Bristol South

OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on Early Years education in Bristol South

(Newspaper column as seen in the September 2019 edition of The Pigeon)

I’ve been a longtime supporter of Early Years education. Before I became an MP, I was a governor of a nursery school and my own children all benefited from the previous Labour government’s investment into Early Years education, so I appreciate first-hand how valuable it is. 

Nurseries and pre-schools have such an important role to play in communities – helping children get a good start in life and preparing them for school. Early years provision offers an important safety net for those children who may be at risk of falling behind from the off and is crucial for social mobility. Children’s Centres are central to this too. 

Decent and affordable early years education is even more important for families on low incomes. When early years education costs more than you earn, it’s no longer an option open to you. This is clear from the many conversations I’ve had with parents. 

Earlier this year, Matt Caldwell, Acting Headteacher of Illminster Avenue Nursery School, said: “Nurseries are social hubs and beacons in communities that have nothing else left in their locality, as service after service has been gutted by years of austerity…we give thousands of children in Bristol the best possible start in life.”  

To view it as childcare alone is a mistake. Nurseries and pre-schools deliver a vital education function; they teach toddlers the basics – learning through play and socialising with other children.  

The government should be investing sufficiently in this area. 

It has offered working parents up to 30 hours of subsidised childcare a week. But my meetings with early years leaders across South Bristol have revealed a gulf between the increased running costs of accommodating this ‘subsidised’ offer and the amount the government actually contributes to this. 

Earlier this year, I met with the team at Windmill Hill City Farm’s nursery Windmill Hill City Farm’s nursery who explained that the government’s ‘funding’ falls short of what they need to run the nursery – by around £1 per child per hour. As a result, they have had to limit the number of subsidised places they offer to avoid running at a loss. This directly impacts parents who may struggle to secure a nursery place locally for their child/children. 

Once again, the government is pushing the financial burden of delivering services onto the service providers. We’ve seen this in other areas – with schools and healthcare. To claim the credit for supporting families without providing the funding to meet their commitments is not good enough.  

I’ve raised this in parliament in the past and I will continue to do so. I’d be interested to hear about your experiences of current early years education in Bristol South. Does it work for your family? You can contact me via the details below. 

OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on Universal Credit

(Newspaper column as seen in the September 2019 edition of the South Bristol Voice)

Since Universal Credit was introduced for all new claimants in Bristol South last summer, I’ve been helping constituents with many problems including delayed payments, inaccurate entitlement calculations and historic debt. I’ve also raised multiple issues with Ministers in Parliament and have been in contact with the Department for Work and Pensions to highlight concerns.   

Many people who attend my Money Entitlement Events are seeking help with Universal Credit and I’ve welcome representatives from the local Jobcentre and Citizens Advice to help work through some of these questions and problems. My next Money Entitlement event takes place between 10am and 12noon on Tue 1 Oct 2019 at Hartcliffe Community Centre. All welcome. 

I read with interest, the latest report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Universal Credit released in the summer. It echoes some of the issues I have identified and calls on the government to take decisive action to address these. A comprehensive and much-needed report with plenty of suggested next steps. 

Most importantly it includes calls to abolish the five-week wait for Universal Credit, as well as more flexibility with assessment periods to cater for self-employed people and those who may receive two payments within one calendar month.  

It also suggests granting children of all Universal Credit claimants free school meals and expanding phone and face-to-face support for those who may struggle with computers. And it advocates writing off historic tax credit over payments, which often occurred due to poor administration by government.   

As with my trailer safety APPG, these cross-party groups are an important part of democracy. Not only do they bring together politicians from different political parties with a shared interest in a specific subject, but they also bring in evidence from industry experts and those directly affected by the topics discussed.  

The report recognises Universal Credit as ‘the most important reform of welfare policy for decades’ directly affecting one in four people. It is hugely relevant for Bristol South and, apart from some piecemeal changes to processing times, we’ve not had a satisfactory government response to-date.  

I hope that the new government under Prime Minister Boris Johnson will take on board the recommendations of this report and I will continue to push for the changes needed.  

