Bristol South

Public Accounts Committee visit to Bristol

Karin Smyth Meg Hillier Bristol Sept 2015
Meg Hillier MP (left) pictured during the visit to Bristol, organised by Karin Smyth MP

A House of Commons Committee fact-finding visit to Bristol, aimed at helping shape future policy-making on devolution to cities, took place on Thursday (3 September).

The intelligence gathering visit, by Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chair Meg Hillier MP, Bristol South MP Karin Smyth and PAC / National Audit Office officials, was held ahead of the Committee’s formal evidence session on Wave 1 City Deals (Wednesday 15 September). The PAC will then publish a report on City Deals at a later date.

Karin Smyth MP said: “Bristol was the only city to vote in favour of an elected mayor when given an opportunity, so it is important we are at the forefront of the devolution debate.

“There are huge economic inequalities in Bristol, thwarting the potential of so many talented local people and, three years on from the election of a mayor and the City Deal, Bristolians still await improvements to housing, skills, jobs and transport.

“As the only core city in the first wave of City Deals to have an elected mayor, I want to ensure other places learn from Bristol’s experience, which is why I was keen to organise this fact-finding visit. The outcomes will be fed in to the Public Accounts Committee’s investigation into City Deals with the aim of influencing future government policy and ensuring good value for taxpayers.”

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, added: “I was impressed by the plans for the city region. Bristol is becoming a vital modern tech hub. There are important lessons for other cities and regions about how to get value for money for taxpayers through devolved services.”

Background:

• In 2012, the Government signed Wave 1 City Deals with the eight core cities: Greater Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Leeds and Nottingham to devolve more funding and responsibilities to local places.

• The Government has since signed Wave 2 City Deals with 18 more localities in England, Growth Deals with England’s 39 LEPs and ‘Devolution Deals’ with Greater Manchester, Sheffield City Region and Leeds City Region. To date, the Government has committed £2.3 billion to the deals using funding from eight departments to support around 40 programmes over a 30 year period and should impact the lives of the 12.7 million people living in the Wave 1 City Deal areas.

• City Deals are still at an early stage of their development and it is too early to conclude on their overall impact. However, as the Government has set out its aim to continue devolving responsibility for local growth to cities and local places, the visit formed part of PAC’s examination of progress early so lessons can be identified to inform future initiatives.

Trade Union Bill seeks to gag working people

Tolpuddle 2015 Karin Smyth MPKarin Smyth joined thousands of trade unionists and supporters at the 2015 Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival in Dorset on Sunday 19 July.

The Labour MP addressed the main stage rally, part of the annual weekend-long festival which commemorates the Tolpuddle Martyrs

She said: “Today the collective need for the rights of working people to be recognised, cherished and protected is as relevant as ever.”

And commenting on the government’s new Trade Union Bill she added: “Our country and the people living here face many, many big challenges. But they will not be addressed by a law that is set to criminalise working people who want to protect their rights. It is a law that seems intent on gagging working people the moment they want to challenge their working conditions; their health and safety, and their rates of pay.

Tolpuddle 2015 Karin Smyth MP“Taking forward the trade union’s proud traditions of educating and informing members and communities will be important to ensure everyone in the country knows the truth about this Bill’s intents and outcomes.”

Tolpuddle 2015 2The Tolpuddle Martrys were six farm workers, leaders of a newly formed trade union, who in 1834 were arrested and sentenced to seven years’ transportation for taking an oath of secrecy, sparking a major nationwide protest. The Dorset village has been an icon of the trade union movement ever since.

The choice facing us in the Labour Party

Here is the text of my recent newsletter emailed to all members and supporters in Bristol South:

Dear members and supporters,

It is great to be able to say that this email is being sent to more members and supporters of Labour in Bristol South than ever before. To our long-standing members, thank you for your continued support in my first few months as your M.P. To newcomers, and returners, a hearty welcome. I hope to get to meet you all in due course. I have always been a strong believer in regular direct contact with voters to understand what matters to them and keep the Labour Party relevant.

