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This week the House of Commons debated the annual police grant. The background to policing and crime has changed significantly in recent years and not for the better. Northumbria Police have lost £136 million since 2010 with a reduction of 942 officers. That’s 23% fewer officers over the same period that official figures show a 25% increase in overall recorded crime.

As the Office for National Statistics says, crime is not a common experience for most people though the statistics reflect just recorded crime, and we know not all crimes are reported or recorded. But the most recent figures go far beyond changes in recording. Burglary is up, vehicle related crime is up, shoplifting is up and, mainly in London and the Metropolitan areas, knife crime and gun crime are up. There have been falls in some IT based crime, reminiscent of the way better security technology reduced car theft, but that fails to mask the overall increase.

This year’s police grant fails to rise to the challenge. Police forces could see an extra £270 million – but it’s not new money and will only happen if the precept – a local tax – goes up. The increases in funding for new technology and counter terrorism are neither enough nor are they likely to reach our region. Police forces cannot drain their reserves further and still be prepared for emergencies. Our police forces need proper funding, the crime figures show we cannot wait.

Crime on the rise

This week the House of Commons debated the annual police grant. The background to policing and crime has changed significantly in recent years and not for the better. Northumbria Police...

25th January 2018

Now that the EU Withdrawal Bill has passed its Commons stages and goes to the Lords, the Commons is reverting back to a familiar weekly pattern with a day of debate inspired by backbenchers.

Whether last Thursday’s backbench debate on banking was the game changer being claimed, time will tell. The motion was about RBS’s Global Restructuring Group and SME’s, though the debate ranged more widely than just one bank. At the heart of the motion was the proposition that several banks deliberately managed the closure of businesses to suit the banks interests – a claim made in the Tomlinson Report set up to investigate what happened. Calling in loans and selling off assets, it is alleged, recapitalised the banks and made income for the banks plus the professional advisors involved in the process. The clients were left powerless and facing huge debts. Some of their stories are harrowing. I raised two constituency cases but there are many more. I also pressed the Minister to say if there is criminality involved, where are the resources to allow the police to investigate properly.

The Treasury Minister acknowledged the harm done to businesses and to trust in the banks. He said he would examine the case for an independent tribunal system. We need that; we also need regulators with teeth. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and they need a banking system working with them and not against them.

Speaking up for local businesses

25th January 2018 Now that the EU Withdrawal Bill has passed its Commons stages and goes to the Lords, the Commons is reverting back to a familiar weekly pattern with...

Hearing the words NHS winter crisis, as we enter the 70th Anniversary year of the NHS, cynics may ask what is different about this winter. There is however evidence that this winter crisis is worse than usual though Government data delays mean the scale may not be evident until much later in the year. I am relieved that our local Trust, unlike others, has been able to keep bed occupancy levels at a safe level. It’s down to hard pressed staff including managers, that this has been possible but my visit last week brought home how difficult things are. The Norovirus and flu are having a devastating effect, with pressure on beds, limits on visiting and cancelled operations. This crisis was foreseeable and, indeed, foreseen. The progress of “Aussie” flu had been tracked since mid-2017; Norovirus is not unprecedented. Underlying causes however turned big challenges into a full blown crisis. Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust kept bed occupancy levels safe but cuts meant 150 fewer beds in the last five years, making the challenge much more difficult. The Government was warned early last year that a Winter Fund was needed but waited until the end of the year before coming up with any additional funding, which then proved to be too little too late. A better NHS needs resources as well as reform or warm words so the Government needs to put their money where their mouth is.

NHS Winter Crisis

Hearing the words NHS winter crisis, as we enter the 70th Anniversary year of the NHS, cynics may ask what is different about this winter. There is however evidence that...

2017 saw the passing of actor Rodney Bewes who as Bob in 'The Likely Lads' helped put our area on the comedy map.  He famously asked Terry what epitaph he wanted.  Terry's response was 'None the bloody wiser'.  I have to admit that after writing twelve months ago that I hoped for greater clarity on Brexit those words seem appropriate.  There were fleeting grounds for optimism.  On my suggestion we forced the Government to publish their Brexit Impact Assessments only to be told they didn't really exist.  Let's hope for better in 2018.

