The Shelthorpe/Chimes Fence: what’s going on?

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I have been contacted by Sheltorpe residents who were concerned about this fence.  It blocks off the end of a footpath between Manor Drive on the Shelthorpe Estate, and an open space with a very nice looking playground for younger children.  That open space sits on the Chimes Estate which is still partly being built.  The park is finished.  Children play on it.  The grass around it is in good shape.

People got in touch with me because they wanted to know why children on the Shelthorpe Estate were having to take a ten-minute or more detour to get to a bit of open space with a lovely community asset on it. The trip would otherwise be around 30 seconds.

Many people have memories of going down the self-same path to play on the open space that used to occupy the land where the new estate is being built.

I have been to the site twice now to see and hear what is going on.  Today I went to speak to local residents.  One, who lived within metres of the fence reported that it has been up since the building started, he was none the wiser as to why it was still up.

I also visited the office of the David Wilson Homes who are developing the site.    They were very courteous to me.  It’s fair to say the gentleman I spoke to did not have the answer but said he would get the relevant person to contact me.

I await eagerly, but won’t wait around if the response is slow.

One aspect of this is the way that these new estates across Loughborough are being constructed and sold.  The parks and open spaces, and some other community amenities will not be administered by the Borough Council in the normal way, but will be maintained by a management company who takes a service-charge from those living on the estate.  It’s a daft idea, basically privatising open-spaces, and introducing an additional private council tax.

This arrangement may mean that some of the paths around the park (on this plan below) will be maintainable by the management company.  But in my view if the public has exercised a right of way over the path to what used to be recreation land (and still is), they should still be granted that right of way.

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We will see what the construction firm come back with.

You would hope, however, that they would see sense: there is a community asset in the park, there is a path to it, and on any common sense view all members of the community ought to be able to use the park and access it by way of the path.

To be continued…

My speech today to the NAPO East Midlands Conference in Quorn: the end of the road for privatisation of our public services

Today I gave a speech to NAPO, the professional body for probation employees.   They were such a nice, thoughtful and talented group of people to spend my afternoon with.

I set out what a disaster  the privatisation of much of the probation service has been since services for the so called “less serious offenders” were transferred into 21 “Community Rehabilitation Companies”: leaving a fractured and under-performing system.

The following damning reports give you a flavour:

  • The Chief Inspectorate of Probation 2017 Annual Report released in December 2017  stated: “the quality of CRC work to protect the public is generally poor”; that “Government reform of probation has created a ‘two-tier and fragmented’ system in which private companies are performing significantly worse than public sector elements” and “CRCs have reduced staff numbers, some to a worrying extent.”
  • A report from the Chief Inspectors of Probation and Prison in June 2017 stated: “CRCs are making little difference to their prospects on release. …The overall picture was bleak. If Through the Gate services were removed tomorrow, in our view the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible.”
  • A recent National Audit Office report showed that the 21 private probation companies on average met just one-third of the 24 targets set to them by the Ministry of Justice.
  • Tens of thousands of offenders – up to 40% of the total – being supervised by telephone calls every six weeks instead of face-to-face meetings, according to the chief inspector of probation.

And this really matters in our area as the figures for crime in Leicestershire are rapidly getting worse:

 

  • Recorded crime in Leicestershire has risen by more than a fifth (21%) from 2016 to 2017, from 65,717 offences recorded by police in 2016 to 79,250 in 2017, a rise of 13,533 crimes.
  • Among the types of crime seeing a big rise was violence against the person: a 29% rise in 2017.
  • A 27% rise in reports of sexual offences between 2016 and 2017, with a total of 1,991 sexual offences reported last year.
  • Possession of weapons offences were up, with a 43% rise in 2017, one of the biggest increases in England and Wales.
  • Drug offences were also rising, up 28% in a year.

(see https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/datasets/policeforceareadatatables )

This matches with what I hear anecdotally is happening in Loughborough. Yes, Labour’s 10,000 additional police officers nationwide would address this crime. But in terms of the causes of crime, probation is essential, meaning ending the debacle of the privatised CRCs is essential.  And Labour will end it.

On the back of the Carillion debacle, when it went bust owing £7 billion, this is yet more evidence that the private sector has no place running our public services.  We are out on a limb as a country with the Economist calling us the “world-leader” in the privatisation of public services.  It has been a colossul experiment.  It has failed.

