Bristol homeowners hit by July mortgage payment change

Karin Smyth MP Health Questions June 2015MP Karin Smyth is urging people she represents in south Bristol to promptly contact their mortgage lender if they feel an upcoming change in mortgage benefit will hit them.

The Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) scheme sees the government making interest payments – usually directly to the lender – on the first £200,000 of outstanding mortgages for those who can’t afford it (the first 100,000 for people getting Pension Credit).

From 6 July, the scheme will change for the first time since October 2010, because the interest rate the government pays will drop from by half a per cent, from 3.63% to 3.12%. For someone with a £150,000, 25-year home loan, monthly payments made directly by the government would fall from £454 to £391 – a difference of £63 per month.

“There has been very little publicity about this change,” said Karin Smyth “but it will affect hundreds of people living across Bristol who are struggling to pay their mortgage.

“If you currently get help from the SMI scheme and are worried about being able to pay your mortgage after this change is made, the expert advice is to contact your lender as soon as possible to see if they can help.

“You can also call my constituency office on 01179 533 575 for further advice.”

Supporting heart research to save lives

Karin Smyth MP heard how UK medical research is helping to save and improve the lives of the millions of people affected by heart disease, when she joined British Heart Foundation scientists at an event in Parliament.

The Labour MP talked with researchers to learn more about the latest projects, the hope they offer people with heart conditions, and why government support is vital.

“An estimated 12,760 people in Bristol South are living with heart and circulatory disease; devastating conditions which cause a quarter of all UK deaths,” said Karin Smyth.

“Public support helps charities like the British Heart Foundation fund some of the world’s leading researchers, working for the next major breakthrough to help save more lives.

“The combination of public support and government funding is key to further great strides in heart research.”

The government’s science budget is currently protected from cuts to expenditure, but only until April 2016. Any cut to science spending would put future and current research projects that could help save more lives at serious risk. The British Heart Foundation is calling on the Government to maintain the current ring-fencing of the science budget and to commit to future increases.

Visit to Hartcliffe Nursing Home

Karin Smyth MP pictured with the Manager of Hartcliffe Nursing Home, Raji Sunil
Karin Smyth MP pictured with the Manager of Hartcliffe Nursing Home, Raji Sunil

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth visited Hartcliffe Nursing Home to mark National Care Home Open Day.

Hartcliffe Nursing Home, located in Murford Avenue, opened in 2002 on the site of a former boys’ club and currently provides nursing care and a home to 65 residents.

“I was impressed by the range of activities the staff at Hartcliffe Nursing Home provide for the 65 residents,” said Karin Smyth. “And it was terrific to have the opportunity to meet some of the people who live there and to find out how much they value not only their home, but the hard work and kindness of the staff and volunteers who look after them too.”

The aim of National Care Home Open Day, now in its third year, is to help connect care homes with their local communities, as well as challenge misconceptions about residential care and showcase services.

Education Bill will create a ‘climate of fear’ in our schools

Untitled8Commenting on the introduction of the Education and Adoption Bill, which would give the Secretary of State for Education greater powers to force schools which are deemed to be ‘coasting’ to be made into academies – without providing a firm definition of ‘coasting’, Bristol South MP Karin Smyth said:

“We all want children in all schools to succeed. But schools which need to improve require an environment of calm stability that enables strategic measures to be put in place that will improve the young people’s prospects.

“The failure of the Bill to define a ‘coasting’ school, or the deliberate intent to keep its meaning woolly, will create the precise opposite: a climate of fear in schools.

“There are many examples of schools which have improved their Ofsted judgments from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’ in the past two to three years: Ashton Park and St Bernadette Secondary in Bristol South are two of them.

“The nub of this Bill is to make ‘academisation’ much simpler for the Secretary of State to order, giving her power to choose the definition of ‘coasting’ by issuing regulations. Given the immense impact of academisation, and the prospect of it, upon staff, parents and young people, the government must guarantee that the eventual definition of ‘coasting’ – and any subsequent changes – will be allocated proper time for scrutiny, rather than allowing it to be hostage to political will.”

Government hypocrisy

She added that her concerns about this Bill are not limited only to the impact upon schools, but on accountability and democracy too.