If you’re experiencing any problems with Universal Credit, please do get in touch via the contact details below and I’ll see if I can help. 

OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on Climate Change

(Newspaper column as seen in the August 2019 edition of The Pigeon)

I’ve been contacted by a lot of people in recent months who are concerned about climate change. It’s something which deeply concerns me too. 

I was pleased that the Labour Party’s Shadow DEFRA Secretary, Sue Hayman, declared a climate emergency in March which we then passed on the floor of the House of Commons in May. It comes after Bristol City Council declared a Climate Emergency and coincides with Extinction Rebellion protests in Bristol and across the UK.  

The Labour movement has a long tradition of environmental protection, from the establishment of the national parks after the Second World War, through to the pioneering Climate Change Act. Strong environmental policy is a matter of justice, and ensuring that communities can breathe clean air, drink clean water, afford a good diet and enjoy our countryside is vital. 

Last month (July), I spoke about air quality in Bristol on the Sunday Politics Show. It not only contributes to the climate emergency but it is one of the biggest public health threats of our time – contributing to 300 deaths a year in Bristol. 

The way forward demands firm action and I was pleased to learn more about Bristol City Council’s plans in improving air quality in Bristol. They’re currently consulting on two proposals to help reduce pollution in the city. 1) A Clean Air Zone with daily charges for polluting commercial vehicles such as taxis, vans, lorries and buses in central Bristol, which includes Bedminster and Southville. 2) A ban on all diesel vehicles from entering the inner city centre. Under both plans, diesel cars would be banned from the road outside Bristol Royal Infirmary.  

There are other elements – improvements to bus provision, a scrappage scheme for diesel cars and the recently announced plans to close roads outside some of the city’s schools to the stream of traffic they host at school opening and closing times. You’ve got until August 12 to have your say, so please do. 

We cannot talk about the ongoing battle to tackle poor air quality in Bristol – particularly outside schools – without mentioning Bath and North East Somerset Council’s ill-conceived plans to build a new polluting road past Bridge Farm Primary School. I, like many of my constituents living in Whitchurch, are opposed to this. We must not allow 20,000 cars a day to spurt out toxic fumes into the air where children learn and play. 

The government is failing to make headway in reducing carbon emissions from vehicles – and this is partly due to its appetite for building roads. I will continue to press for the Government to recognise this and act to bring about a zero-carbon future. 

OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on housing development in Bristol South

(Newspaper column as seen in the August 2019 edition of the South Bristol Voice)

Bristol’s need for more housing will see development across the constituency in the coming years and I welcome that. However, we must make sure that developers are building the right homes, of the right tenure, in the right place to support sustainable communities. It is vital that residents are involved in these decisions.  

The Bedminster Framework, as reported in the South Bristol Voice earlier this year, outlined some of the proposals for the area around East Street. I read these plans with interest and am disappointed to see that a large proportion of the new homes planned for Malago Road, should planning permission be granted, will be student flats.  

If a housing development is made up of student flats rather than much-needed homes for local residents, it presents a series of problems. The transient nature of student communities means there can be little integration with the existing community. Students arrive in the autumn and leave early summer the following year – being away for weeks at Christmas and Easter too. With both universities in the north of the city, rarely would students venture further into South Bristol. Chances are, they’ll use their Bedminster home as a base from which to cross the bridge and head north.  

While some shops and cafes on East Street may benefit from the student pound, I fear that may be the extent of what Bristol South gets out of this. By building student housing, developers get out of the obligation to include ‘affordable’ housing in their plans. It’s affordable housing that we really need in Bristol South. And we mustn’t forget that students don’t have to pay council tax, which means less income for the council to deliver more services (bins, roads and parks etc).  

What we need to focus on is building communities. Bristol City Council’s Urban Living Supplementary Planning Document outlines this and provides valuable guidance – what we need to ensure is that developers are taking this into account. What Bristol South really needs is truly affordable homes for families of all shapes and sizes, shops, play space, green areas and, of course, the infrastructure needed to support these communities – schools, nurseries, GP surgeries and public transport.  