 

Mrs Morgan’s Tilda Rice Brexit was as unclear as ever, Labour is the only party offering a secure jobs-first Brexit

Yesterday we were treated to Loughborough’s Tory MP Nicky Morgan joining Nick Clegg and David Miliband at the Tilda Rice factory in Essex to say… well what exactly?  The truth is that that in our country we have a party system.  Politicians stand on a party manifesto, get elected, and then what happens is largely shaped by that manifesto, and the cabinet working in concert with the whips and the parliamentary party.

On the Conservative side, these basic facts are becomingly increasingly strained.  The recent furore around a made-up customs partnership versus the soundbite “maximum facilitation” is just the latest symptom of a party comprised of people who cannot even reconcile their own personal ideological approach with the substantive measures they are calling for.

So, this begs the question of where did Mrs Morgan’s intervention at the Tilda Rice plant get us and the voter in trying to discern an alternative approach to Brexit and how that may be achieved?

Mrs Morgan has been as unclear as she has been inconsistent on what type of soft-Brexit she would like.  Much less, on how she, a Conservative, will advance the country’s position.

In March of this year Nicky Morgan took to the BBC to say “mutual recognition of regulations is the way to go” in endorsing the substance of the Prime Minister’s Mansion House Brexit speech.  This is a very far cry from membership of the European Economic Area or achieving any benefit of the single market: “mutual recognition” of regulations is very different to the “mutual adoption” of regulations that would be required to properly enjoy single market benefits.

Perhaps it is this lack of clarity that has undermined her efforts to shape Tory policy on Brexit.  Or perhaps it is the fact that her approach offers a very fuzzy alternative to the two well-established camps in cabinet.  And with the hard Brexiteers in the ascendancy it has been, and will remain, a case of vote for a Tory MP, get hard Tory Brexit.

Speakers confirmed for our April Shepshed and Quorn NHS Winter Crisis Public Meetings: an MP/Nurse and Councillor/GP!!

I am very please to announce that we have two fantastic speakers confirmed for our next two NHS winter crisis public meetings.

Next Tuesday night, 10th April, 6.45pm at Shepshed Town Council Offices, we have Terri Eynon who is a Leicestershire GP and leader of the Labour Group on Leicestershire County Council.

Then for the last of our events Karen Lee MP, who is still a practising nurse will be with us at Quorn Scout Hut on Thursday 26th April at 7.30pm.

The first of our events in Loughborough provided a fantastic opportunity to share experiences of the NHS over the past few months.  This provided detailed perspectives that will help us to shape our campaigning as we seek a secure and better future for our NHS.

International women’s day and the 1918 Act are important to mark but so much further to go

International Women’s Day passed last week, and it came shortly after the 100th anniversary of The Representation of the People Act 1918 which first gave votes to some women.

I, like many others, think that we still have so much further to go in creating a society, nationally and internationally, with genuine gender equality.  But the fact that many people are saying that, does not mean that it is not a point worth remaking.  In fact, quite the reverse.

The first thing to note about the 1918 Act, is that it was a milestone that was only possible by a change to the law, which came about through political campaigning.  Much of that campaigning, and the most powerful aspects of it, came from outside mainstream politics.  Naturally, given the lack of women in mainstream politics at that time. But, it was through political pressure created by that campaigning, and clear demands put forward within that campaign, and then legislative action, that change came about.

A century on, we have still got miles to go in nearly all facets of our national life to give girls and women the same opportunity, esteem and standing in society as boys and men.

I want to talk about three areas that I’ve had a fair bit of contact with.  The law, politics and sports.

In the law the situation is intolerable.  Only around 30% of our judges are female.  This is worse in the senior judiciary with only two women having ever sat in our Supreme Court or equivalent.  We have two sources of law in our country, Parliament and the courts that establish case law in our common-law system.  It’s clear: a majority male judiciary is going to develop judge-made law in a different way to a gender-balanced judiciary.

I have raised this with very senior members of both the Bar and the judiciary.  The response has been that the problems come during female legal careers which are impeded by the challenge of mixing work and family life.  Meaning there are fewer female judicial applicants.  I’m told, change won’t happen overnight and there are many initiatives to overcome these impediments which will bear fruit overtime.

This explanation is unacceptable.  Gender equality is an absolute must in the judiciary at every level.  Not in 20 or 30 years’ time, but now.  I would like a legislative intervention to make this happen within five years.  You cannot have equality before the law, without equality in the law.