“In Bristol South schools have for some time been working together with peer support and with very close links with parents, children and the wider communities the schools serve. This gives them the flexibility to match skills & qualifications to the local economy as well as the global one we all inhabit. Crucially it gives parents real influence to help shape the nature and ethos of the educational establishment their children attend. But this Bill effectively hands control of the very constitution of our schools to the Secretary of State. How will parents in Bristol South be able to exercise their right to influence their children’s education once so much power has been squeezed into so few hands?

“From where parents and education professionals in Bristol South are looking it seems nothing less than hypocrisy for a government to talk one week of the need to devolve powers to our city regions and to the people who live there. Then to table a Bill whose intent – in education, one of the most important areas of our lives – forces control in the opposite direction, putting it into the hands of Whitehall.”

MP’s ‘thank you’ to Bristol’s Citizens Advice service

Karin Smyth MP supporting Bristol Citizens AdviceKarin Smyth thanked staff and volunteers working at the city’s Citizens Advice service for providing her Bristol South constituents with a range of support and advice.

Speaking at a Parliamentary event, the Labour MP said: “Staff and volunteers at Bristol Citizens Advice provide free confidential and impartial advice to help local people from across our city resolve everyday problems and challenges by telephone and face-to-face.

“They work hard to deal day-in, day-out with issues including finances, employment and housing. They also help people develop the skills and confidence people need to help themselves.”

Bristol Citizens Advice has a drop in service at Bristol Advice Point, 1 Quay Street, BS1 2JL, on weekdays (9.30am to 1pm). Self-help computers are available there Monday to Thursday 9.30am to 4.30pm. People can also call a telephone advice line weekdays 10am to 1pm, on 03444 111 444. There is also a special debt advice line operating Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday 9.30am to 4pm on 0117 946 2588.

Leader and Deputy Leader nominations

In the Labour leadership elections Karin Smyth MP has nominated Yvette Cooper and Stella Creasy as Leader and Deputy Leader respectively.

Karin Smyth said: “This election sees Labour Party members selecting the person they see as the next Prime Minster. Yvette Cooper is an authoritative, respected politician who has a good command of the many varied policy briefs this position demands. She also connects well with people up and down the country, which will be an important asset leading Labour into the next general election.

“I have been impressed by the way Stella Creasy has, as an MP in just one Parliamentary term so far, succeeded as a champion of community campaigning and engagement – a vital part of the role of Deputy Leader.”

Maiden Commons Speech

Untitled6People of all ages living in south Bristol have the skills, energy and potential to create a ‘Western Powerhouse’, said Karin Smyth, Labour MP, in her maiden speech to Parliament (Monday 8 June).

Pledging support for genuine efforts to devolve power to people, not structures, the Bristol South MP said: “Bristol was the only city to vote in favour of an elected mayor when given an opportunity. Bristol’s Mayor was elected by 9% Bristolians, on a turnout of 27%. Three years on – what is the lesson from this experiment for other cities? Bristolians are still waiting for improvements to transport, housing, skills and jobs. Bristol should be at the forefront of the devolution debate, not lagging behind.

“Structures alone cannot transform communities. Only people can,” she added.

“The sensible, strategic way ahead that meets communities’ real needs must be shaped not by distant legislators with a one size fits all proposal or individual Mayors with pet projects, but by the people and the communities affected – and the people and communities it can serve and empower. From Hartcliffe to Hengrove: from Bedminster to Bishopsworth; from Southville to Knowle.”

She said Bristol has “immense talent in its workforce – young and old – but too often people’s potential lies dormant, latent, untapped… just waiting to be triggered by local leadership and economic opportunities.”

And she cautioned: “In many ways Bristol’s story is a ‘Tale of Two Cities’: Thriving universities; booming finance, hi-tech and creative sectors, yet areas of severe economic disadvantage which are all too common in my constituency.”

Karin Smyth’s maiden speech followed Parliamentary protocol as she paid tribute to her predecessor, Dawn Primarolo, citing the building of the south Bristol hospital and the rebuilding of the city’s secondary schools as key achievements to sit alongside her Ministerial and Deputy Speaker roles.

Karin Smyth also spoke about the constituency itself: “There is a special warmth and generosity amongst south Bristol people,” she says. “They are, to use well-known local phrase, ‘gert lush’.

“They are forward-looking, ready to seize chances to help them shape a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities – communities that are strong, that have grown a great variety of community groups and enterprises to help and support themselves.”