The Labour Party has always been a mass movement of people, from different traditions, coming together to deliver fairness, equality and justice across society.  It is exciting to have had so many people join the party in the past few months as it gives us a great opportunity to organise together with the shared aim of removing the Conservative government at the earliest opportunity.

At the election the Tories increased their vote in Bristol South and although UKIP came third they still have one UKIP councillor in Hengrove.  My current local campaign priorities are to support better opportunities and training for 16 year olds, increase housing supply and improve rights for tenants.  We will also be campaigning to ensure that our community hospital provides services to better meet local health need. I hope you will join me and our Councillors at street surgeries in the next few weeks and months to take these campaigns to people across the constituency.

Many recent joiners have been inspired to do so by the opportunity to vote in our leadership elections.  The choice we make now between Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall is of national importance.

Like many members and supporters, I was devastated by the general election result, despite our successes in Bristol. The electorate sent us clear messages; they did not trust us with the economy and they did not trust our choice of leader.

We failed to effectively challenge the lies of the Tories and their Lib Dem friends that the economic crash was caused by the last Labour Government. Nor was it caused by nurses, fire fighters, teachers, students or pensioners; it was a global banking crisis, and the economy was growing again in 2010 when we lost power.

I am disappointed that our leaders have not defended our record in government much more effectively.   Our 13 years delivered improvements in all south Bristol schools, a local hospital after a 60 year campaign, Sure Start centres, workers’ rights, gay and equal rights and increased overseas aid. We introduced the minimum wage and delivered growth, low inflation and reduced unemployment. Change and progress I marched for in the 1980s, only finally delivered by our Labour government in power from 1997.

During our time in government we also made mistakes including the Iraq war, insufficient bank regulation and not enough to prevent tax evasion.

We also made compromises to deliver our plans; it is an inevitable part of holding political power.  We should learn from our mistakes but not be cowed by them.

The next five years of Tory plans will be hard for us all, but hardest of all for those in Bristol South most dependant on a fair economy, our state and public services. Our collective ambition must be to mitigate the Tories’ impact by effective opposition; but we must replace them as soon as possible by winning back the power to change people’s lives.  That means winning back seats across the south, east and south-west of England that have now have huge Tory majorities.  Labour won only 12 out of 197 of these seats.

The leadership campaigns are fascinating; Jeremy Corbyn’s stated desire for a straight talking, policy focussed debate resonates with me. He articulates our need to challenge unfairness (whether by big businesses paying fair taxes or those needing welfare getting our support) with passion and clarity. I understand that for some he represents ‘change’, tapping into dissatisfaction with the excessive control of decision making by previous leaders and their advisers that has made our mass movement feel too centralised.

We need to give hope to those who know that the middle aged white male elite running the Tory party do not understand their lives; we need to give direction to our economy that looks at greener, high tech jobs as well as traditional industry; we need to kick start children’s life chances by emphasising the importance of pre-school opportunities and childcare; we need a vision to build two million more homes to address the housing crisis.

That is why I am supporting Yvette Cooper to be our next leader. As the Guardian newspaper said “Corbyn has shaped the campaign, but Cooper can shape the future”.

What better change than to have a woman leading our party? Her practical, feminist approach would contrast spectacularly with the high-handed air of privilege from the Tory front bench.

Yvette Cooper has the intellect, passion and Labour values to be a great leader and prime minister. She has been consistently effective on the front bench as Home Office lead; she shows vision with an alternative to George Osborne on the economy; and she unsettles David Cameron with her common touch.  She is the candidate the Tories fear most.

She is also best placed to unite our party and capture the strengths and ideas from across our movement. However, those who tell you ‘anyone but Corbyn’ risk adding to the tone that turns people off politics. We must take the opportunity that this surge in interest in our party offers us by continuing to debate the range of views of members and supporters, whilst committing to winning the election in 2020.

All four candidates have identified the fact that the Labour Party needs to change. We need a better way of doing things that is forward looking, focussed on the way the world is and will be; not how it was. Rather than move to the left or the right what we need is a broader movement, winning support from all parts of society, including those who do not vote, because that is the way to win back power.