Development at Bedminster Green will require improvements to transport links. Windmill Hill already has transport challenges – with commuters using residential streets to bypass the congested main trunk roads. With more housing planned, we need more sustainable transport solutions.  

We’re expecting to see more planning applications submitted later this year and I’ll be sharing details of the key ones on my social media channels. As with all planning applications, you’re entitled to have your say and I’d encourage you to do so via the council’s website or in writing to City Hall. 

Karin Smyth MP working with colleagues in Parliament to stop ‘No Deal’ Brexit

Following a very chaotic time in Parliament since Prime Minister Boris Johnson took over from Theresa May, Bristol South MP Karin Smyth has reiterated her opposition to leaving the EU without a deal.

Karin says: “This is an anxious time for everyone. It is clear that the Prime Minister wants to plough on with Brexit regardless of the consequences.
I have repeatedly said I cannot support a No Deal scenario: opposition to this was part of the Labour manifesto I stood on in 2017. It would be disastrous for Bristol South, and for the country as a whole. People here are already struggling under the weight of cuts to public services and the erosion of the welfare safety net, and more people will be in a similar position should we leave the European Union without a deal.
Mr Johnson was elected by fewer than 95,000 Conservative Party members to be Prime Minister. He has no mandate for No Deal. We live in a representative democracy – one in which Parliament has a key role to play. By proroguing Parliament for so long, ahead of conference season and with Brexit looming, Mr Johnson is a coward and is demonstrating a complete lack of respect for our democracy.
Working with my colleagues in Parliament, I will do everything I can to prevent this and will continue to oppose proposals that make people in Bristol South worse off. A week is a long time in politics and I will continue to update you via my Facebook page and on Twitter.”

Karin Smyth MP responds to announcement of new community health provider in Bristol South

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth has been speaking out against the ill-advised recommissioning of adult community health services by Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (BNSSG CCG). The CCG this week revealed that it has appointed a single new provider – Sirona – which will take over the delivery of services in Bristol South from current provider Bristol Community Health in April 2020.

Karin says: “I’ve repeatedly spoken out against the costly process which, I believe, should not have taken place. The £1bn contract, which starts in April 2020, will bind us to this provider for the next decade – yet we still do not know which services were included in their bid and, perhaps more importantly, which were not. It’s an uncertain time for staff and patients alike.

For us in Bristol, this change in provider is a high-risk strategy by the CCG. Delivering quality community health services relies on a huge amount of local knowledge and relationships built up over years between staff and patients.

We are inviting Sirona to deliver a huge range of services across Bristol South and beyond. The social enterprise has a huge amount of work to do over the next six months before they’re in a position to be able to deliver services – from staffing to IT and engaging with patients to partnering with charities.

We need to know what impact this will have on the services we rely heavily on in Bristol South – including respiratory, cardiac and diabetes services, particularly considering the CCG itself has recognised the greater need in Bristol South.

The CCG says it wants to see consistent, joined-up healthcare delivered closer to home. I look forward to learning more about how services in Bristol South will improve as a result of this very costly and bureaucratic re-commissioning process, and I will continue to work with all concerned to make sure that happens.

Karin Smyth MP responds to Joint Spatial Plan delay

The Joint Spatial Plan which lays out the proposals for house building across the region has been put on hold as central government officials demand more justification for the location of development. Bristol South MP Karin Smyth has written to the relevant Minister to seek assurances that this will not impact the application for funding from the Housing Infrastructure Fund. See full letter below.

Karin Smyth MP spoke on abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland in her role as Shadow Minister.

I was proud to speak from the Front Bench during the reading of the Northern Ireland Bill in support of an amendment put down by Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn on abortion and same sex marriage. I highlighted the hypocrisy of this Tory Government committing to increase access to family planning in countries across the world but not for the women of Northern Ireland. I was delighted the amendment was successful.