We should find out what fishing looks like post the Common Fisheries Policy.  I hope 2018 sees the end of the Urgent Care Centre saga and that patients can access the treatment they want where they want it.  And I finally look forward in June to the opening of the regenerated Spanish City.  It's been a long time in coming but having toured the site recently it looks like being well worth the wait.

The enduring images of 2017 include the terrorist attacks on Westminster, Manchester and elsewhere as well as the terrible tragedy of Grenfell.  So let me first wish you a safe and peaceful 2018.  And thank you to everyone across our communities who work hard, who do their bit, to make our area a great place to live and work.  I look forward to working with you in the year ahead.

Happy New Year!

 

 

Happy New Year

2017 saw the passing of actor Rodney Bewes who as Bob in 'The Likely Lads' helped put our area on the comedy map.  He famously asked Terry what epitaph he...

There’s always a lot going on across our communities in the run up to Christmas.  Carol services, Christmas lights, office parties and ringing shop tills are the face of Christmas today.  But there’s also a hidden side of Christmas.  My former colleague Jo Cox drew attention to loneliness, not just at Christmas but particularly at Christmas.  Calling in on your neighbour would be in the spirit of Christmas.  Snow falling as a Salvation Army Band plays carols may be part of a Christmas scene, less obvious is the important work the Salvation Army does to keep the homeless warm and fed.  Many church members can be seen organising church services, but maybe not noticed as much when volunteering at a foodbank or as Street Pastors.

 

USDAW’s excellent “Keep Your Cool” campaign reminds us that queues in shops may be frustrating but that’s no excuse for being uncivil or even threatening to hardworking shop workers.  Also feeling the pressure are the police, firefighters, doctors, nurses and council gritters for whom Christmas is just another working day and another day when public sector workers feel undervalued and facing cutbacks.  So there is another face of Christmas and it’s not Bah Humbug to point it out.  

 

Enjoy the festivities but let’s also celebrate the strength of our local community.  And don’t forget the Boxing Day Pudding Run on the Links organised by North Shields Polytechnic and raising money for Woodlawn School, a great cause.

Another side of Christmas

There’s always a lot going on across our communities in the run up to Christmas.  Carol services, Christmas lights, office parties and ringing shop tills are the face of Christmas...

The test of a modern budget seems to be whether it survives past the weekend before it falls apart.  In that respect the Chancellor probably gets to keep his job, but his lack of ambition means others may lose theirs.

Some of the measures are welcome.  The alcohol duty freeze and pub business rate changes are responses to popular campaigns.  More money for the NHS is always welcome but the truth is there’s more money for Brexit preparations in this budget than the NHS.  Easing Universal Credit rules are also a step forward but many will still wait too long for help and debts will rise.

The devil is in the detail.  Growth is set to fall and people in work as well as out of work will continue to see their incomes fall.  The reality is the Chancellor needed to go much further in investment, end austerity and tackle the economic uncertainty arising from Brexit.

The country needs a step change in economic thinking.  We need more support for small businesses, not just this weekend on Small Business Saturday but every day.  We need to support local foodbanks over the next few tough months but we need jobs that pay decent wages in the first place. And while I welcome the North of Tyne devolution deal we need to go further in devolving more resources and powers, closer to the people and businesses we serve.

Autumn Budget

The test of a modern budget seems to be whether it survives past the weekend before it falls apart.  In that respect the Chancellor probably gets to keep his job,...

Consider the humble prawn, on many shopping lists and menus and the mainstay of the fishing industry in North Shields, England’s biggest prawn port.

 

Fishing is one of the most emotive and important parts of the Brexit debate.  In fact exiting the Common Fisheries Policy was discussed long before the referendum but there was little in the way of planning.  Different regions have different priorities.  In the South West taking control of a 200 mile limit could keep out French and Spanish boats.  For the North East prawn fishery a 12 mile limit would probably suffice and visiting boats are likely to be Scottish or Northern Irish.

  

But catching fish is just part of the issue.  More than 90% of prawns landed at North Shields are taken by lorry for sale on the Continent.  The prawns are not processed or frozen, they are fresh and have to be delivered within 5 days.  So access to markets is vital and exporters would not welcome additional bureaucracy, licences or tariffs.  Some Brexiteers argue Europeans would simply have to buy our prawns whatever, but that’s a theory I would not like to see tested.