I, like you, hold a range of views, passions and principles that I want to support. My political principle is simple; to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in Bristol South by delivering a Labour government. I believe that Yvette Cooper is the best choice to achieve that.

Yours sincerely,

Karin Smyth

Yvette Cooper – the outstanding choice for a future Prime Minister

Yvette_CooperHere’s the text of a speech that Yvette Cooper gave today. This sums up why I’m backing her for leader of the Labour Party.

Text of speech given by Yvette Cooper, 13 August 2015

“Tomorrow the ballots go out. Tomorrow we start to choose.

If the polls are right – and it’s a big if – there’s a battle on for the soul of our party It’s not about personalities. It’s about the future of our country.

And I will not duck that fight. Because there is too much at stake.

I’m here because I can’t walk away from this party.

I can’t walk away from the people Labour was built to serve.

Too often in this race people have suggested that only one candidate has principles. – Rubbish.

I’m the granddaughter of a miner, the daughter of a trade unionist, a comprehensive girl who was brought up to believe in the strength and solidarity of family, trade unions and the coalfield communities.

The belief that we are stronger if we stand together than if we leave each other to sink or swim alone, that you have an obligation to work hard, to get on, to look out for your neighbour and to make sure no one is left behind.

And because I know I’ve had more chances in life than my mum and grandma thanks to the Labour campaign for women’s equality, I’ve long been part of that radical equality tradition in our party – drawn from the emancipation and liberation movements. It’s why I believe in the deep equality of equal respect for every human being, why one of the first campaigns I joined was against Section 28 and why I was proud to lead Labour’s campaign for equal marriage.

It’s why I hate what the Tories are doing to Britain.

Why I believe it is so unjust that half the world’s wealth sits in the hands of the top 1%. Why I hate the fact that prejudice and poverty still hold too many people back.

Like most of us, I didn’t join the Labour party because I like stuffing envelopes, leafleting in the rain.

I joined the party I love a quarter of a century ago because I believe in something.

That the world needn’t be this way.

That the gap between rich and poor is too big.

That markets should serve humanity not humanity serve markets.

That diplomacy is better than war, but sometimes you have to be ready to fight for justice.

That Labour must always give voice to the voiceless, strength to the weak.

That the Tories don’t have a right to rule.

That a woman can lead the Labour party.

But our party is facing a crisis in our identity – and it hasn’t come from nowhere.

Of course we are bruised by two defeats. But it’s more than that. Across Europe, social democratic and long standing left of centre parties have found themselves under pressure in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

In just the last 12 months we have seen the Danish social democrats lose – with a centre right coalition in power, and an anti-immigrant party now the second largest party.

In the European Parliament elections last year parties of the far right made spectacular gains – including victory for Front National in France amid accusations of betrayal levelled at the French socialists.

In Greece the social democrats have gone from governing just six years ago to just a handful of seats. Meanwhile Syriza captured huge populist momentum but are now struggling with the realities of political compromise.

The Spanish socialists lost power to the centre right in 2011 and the insurgent party Podemos now has the second largest membership of any political party – despite only being founded a year ago. Here at home Labour went down to a disappointing defeat losing votes to the Tories, UKIP, the SNP and the Greens.

European social democracy is fracturing, losing or turning to a more uncompromising politics that divides the electorate. Too often the winners have been the right.

We shouldn’t forget the sheer scale of the global financial crisis we went through – and how close we came to losing our savings, our pensions, our hopes and dreams as markets failed and global banks crashed.

The only reason we didn’t was because all of us, society, taxpayers, governments across the globe stood together and used our common strength to stop entire markets and entire economies crashing down around our ears.

It was a Labour response, and a Labour Prime Minister and Chancellor who led the debate across the world to stop the global economy crashing.

Yet politics changed in the aftermath. The right seized their chance across Europe, and both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats in Britain argued that far from being a private sector crisis, it was actually the public sector to blame.