Full transcript of the reading can be found here

Original posted 25th October, 2018


Karin Smyth MP responds to report by researchers at the University of Bristol on educational inequality in Bristol

The recent report from researchers at the University of Bristol, “Reversing the Educational Inequality crisis in Bristol”, is shocking but sadly not a surprise to anyone with a knowledge of education in south Bristol.

It clearly sets out the gaps in provision and opportunity for young people in my constituency compared to more affluent areas of the city. The report shows how the this lack of post-16 provision has an impact on the chances of young people going on to university – with far fewer students going on to higher education than predicted by their GCSE results.

This is an appalling waste of potential and something I’ve been working to change since becoming the MP for Bristol South.

But the issue isn’t just about access to university. Young people in south Bristol are also not gaining access to the highest quality apprenticeships in engineering, construction and IT, nor are they getting other training that would improve their life chances.

There is much that must be done.

The fragmentation of the education system does not make it an easy challenge to tackle, with no one body leading the charge. That is why I have sought to bring the key providers together over the past three years and continue to highlight these issues.

This summer I meet with Headteachers from all the secondary schools in my constituency and the Principals of both St Brendan’s Sixth Form College and City of Bristol College. I wanted to see how we can work together better to ensure all young people in Bristol South fulfil their potential. A key issue is pastoral support to young people post-16 who struggle with the transition and subsequently drop down a level or drop out of education altogether.

Other factors that have a critical impact include the government’s failing GCSE resits policy, with compulsory re-sits for English and Maths ultimately damaging motivation which can lead to students dropping out of college altogether.

Lack of investment in schools and colleges is also making it much harder to address educational inequality. Figures show that spending per student in school sixth forms is the lowest it has been since 2002. The cuts to Further Education colleges have been severe. Taking away the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) from 16 year olds by the Coalition Government was disgraceful and must be reversed.

Young people now have many more options at aged 16 but the system is complex. A lack of quality careers advice and understanding of those choices, alongside poor transport links, means that they often lack the information to make the right choice for them. Many parents and carers struggle to know how best to support their children through an ever changing education system.

Improved communications between educational providers could go some way to helping students experience a smoother transition to further and higher education. I also believe there is a real opportunity for the Bristol City Council-led Learning City Partnership – which brings all providers and local leaders together to address the city’s skills challenge – to pool resources and insights to ensure that educational inequality in Bristol South is properly tackled after years of oversight.

High quality careers advice and support must be a key focus. Apprenticeships and jobs fairs are a good way of connecting local employers with young people seeking opportunities to further their careers, demonstrated by the huge success of the events I have organised at the Skills Academy in Hengrove Park over the last two years. The delivery of the long awaited Construction Centre, also at Hengrove, will make a significant contribution to better quality training.

The report calls for an educational board to oversee its recommendations – including ensuring equal opportunities are available to all, and holding FE institutions accountable for increasing the number of students from wards where young people are underachieving. The Learning City Partnership already has much of this within its remit and – with representatives from the West of England Authority and Bristol City Council – seems like it could be the right vehicle to take the agenda forward.

There is no need to create another layer of bureaucracy.

The challenge for me is make sure local and national policy makers make addressing the educational inequality crisis facing young people an educational priority. To ensure that in five years time we are not reading another report on how young people in Bristol continue to be let down by the system.

I will keep pushing Bristol’s educational and political leadership to ensure Bristol South is given the particular attention it needs to reduce the shameful inequality gap so clearly highlighted in this report.

Original posted 12th October 2018.

Long Ashton to Hengrove MetroBus re-added to the routemap after pressure from MP for Bristol South, Karin Smyth

Karin says “The restoration of the Ashton to Hengrove MetroBus link on the route-map was one of the key demands I made in April following the decision to drop it. Since then, I have brought together the key players and made the case for why this route matters so much, and have kept the pressure on week in, week out.

It’s great to see that our campaign has paid off, and this is a helpful first step. What we now need is a clear timetable for delivery of the route, and a confirmed launch date. It’s nothing less than people across south Bristol deserve”.