second or other language) teaching makes to the local community.
The event was set up to highlight the implications of the Government’s decisions to allow only adults on ‘active’benefits to pay reduced fees. Coupled with the cuts being introduced to ESOL funding this will have a devastating effect on the 70% of the college’s 4,000 studentswho will lose out.
Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College is the largest providers of ESOL qualifications in London, with over 100 languages being spoken there. The Government’s changes, due to be introduced in September 2011 will also cost the College £5m a year in fee income.
This is a crazy decision on the part of the Government, which will deny opportunities to people who wish to improve their English, making them less able to find employment, go on to higher or further education and contribute to the economy.
This week the Government performed a very welcome u-turn on its plans to opt out of the EU Directive on Human Trafficking. Having previously stated their opposition to a Europe-wide approach to tackle the problem of trafficking, the Immigration Minister Damian Green this week announced that the Government were applying to opt in.
The Directive introduces a number of measures, including the extension of the UK’s powers to prosecute UK nationals who commit offences anywhere in the world, and will ensure better protection for victims of trafficking, while increasing the chances of successful prosecutions for gangs who exploit vulnerable people.
The UK had previously been one of only two European countries not to sign up to the directive.
A broad coalition of campaigners from the Archbishop of York to the Labour Party, charities and NGOs has been lobbying the Government to change its mind since the decision was announced last summer.
I was contacted by a number of constituents, and have raised their concerns with the Home Secretary.
On Wednesday I attended a seminar by the local probation service on how they are working to cut offending and reoffending. It included very impressive presentations from ex-offenders who thanks to support with housing, training and living independently now live successful and productive working lives.
The were many positive messages to come out of the event, but I was alarmed to learn that substantial cuts are planned for the probation budget next year, making it hard for this work to continue.
I hope that the Tory councillors present were taking particular notice when one ex-offender commented on the lack of youth provision in the area saying, “I don’t know where there’s a youth club around here’. The council should reconsider their disastrous plans to close even more youth services in the Borough including the Fulham Cross Youth Project.
Coca-Cola’s UK HQ in the Broadway Centre above Hammersmith station has been a major business in the Borough for many years. This week I visited their offices to talk about how they can provide more support to help local charities and the local economy, and how they can make their products more healthy. They have just started national sponsorship of Street Games, which links up Olympic stars with local kids to encourage a healthy lifestyle and interest in sport. With a sponsor in the borough I hope they will continue holding events at White City and Edward Woods in the summer and add other locations.
To contact Andy, please e-mail him at email@example.com or call his office on 020 7610 1950.