The left had a tougher case to make – to explain both why the deficit didn’t cause the crisis and why it still had to come back down. And it was harder to offer optimism and hope when budgets were so tight.

And as parties steeped in the principles of solidarity and internationalism – we’ve not yet set out a clear enough response to the politics of rising nationalism, fragmentation and blame.

At the same time the old industrial workplaces from which our party was forged are largely gone. Most working people aren’t members of trade unions any more. More people self-employed, more people setting up their own businesses. But also more people working for agencies, in and out of temporary work. More people trapped in low paid jobs. Working lives more insecure. Families more stretched.

The world is changing fast with more travel and trade, more migration changing communities, faster technology providing great opportunities but leaving more behind.

At the election we didn’t offer enough optimism for those with strong aspirations for their future.

But also enough reassurance and support for those who felt left behind at the end of the line.

Our party started in the workplace solidarity of the industrial revolution.

Now we have to build a new argument for social solidarity in a post industrial age.

But when times are tough, and the old answers, and the old parties don’t seem to be working, people cast around for something else.

Something different. Something subversive. Something to kick out at the system, to express anger, frustration and the demand for change.

In different ways that’s fuelled support for the SNP and for UKIP.

And so now in the Labour party, in the yearning for answers and for Britain to change, I can see why many people have bought into what Jeremy is offering.

I’m not going to dismiss the values and the intentions of Jeremy and those who are supporting him. I’m not going to claim they don’t believe in social justice or the ideals of the Labour party because I don’t think that’s right.

But nor am I going to pander or pretend I agree with them on the answers, and claim I’m just a more electable version of what they stand for.

Because the truth is that Jeremy is offering old solutions to old problems, not new answers to the problems of today.

We have to look the 21st century in the eye, face up to the future.

That’s where we will find the new radicalism, the answers in the modern fight for social justice, equality and solidarity Not the old answers of the past.

I understand Jeremy has strong support.

But i feel really strongly – not just as a leadership candidate but as a Labour Party member that desperately wants an effective Labour Government – that his are the wrong answers for the future.

That they aren’t radical.

And they aren’t credible.

That they won’t change the world, they will keep us out of power and stop us changing the world.

That’s what I want to set out this morning.

Saying this rather than pretending I agree with the person who is currently the most popular candidate in the race may lose me votes. But it needs to be said.

Our party, the values we stand for, and the country we want to fight for are too important not to be honest about what is at stake.

And I want to show today that there is an alternative that is both radical and credible, true to our values, but serious enough to win.

And we have to fight for it before it is too late.

Consider the future economic challenges we face.

Our economy is polarising, too reliant on cheap labour. Britain isn’t creating high quality new jobs. Economic power and wealth are stuck in the hands of the few not the many. From the Governor of the Bank of England to the Head of the OECD, global economic leaders are warning that the short termism of markets and widening inequality are undermining growth and prosperity.

Gone now are so many of the factories and mills even of thirty years ago. This is an interdependent, networked world which invests more in IT knowledge than in bricks, mortar and machines. The fight for social justice has to start from today, not the world we remember it to be.

As Hilary Clinton has warned we still have a quarterly capitalism based on short term cashing instead of investing in the future of long term growth. The Tories can’t solve this – they just believe in laissez faire, in shrinking the state and pulling back.

The radical approach of the future is to reform capitalism so it serves people, not to try to destroy it with nothing to put in its place. To reform markets so power isn’t concentrated, so they encourage the talents and ideas of all, invest in the long term, not return to clause IV as Jeremy has suggested.

To work with business to double our investment in science and the future, so we can create 2 million more good quality high tech manufacturing jobs not return to British Leyland.

To deliver the vocational revolution we need, end the old British snobbery between academic and vocational skills that is holding us back. And we should be devolving education and skills out of Whitehall and into local councils and communities not the centralising policies either of Michael Gove, or Jeremy’s plan for a National Education Service.

The radical plan is to put power in the hands of the many not the few. Not to concentrate power in Whitehall, or in the central state, but to hand it back to communities across the country to give people control over their lives.