Explaining the key economic role south Bristol has played in the past, she said “Bristol South has a proud industrial heritage”, and referred to the Bedminster coalfields and the tobacco industry that meant the constituency hosted, 40 years ago, Europe’s largest of cigarette factory, in Hartcliffe.

“But as manufacturers of growth,” she said Bristolians “were too rarely rewarded or permitted to share its fruits. In fact, many paid a high cost: from lives lost in the Dean Lane pit disaster, to industrial-related illnesses, and to health effects caused by tobacco in the manufacture of which the city played such a pivotal role.

“Having in the past powered economic growth, residents of Bristol are eager to play their part in doing so again,” she added.

Questions to Health Ministers

Karin Smyth MP Health Questions June 2015Although she has had to wait to make her Maiden Speech in the House of Commons, the first standard week of business of the new Parliament saw Bristol South MP Karin Smyth being called twice to ask questions of Government Ministers.

The Labour MP had aimed to make her first Commons speech in Wednesday’s debate about devolution and growth, but so many MPs – including a host of newly elected ones – had also wanted to speak, there was insufficient time for the Speaker to call all of them. Nonetheless, she attended the whole of the five hour debate.

On Tuesday 2 June, the following exchange is recorded by Hansard, during Health Questions

Karin Smyth (Bristol South) (Lab): What is the Minister’s plan to make GP premises fit for the 21st century?

Alistair Burt: I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. Briefly, there is a £1 billion fund to improve, over the next five years, GP surgeries and premises and access to GP practices. It is an important part of the process of improving access to GPs, which is good not only for patients but for GPs, who can feel fully engaged in their work without being overburdened. This support should certainly help.

Two days later, 4 June, Karin Smyth was called during an emergency question debate about NHS reorganisation:

Karin Smyth (Bristol South) (Lab): I congratulate the Minister on what is possibly the fastest reorganisation the NHS has ever seen. Which of those local organisations is in charge, and who will be accountable for deciding what constitutes success?

Ben Gummer: I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. We are now repeating discussions we had in the previous Parliament, because I am afraid that the Labour party still does not understand that these decisions are not being directed from Whitehall. I know that is uncomfortable for them, because what they want to do is pull a lever and hope that something happens at the other end, but that does not work. The only way to get success is by having local clinicians, supported by national bodies, providing the solutions that local people deserve.

“Unfortunately, neither question was answered properly by Ministers,” she said. “But the these are key issues of vital importance to my constituents, and I owe it to them to continue quizzing and challenging in various ways.”

Comments on the Queen’s Speech

Karin Smyth MPCommenting on the Queen’s Speech of 27 May 2015, Bristol South MP Karin Smyth said:

“Bristol residents will be intrigued by the idea about devolving greater powers to cities.

“It promises much, but the devil will be in the detail and I want to know the specifics of what this might mean for our city. One thing is for sure: it won’t be possible to strengthen local democracy by diminishing its resources, so appropriate funding will be needed to support any devolution plans.

“The need to improve employment prospects of people across south Bristol is a key priority for me, and I welcome at face value the prospect of good apprenticeships for more local young people.

“But I want to see a focus on how a devolution process can help Bristol South’s young people acquire the right skills to equip them for the changes in employment that lie ahead.

“There are many things that can make a tangible difference to our young people’s employment prospects. We need collaboration between providers of post-16 education and skills training, for example, and the provision of the right courses in locations that can be easily reached by transport that is affordable. These things need ‘joining-up’ and if a devolution process can enable and empower local government to deliver improvements then the city can benefit.

“To take full advantage of opportunities that could arise from devolution, MPs and the elected mayor will need to speak as far as possible with one voice in the city’s interests. We will need to work hard to listen to local people’s priorities. This includes recognising that Bristol people didn’t vote for a Conservative government.

“Citizens and elected representatives alike all have a part to play as decision makers in shaping a sensible, strategic way ahead that meets the needs of our communities.”

In addition, commenting on the inclusion in the Queen’s Speech of a Housing Bill, Karin Smyth said:

“The desire to own a home of your own is very strong, but the real problem in Bristol South is the supply of housing. Selling off limited housing association stock isn’t going to address this acute need: logic tells us that measure alone will make the problem worse, not better.”