We also need changes to working arrangements of lawyers so that there can be genuine equality of opportunity to progress in the law.  A conversation with a female QC with children was enlightening in this regard.  Her trade required her to act in many multi-week trials.  Court hearings run from 10am til 4pm, with voluminous preparation each night, morning, and weekend, with clients to see before and after days in court.  It’s clear, a family life in such circumstances is difficult.

If any regard was had to the equality impact on the profession, such trials would sit four days per week or with reduced hearing hours.  But in the tough world of the senior Bar, such proposals will struggle to gain support.  They certainly did when I floated them with the said QC.  But, such radical thinking is required if we are to provide a fair opportunity for people to develop legal careers whilst finding time for family and to look after their physical and mental health.

My views are very similar in relation to politics.  I speak from the vantage point of having passed through a demanding selection process to become a prospective parliamentary candidate of a party who has at its core the fight for equality and better working conditions.  It’s fair to say that there are several aspects of such selections that would, generally speaking, be much harder for women with childcare demands to engage with or get to the bottom of.  The key in this regard is for such process to be clearer and streamlined so that it is easier for people with family demands to advance themselves.

It’s also clear that Parliament’s arcane and archaic procedures need to be refined so that women (or for that matter men) with families can more easily engage.  The sitting hours into the late night, voting by parade through a lobby, and the pseudo-social-club atmosphere created through the free-flow of alcohol at Parliamentary bars, most all be consigned to the dustbin.  Innovations like job-share MPs, and electronic voting must seriously be considered.

And then to sport.  Much of our national story is defined by sport: male sport.  With football sucking up much of the oxygen in this regard.  Doubtless the situation has improved.  Jessica Ennis being one fantastic example.  But patriarchy is still a defining characteristic of this aspect of our national story.  Take for example our female hockey players who won gold in Rio but still struggle to obtain endorsements and financial opportunities over their male counterparts.

Rugby, a sport of interest to both me and my wife, is illustrative.  The BBC being very keen to trumpet their coverage of the women’s six nations championship this year.  A glossy trailer has been aired on all of their coverage of the men’s competition, with the transparently unambitious punchline telling the viewer that highlights are available at 11.20pm on a Sunday night.

The BBC had a very well-staffed stall at the Labour Party Conference this year.  I took the opportunity to ask one of the public relations men, why it was the Beeb pumped so much cash into men’s sport relative to women’s.  My point to him was: ITV do a fantastic job on their six nations games, what’s the point in spending so much of licence-fee payers’ money on sport that would reach the free-to-air viewer in any event.  And the same goes for Premier League football highlights: let Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker earn their millions at someone else’s expense.

The genuine public interest is in reshaping this part of our national story to a more gender-balanced position.  In other words: the Beeb should push women’s sport and aim for at least parity of investment across the genders.  The fact that the PR man found my proposal a bizarre affront to the BBC’s “duty to entertain” seemed indicative of a lack of internal or institutional thinking on the matter.

All of the above show the inertia and institutional legacy which has delayed progress so much.  Labour has done a lot to much improve the gender balance in Parliament through measures like its all-women shortlists which recognise that nice-words and intentions are not enough.  We must now take a similarly radical approach to recasting many other institutions in our country into ones that are properly reflective of the country we want to be.

As a footnote, there has been some mention over the last week of the idea of “mansplaining”.  I have to say that I find this phrase unhelpful.  It feels to me like it perpetuates a construction of society which is defined by gender.  Like “fake-news” and “virtue-signalling”, it seems to be a debating device to instantly dismiss someone’s point of view or standing in a debate.  I have to say that in my job and in politics I have learnt that both men and women are liable to tedious, patronising or facile explanations or comments.  And insofar as it is used as a device to dismiss interventions by men on gender issues, that is self-evidently harmful to constructive debate.  Please let me know if you think the above thoughts could be deemed “mansplaining”, but don’t expect me to agree.

 

Thanks to local Labour and Co-op members for the local grassroots nominations!

Dear all,

I thought I’d drop you a quick note to say thanks for your nominations in the process to become Lougborough’s Parliamentary candidate.

My nominations from Loughborough South, Lougborough East, Loughborough North, Woodbrook, Ashby and Garendon, Barrow, Sileby and the Wolds, represent nominations from Branches with around 700 of the CLP’s membership of around 800.

And thanks to local Co-op Members. Co-operation has a big role in our new vision for our economy and society.  I look forward to working with you in the future if selected.

Many thanks,

Stuart