And we need what is bluntly a much more feminist approach to our economy and society. Put family at the centre of our economy. As any parent will tell you, that would be really radical and it would transform families lives. Stop families being stretched and stained to fit round work, and change work to fit round family life. Universal free childcare should be as much the infrastructure of the modern economy as trains, planes and boys toys.

And we need a radical vision to end child poverty in a generation – to stop poverty and prejudice holding people back. That’s why one of the simplest and most radical policies we have is Sure Start.

As one of the Ministers who started it I think it doesn’t go far enough. We should extend it, not just for the under-fives but for older families too.

There in the heart of the family is the power to give every child the love, the hope, the opportunity they need. Yet poverty, trauma, lack of opportunity or abuse can destroy lives for generations.

I talked to one Mum about what Sure Start meant to her. She had hit rock bottom, the council had tried to take her children away because she couldn’t cope. Then she went to Sure Start. She told me without it she wouldn’t have been sitting there living and breathing in front of me. She got her kids back and her confidence and strength back too. Got some training. Part time work. And she joined – and then she led – the local labour party campaign to keep it open when it was threatened with closure. They put her on the council, and this autumn she starts her university degree. All because of sure start. That’s the vision I want.

And people say they want radical politics.

So tell me what you think is more radical.

Bringing back clause IV: spending billions of pounds we haven’t got switching control of some power stations from a group of white middle aged men in an energy company to a group of white middle aged men in Whitehall. Or extending Sure Start; giving mothers the power and confidence to transform their own lives and transform their children’s lives for years to come.

What is more radical? False promises to the South Wales mining communities you will re-open the now capped and flooded pits or investing in the green technology including clean coal technology of the future.

Britain’s last deep mined pit Kellingley pit is still open in my constituency. I’ve fought hard to keep it open – with little support from many on the Corbyn campaign – promoting clean coal technology and calling for state aid. I’m a coalfield MP proud to have the nomination of the NUM. But I’m not going to make people false promises ion the coalfield communities that we can turn the clock back to the middle of the 20 century instead.

And at a time when we are dealing with a global climate change threat, when international borders have ebbed, when extremism doesn’t recognise nations, and when we need to work together more than ever, is it really radical to quit NATO, to prevaricate over membership of the EU, or trash our reputation as an internationalist party.

I say no.

We should stay in the EU, stay in the European Court of Human Rights, stay in NATO – sorry, Jeremy, internationalism is a core Labour principle and I will always fight for it.

And what is more radical?

A Labour party after a century of championing equality and diversity which turns the clock back to be lead again by a leader and deputy leader, both white men.

Or to smash our own glass ceiling to get Labour’s first elected woman leader and woman Prime Minister too. Who’s the real radical? Jeremy or me?

Yes there are areas where Jeremy and I agree.

We both feel passionately about human rights, about ending homelessness, about building more homes.

We agree that we need an alternative to George Osborne’s austerity ideology.

I’ve argued from the start we shouldn’t swallow the Tories myths about Labour’s public spending. It wasn’t too many teachers, nurses or doctors that caused global banks to go bust. And I don’t think Andy was right to apologise for Labour’s public spending record.

The debt and deficit need to come down. But we should never sign up to George Osborne’s 40% cuts – that’s way beyond what is needed to bring borrowing down.

It’s not prudence its punishment – driven by right wing ideology that wants to shrink the state.

It’s not common sense economics – its deliberate dismantling of our public services.

We have to have a radical alternative.

But it also has to be credible. And Jeremy’s approach isn’t.

Quantitative easing to pay for infrastructure now that the economy is growing is really bad economics.

Quantitative easing was a special measure when the economy collapsed, liquidity dried up, interest rates fell as low as they could go.

But printing money year after year to pay for things you can’t afford doesn’t work – and no good Keynesian would ever call for it.

History shows it hits your currency, hits investment, pushes up inflation, and makes it harder not easier to get the sustainable growth in a global economy we need to tackle poverty and support our public services.