 

This week in Parliament, Labour Friends of Fishing was launched to make sure the voices of our fishing communities are heard. The fishing industry was sold out by one Conservative Government on entry to Europe, we need to make sure it’s not sold out by another on exit.

Brexit and the fishing industry

Consider the humble prawn, on many shopping lists and menus and the mainstay of the fishing industry in North Shields, England’s biggest prawn port.   Fishing is one of the...

Across our area there are many ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Extraordinary seems too inadequate a word to describe the heroism of Thomas Brown.  North Shields born and bred Thomas played a key role in capturing the Enigma Code books from a German Submarine. He was a 16 years old NAAFI canteen assistant whose story is remembered in a display in the Exchange.

The recent rededication of a stained glass window to Thomas Brown was a fitting beginning to a period of national remembrance.  During that time I stand proudly with veterans, their families and our wider community at memorials and services, remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Each year the crowds seem to get bigger and 2018 is of course the centenary of the end of the First World War. But the Royal British Legion’s Rethink Remembrance campaign is about more than remembering the fallen in two World Wars.  It is about supporting a new generation of veterans and service personnel, including those in the RAF who are playing a crucial role in the downfall of Islamic State.

Wearing a Poppy is about remembering those who lost their lives in war and the many more for whom war changed their lives entirely.  But it’s also about the commitment we make to today’s ex-servicemen and women to do our best for them in healthcare, housing, jobs and much more. We too will remember them.

Lest we forget

Across our area there are many ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Extraordinary seems too inadequate a word to describe the heroism of Thomas Brown.  North Shields born and bred Thomas...

Friday is the first of 13 sitting days in which backbench MP’s have a chance to change the law through Private Members Bills. The first one up is Chris Bryant’s Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, previously a campaign by Holly Lynch MP of which I was a supporter.

 

Chris Bryant’s Bill seeks to give greater protection to emergency workers – to ‘Protect the Protectors.’ It will introduce a new offence of wounding or assaulting an emergency worker in the performance of her or his duty and introduce tougher sentences. It will also require assailants who spit at emergency workers to undergo a health test or risk committing an offence by refusing to do so.

 

There is a clear need for this change to the law with an attack on police officers on average every 22 minutes and nearly 300 assaults on healthcare professionals every day.  The Bill also seeks to protect other ‘999’ workers including firefighters, ambulance workers and RNLI crews.

 

The Bill has widespread support from trades unions like GMB and Unison, and the Police Federation and the Prison Officers Association.  It stands a good chance of getting through at least its early stages, though some in Government for reasons known only to themselves fear “sentencing inflation”.

 

We are in debt to our emergency workers who have endured years of cuts and a pay cap.

This is a start in repaying that debt.

 

Protect the Protectors

Friday is the first of 13 sitting days in which backbench MP’s have a chance to change the law through Private Members Bills. The first one up is Chris Bryant’s...

Universal Credit was the Government’s flagship welfare policy, merging the benefits system into a single monthly payment for all claimants. There are sensible elements including supporting people into work and simplifying the benefits system.  However the roll out of Universal Credit has faced problems and worryingly it's planned to be rolled out here early next year.  Welfare charities, Citizens Advice, the Government’s own advisors, Select Committees and MP's - including some Conservatives - have all expressed concern.

 

The evidence is clear.  New claimants have to wait up to 6 weeks for any money - in many roll out areas many people are waiting much longer without any income.  That's pushed families into debt - half of families moving to Universal Credit are in rent arrears for the first time ever. Landlords are turning away claimants and evictions and children in temporary accommodation have increased. In roll out areas the Trussell Trust reports referrals to food banks have doubled.  Even with repayable advances debt will rise.  And even those fortunate to move into work face the loss of 63p for every pound earned, higher than top rate tax payers, meaning the working poor are being hit as well as claimants.  No wonder Louise Casey the former Social Welfare Tsar compares it to "jumping off a cliff".  The Government should pause the roll out at least until the Select Committee reports. Meanwhile in some communities the loan sharks are already circling.

Pause Universal Credit now

Universal Credit was the Government’s flagship welfare policy, merging the benefits system into a single monthly payment for all claimants. There are sensible elements including supporting people into work and...

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