So it’s not radical. It won’t stand up to scrutiny. And it won’t get us elected.

And that matters. Because otherwise we let people down.

Jeremy and I agree we need an alternative – but I want one that’s radical and credible so we can pull people behind it and make it happen.

We are a broad church in the Labour party – and we have to be. Some people may want to divide our party and to pull us apart – from left or from right.

I will never believe that is the right thing to do. I believe in the solidarity of our party just as I believe in the solidarity of communities or of families holding together through thick and thin.

I believe our party has to stand together to change the country.

When we were founded back in 1900 the whole idea was to be an alliance of workers and intellectuals, of Fabians and socialists, of women and men, of trades unionists and Christian socialists, of radicals and moderates. We even did a deal with the liberals.

And there was good reason for that broad alliance. Because people were sick of losing battles in Parliament and in the courts and they wanted to change the world.

I don’t believe that Jeremy can hold the party together – and I can’t bear to see us pulled apart when I believe Britain needs a Labour party more than ever.

As for this idea that power doesn’t matter so long as our principles remain intact.

I dare you to tell that to the woman in tears because she can’t afford her bedroom tax arrears.

Tell that to the working parents on tax credits about to lose thousands of pounds who can’t afford new school shoes for the autumn term.

Tell that to the family struggling with care costs, forced to sell their family home.

Tell that to the student, scraping to make ends meet to get through university, about to lose their maintenance grant Tell that to all those people who are being hit by Tory Government.

All those people with no one else to stand up for them than the Labour party.

Than us. That’s our job. We can’t walk away.

We can’t just luxuriate in our own righteousness out on the side lines. That’s not a luxury the most vulnerable in Britain can afford.

It’s not enough to be angry at the world. We’re the labour party, we have a responsibility to change the world or what’s the point of us at all.

Because in the end Britain needs a strong Labour party now more than ever.

Power is in the hands of a narrow Tory elite.

Concentrating wealth, widening inequality, fragmenting Britain, letting people down Already they broke their promises.

Already they are turning the clock back.

They only have a majority of 12. We can beat them.

They are still only Tories. Now is not the time to give in.

We cannot condemn today’s five year olds to spend all their childhood under a Tory Government.

We’re fighting for a fairer country for our children to grow up in.

So this is the choice.

Between a Labour Party back on its feet, fighting the Tories, fighting for our principles, fighting for our future. And a Tory Britain while Labour walks away.

This is about the 2020 election.

I’m in it to win it.

The Labour Party must be too.”

Backing Mark Bradshaw for Bristol Mayor

Mark Bradshaw
Mark Bradshaw

With ballot papers posted this week to Labour members to select the party’s candidate for the 2016 Bristol Mayoral election, Labour MP for Bristol South, Karin Smyth said:

“I will be voting for Mark Bradshaw to be Labour’s candidate for Mayor. Mark’s 10 years’ experience representing people in Bedminster means he understands communities.

“As a Cabinet member he has shown leadership on the key issues for Bristol that are transport and housing. He has demonstrated his ability to focus on Labour priorities whilst working with people of all political views on behalf of the city.”

Support for Colston Hall Transformation campaign

Colston HallSupporting Colston Hall’s Transformation campaign, Bristol South MP Karin Smyth said:

“Having spent many memorable evenings at Colston Hall down the years, I know the auditorium facilities are in need of modernisation.

“But this project isn’t just about transforming the concert environment enjoyed by those from the city and others who travel to Colston Hall from around the region.

“Importantly it’s also aimed at enhancing Bristol Plays Music, the city’s music education hub. Outreach work into communities and schools will be extended, so the huge boost from this project will resonate right across the city for years to come.

“There are plans to improve accessibility and diversity too: more reasons why I’m pleased to support Colston Hall’s Transformation campaign.”

Petition to stop the closure of Hawkspring

petitionPlease use this link to sign a petition aimed at stopping the closure of Hawkspring, the Hartcliffe-based drug and alcohol service.

Hawkspring has supported 900 people over the last 18 months, with demand for its services the highest it has been in 12 years. The petition aims to ensure the closure it now faces does not go ahead.

To find out more about my activity on this issue follow this link

Opposing the Welfare Reform & Work Bill

The Tories’ Welfare Reform and Work Bill came before the House of Commons on 20 July. This article outlines my position on this Bill, and why and how I opposed it, and the measures that I and other Labour MPs are taking to do so.

Welfare Reform and Work BillFirstly, I am aware some reports have suggested the Bill contained measures to cut tax credits for working families. To clarify, those Conservative measures are not in fact included in this Bill, but will come before Parliament later this year in separate legislation. I will oppose these cuts, just as I voted last week to oppose the Conservative Budget.

Moving to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill itself, Labour tabled what is known as a ‘Reasoned Amendment’ to it. This is a Parliamentary measure which opposes a Bill going to its next stage. It allows you to set out the reasons why you are opposing the entire Bill, even when there are things in it that you support.

This was needed because the Tories had included in the Bill a series of things that Labour supports, such as cuts in council rents, support for troubled families and the big increase in apprenticeships which I expect to provide a boost for south Bristol’s young people. And it contained other measures I definitely do not support, including the removal of child poverty targets and cuts to support for sick and disabled people who are not fit to work, including people with cancer or Parkinson’s disease.

Below I have copied Labour’s amendment in full:

That this House, whilst affirming its belief that there should be controls on and reforms to the overall costs of social security, that reporting obligations on full employment, apprenticeships and troubled families are welcome, and that a benefits cap and loans for mortgage interest support are necessary changes to the welfare system, declines to give a Second Reading to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill because the Bill will prevent the Government from continuing to pursue an ambition to reduce child poverty in both absolute and relative terms, it effectively repeals the Child Poverty Act 2010 which provides important measures and accountability of government policy in relation to child poverty, and it includes a proposal for the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance which is an unfair approach to people who are sick and disabled.

By tabling and voting for this amendment, Labour MPs, including myself, were opposing this Bill. Unfortunately, whilst Liberal Democrat MPs supported it, the Tories opposed it (as you would expect). Disappointingly the SNP failed to support it, choosing to instead abstain on the vote.

Our amendment was defeated, and so the Bill in its original form was put to the vote. Along with the large majority of Labour MPs, I abstained because Labour’s approach to this Bill is to oppose individual elements that we are against when it returns for its next Parliamentary stage in the autumn. The amendments we have tabled include:

• An amendment to prevent the Government abolishing the targets for reducing child poverty

The Government are also trying to delete child poverty from the remit of the ‘Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’ so that it becomes just the ‘Social Mobility Commission’. An amendment will prevent that taking place

• An amendment which will mean that the household benefit cap would not apply to persons who are responsible for a child under two years old, are a carer, or are in temporary accommodation because of domestic violence

• A new clause which will require the Secretary of State to report each year on the impact of the household benefit cap, particularly on child poverty

• An amendment which will require the level of the household benefit cap to be reviewed every year, rather than only once in a Parliament. The review would be based on the new clause above requiring the impact of the benefit cap on child poverty to be assessed each year

• An amendment which will require the Social Security Advisory Committee to review the Discretionary Housing Payments fund each year to ensure that sufficient resources are available. Discretionary Housing Payments are used to support those who are unfairly affected by the benefit cap

• An amendment which will set the target of full employment as 80 per cent of the working age population – in line with the Labour Government’s definition and recent research which shows that this would be an ambitious target. The Bill includes a process for reviewing progress towards ‘full employment’, but does not define what is meant by that.
• An amendment to require the UK Commission on Employment and Skills to assess whether the Government’s target for apprenticeships is being met, so that the Government can be held to account. There is significant concern among businesses and others that the quality of apprenticeships is being watered down in order to increase the numbers

• An amendment which will require the resources which are being dedicated to helping troubled families to be clearly set out

• An amendment which will ensure that interventions to support troubled families are focused on helping people into work

• An amendment to prevent the Bill restricting Universal Credit for three or subsequent children even when the third child is born before 5 April 2017

• A new clause preventing the restrictions to tax credits applying to three or more children where a third child is born as a result of a multiple birth, where a third of subsequent child is fostered or adopted, where a third child or subsequent child is disabled, or where a family with three or more children moves onto tax credits or universal credit in exceptional circumstances – including but not restricted to the death of one member of the family, the departure of one parent or loss of income through unemployment – which would be set out by the Social Security Advisory Committee. It also sets up an appeals process for all cases covered by this clause

• An amendment preventing cuts in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for the WRAG group of around £30 a week. People who are in the WRAG group have been through a rigorous test which has deemed them not fit for work, for example because they have Parkinson’s or are being treated for cancer

• An amendment requiring the Government to produce a plan to offset the impact of lower social rents on housing associations. Labour supports the reduction in social housing rents, which will help low-income families and bring down the housing benefits bill. However, we must protect against impacts on the ability of housing associations to build new affordable homes and maintain their existing properties

• An amendment which subjects the four-year benefit freeze to an annual review subject to changes in inflation.

I and my Labour colleagues will do what we can to make these amendments succeed. But we must, of course, face the fact that because of the general election result there is a majority of Tory MPs in the Commons. The Parliamentary maths are in the Tories’ favour.

I have explained this at length not just because it is important that people understand my position but also because the type of reporting ‘shorthand’ that is usually understandably favoured by most of the media tends to leave out what are, by necessity, detailed arrangements centring around Parliamentary procedure.

Karin Smyth MP

Call to City Council to save Hawkspring

Karin Smyth MPLabour MP Karin Smyth has submitted a statement to Bristol City Council, ahead of its Full Council meeting on Tuesday 21 July, calling on the elected Mayor to step in and prevent the closure of Hartcliffe-based Hawkspring drug and alcohol service.

The statement in full is below.

Karin Smyth added: “If Hawkspring closes it highlights a failure of the commissioning model as being totally inflexible. There appears to be no sense of responsibility or support for those organisations which fall outside of the model. I want to see the council’s Health & Wellbeing Board, which is co-chaired by the elected mayor, taking a lead on this to fulfil its leadership role and support people who need this service”

Closure of Hawkspring

I was extremely concerned and disappointed to learn last week that Hartcliffe-based Hawkspring drug and alcohol service plans to close at the end of August due to lack of funding.

Hawkspring, which was created following the merger of two local charities, Hawks and Kwads, brought together a combined experience of over 30 years’ delivery of vital support. Hawkspring’s community based approach has proved to be highly effective, enabling the charity to help 900 people since its creation and reaching those who may not have otherwise accessed support. Hawkspring epitomises the resilience, dedication and commitment to their own community of the people of south Bristol.

Bristol City Council has been aware of the closure threat for many months. I know my predecessor, Dawn Primarolo MP, worked very hard to support Hawkspring and made numerous representations to the Council on behalf of the charity. Before and since my election in May I have also offered my support to Hawkspring as they are clearly filling a gap in current provision.

My question to the Council and other health commissioners is where and how thosepeople who need the services currently provided by Hawkspring will access the support they require. There will be an inevitable increase in demand on social services, GP services and A & E.

The purpose of the Health and Wellbeing Board is to co-ordinate the commissioning and services across the NHS, social care and voluntary sector for the benefit and wellbeing of local people. Its responsibilities include being a driver for change and a local leader across social care and public health services. With an increase in demand from drug and alcohol users and their families, never has the need for leadership been more important.

If Hawkspring closes next month the impact on local communities will be devastating. Today I call upon the Mayor, at this late hour, to step in and prevent the closure of this invaluable organisation.

Karin Smyth MP

Parliament’s new Education Centre

The Houses of Parliament has this week opened a new dedicated Education Centre. It is a purpose-built learning facility that is now running Parliament-themed workshops, bringing Parliamentary events to life.

If your school is in the Bristol South constituency and you would like to arrange a visit, then please get in touch.

You can find out more about the Education Centre by watching this short video: